Douglas Craigie Stevenson. Cell C CEO. Picture: SUPPLIED
Douglas Craigie Stevenson. Cell C CEO. Picture: SUPPLIED

SA’s third-largest cellphone operator, Cell C, has appointed Douglas Craigie Stevenson as its new CEO, effective immediately, it said on Wednesday. 

Craigie Stevenson has been Cell C’s interim CEO since March. He joined the operator in October 2017 as COO. 

Cell C chair Kuben Pillay said in a statement that in the past five months, “Douglas and his team has led the company to improved financial stability, sound business ethics and good governance; better operational performance; and has established a path to sustainability. His permanent appointment was unanimously approved by the board and we are fully behind his efforts to lead Cell C.”

Craigie Stevenson has a tough job ahead. In July, the company said it had asked law firm Bowmans to investigate business units possibly involved in “irregular” practices. This adds to the woes facing Cell C, whose debt rating was downgraded in late June by S&P Global Ratings to reflect that a default had become “a virtual certainty”. 

This resulted in Blue Label Telecoms, Cell C’s largest shareholder, having its share price battered since taking up a 45% stake in the mobile operator. Shares in Blue Label were up 5.52% in late Wednesday afternoon trade at R4.40. 

Craigie Stevenson told Business Day that he will continue to “right-size and optimise the business”.  

“We have work to do in recapitalising the business and improving operational performance to enhance our ability to deliver but I believe we are on the right track,” he said. 

Commenting on the cellphone network industry in SA, Craigie Stevenson said the sector “has unique challenges. The customer base is mature and is looking for products and services that meet individual needs”.

He said mobile network operators are being forced to be more agile and customer-focused, and less prescriptive with their product offerings. “Cell C customers are set to benefit as we provide consumers with innovative and reasonably priced products, based on the latest technologies available.” 

A seasoned telecoms executive, Craigie Stevenson has 20 years’ experience. He was previously CEO of Telekom Networks Malawi, and held a number of positions at competitor Vodacom including MD for Vodacom Business Africa Group, financial director at Vodacom Mozambique, and financial director at Vodacom Tanzania.

In addition to leadership changes, Cell C also announced an extended national roaming agreement with Africa’s largest mobile operator, MTN, which was signed in November 2018. 

“We believe this agreement brings us closer to strategically positioning Cell C to be a strong participant in the industry,” Craigie Stevenson said on Wednesday. 

The two network operators entered into a national roaming agreement nine months ago, which saw MTN providing 3G and 4G/LTE services to Cell C in areas where the mobile network operator has chosen to purchase coverage rather than self-build. This means that Cell C customers outside the urban centres currently roam on MTN’s 3G and 4G/LTE networks.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za