SIPHO MASEKO: Farewell to the man who modernised Telkom
Jabu Mabuza took the company from the brink of disaster to a robust, forward-looking telecommunications giant
Jabu Mabuza fetched me from home for my first day of work at Telkom on April 1 2013. He was my boss there for approximately seven years, and in that time he also became a mentor and a friend.
When Mabuza took the chair, Telkom was struggling to keep its head above water. Ebitda was in the red by R2bn with consumers rapidly moving from fixed lines to mobile services. Competition was intensifying. Moreover, demand for data services was contributing to a large decline in voice revenue, traditionally Telkom’s cash cow.
Mabuza’s first task was to stabilise the company and its financial performance. To do that he also had to restore Telkom’s relationships. Being the amicable man that he was, he did so with humility and humour. He brought a more collaborative spirit, and a willingness to negotiate, to Telkom’s stakeholder interactions — an about turn for a company that had previously been considered combative.
A number of instrumental changes were made to achieve financial stability. Under his watch, Telkom regained the revenue lost from traditional voice service by identifying growth in other areas such as LTE, fibre and data.
Mabuza also oversaw the review of Telkom’s operating model, separating its retail and wholesale arms. This was a catalyst in restructuring the organisation, and set the stage for greater competitiveness and growth.
The company embarked on a multiyear transformation journey that resulted in the creation of Openserve, among others, to handle wholesale business and become Telkom’s fibre arm. A clear strategic focus area was outlined for each business unit.
During his tenure, Mabuza instilled the philosophy of “treat your internal business like you would your external competitors”. This philosophy has carried some of our traditional businesses such as retail, and today Telkom’s mobile business is the fastest growing in the country.
The acquisition of BCX diversified declining fixed revenue in the enterprise business and enabled the participation in new, future business streams. Telkom is now competing effectively in IT services and solutions. We are now an active participant in the cloud-computing economy with a good growth potential across all potential revenue streams.
Mabuza provided a platform for the group to grow from a strong and stable base.
He has shown that it is possible to lead an organisation at arm’s length while still encouraging it to push boundaries and meet the challenges. Mabuza supported the principle of non-executive directors maintaining their independence by limiting their service and allowing other directors room to make their input.
He was never afraid to to step in, take responsibility and make a difference. He held the line fearlessly and gave everything his best. He was sincere, he was authentic. He will be sorely missed.
As we come to terms with Mabuza’s passing, we pay tribute to his creation of a springboard for Telkom to reach new heights. For this, we take off our hats to him.
Correction: June 18 2021
This story has been corrected to replace Eskom with Telkom in the second paragraph.
• Maseko is CEO of Telkom.
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