Segun Ogunsanya
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Visionaries - February 24, 2022

How Airtel Africa’s Group CEO Segun Ogunsanya is Deploying Uncommon Strategy to Scale the Company

If the Midas touch of Segun Ogunsanya is in doubt, a look at his antecedents will confirm that this isn’t happening by chance.

For telecommunications company Airtel Africa Plc, with operations in 14 countries across Africa, including Nigeria, it has seen a trove of good news in the past few weeks. And this is only nine months with Segun Ogunsanya’s tenure as its Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director.

With a focus on three areas, namely network expansion, distribution, and cost optimization, Segun Ogunsanya has been able to set the company on an upward trajectory which is already showing results nine months after.

The telecom company reported a profit after tax of $514 million for the nine-month fiscal year that ended December 31, 2021, a 97.3 percent increase over the previous year’s profit of $261 million. Shortly after this announcement, the London Stock Exchange, where it has been listed since 2019, announced that Airtel will be joining an elite list of companies with the largest market capitalisation on January 31st. The dust had hardly settled on the announcement when it again clinched another laurel, becoming the largest publicly listed company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NGX). With the feat, it overtook Dangote Cement Plc which had for some time dominated the position. Not only that, but its valuation also dwarfed all the banks listed on the exchange combined.

To top it all off, on February 1st, another piece of news flooded the airwaves: tech giant, Google, will be investing a whopping $1 billion for a 1.28% stake in Bharti-Airtel, the parent company, with headquarters in New Delhi, India.

The company’s achievements are no doubt a direct result of the purposeful leadership spearheaded by Segun Ogunsanya. The achievements, it should be noted, are no small feat, as Airtel Africa is arguably one of the continent’s largest telecoms companies, with 99 million subscribers as of March 2019.

Segun Ogunsanya’s Antecedents

If the Midas touch of Segun Ogunsanya is in doubt, a look at his antecedents will confirm that this isn’t happening by chance but merely a continuation of many firsts and business turnarounds to profitability.

Before now, Ogunsanya oversaw Airtel Nigeria, and within a year of taking over, the brand recorded a positive Profit After Tax.

Mr. Ogunsanya’s antecedents span diverse sectors such as telecoms, consulting, banking, and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). He is a trained engineer and accountant with over 30 years of experience across these sectors.

Before joining Airtel Nigeria, he was with the Coca-Cola company, where he started the finance side of his career and recorded many firsts. There, he went through the rank and file and gradually moved up into the senior roles of the company across Africa. He was formerly the Managing Director and CEO of Coca-Cola Hellinic Bottling Company in Nigeria. He was also the CEO of Coca-Cola Kenya, where he oversaw the company’s operations and was instrumental in turning it around.

Apart from Kenya, Mr. Ogunsanya also served as the CEO of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Ghana as its CEO between 1999 and 2007. He is reported to have turned the company’s business around from a loss-making one to profitability. While he was there, he also oversaw the successful divestment of the government from the business.

Before joining Coca-Cola, he worked with Ecobank Transnational, where he served as the Managing Director of its Retail Banking for Africa, with responsibility for retail banking operations across 28 countries.

The Winning Strategy

Listening to Segun Ogunsanya speaking about the company he heads and the results so far, one cannot help but notice the passion with which he speaks about the figures, well-thought-out strategy, and decisiveness in attaining set objectives.

Speaking on the performance recently to CNBC Africa, an excited Ogunsanya reeled out the figures as he broke it all down:

“I’m very pleased with the results we delivered yet again, another set of very standard results. All our key sectors have improved. All the key geographies have improved. We delivered a topline load of 20% at $1.2 billion in the last quarter. I’m really excited about the results we delivered in the last quarter. It’s a continuation of the efficiency of our strategies.

Speaking on the specifics of the company’s achievement as regards voice, data, and mobile money, he noted that the company had seen growth in all three and gave reasons:

“The three sectors have grown, and I’m very pleased with the result. Voice, data, and mobile money. And I’m very pleased that, despite the challenges we have in East Africa, one of the countries, Tanzania, where we have discounted from levels imposed by the government with caution. And on PTP, we’ve grown the mobile money business by almost 30%, 29.6% in the last quarter. If you exclude Tanzania, we would have grown our mobile money business by about 37%. I’m very pleased with the growth and on that, we’ve grown data to 37%. For voice revenue, we’ve grown 16% over the last nine months. We are firing on all cylinders,” he enthused.

 

Focus On The Long Term

One major thing that stands out in his response is the place of sound financial decision-making and a desire for long-term success as against short-term quick fixes.

When asked what was playing out in the redemption of the company’s outstanding secure senior notes, he revealed the direction and steps the company was taking in a bid to cut down on the holding company’s dollar-denominated debt. The company, he says, is sitting on a stockpile of cash and continues to generate cash from its daily activities. This, along with the cash generated from the sales of interest in its mobile business amounting to $550 million from four investors, informed the decision to make the payment of a $500 million bond. This, interestingly, is not due for repayment till March next year but they have decided to do this next month since the company had cash balances it was sitting on.

This shows leadership with sound financial management principles. One that prioritizes future gains rather than short-term returns. The goal for the company is to achieve a strong balance sheet. According to him, this is being done by first pushing debt to the local operating companies and, secondly, making sure the holding company does not have any foreign currency debt. This is perhaps a brilliant step given the volatility of foreign exchange.

Speaking on the company’s addition to the FTSE 100 on the London Stock Exchange, Segun Ogunasanya noted that it is a confirmation of what they have been building in the last three years:

“It’s a confirmation of what we’ve done over the last two, three years. We listed in 2019 and less than three years after listing, we got admitted to the elite club of FTSE 100. Very clear as to how we’re going to achieve our growth objectives.

“Three clear things for us, ” he said with emphasis, “We continue to invest in our network, we continue to invest in distribution, and we are very clear on cost optimization. Those three things are what you are going to see. Network expansion, distribution, expansion, and cost optimization are going to be strategic drivers of our growth.”

These words indeed show a man on a mission with a well-mapped-out, clear-cut strategy to get to where he intends to get to. It perhaps also shows that the Airtel Africa leadership team under the Nigerian-born and bred Obafemi Awolowo University-trained electrical electronics engineer turned Chartered Accountant, Segun Ogunsanya, is in good hands. One can only expect the very best from such a brand with his kind at the helm of affairs.

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