The vivacious and hardworking Mr. Michael Ikpoki has been Chief Executive Officer of MTN Ghana Ltd., at MTN Group Ltd., since April 2011. Ikpoki had before then served as Sales and Distribution Executive for MTN Nigeria where he proved his worth. In this exclusive chat with AKIN NAPTHAL, Ikpoki bares his mind on rural penetration, number portability, challenges, competition and trivia. Excerpts…
What is the general assessment of MTN Ghana so far?
I would say our performance has been good, but I would try and put that within a certain context.We have made sustained investments in our 2G and 3G network, making sure we are doing necessary network upgrades and increasing our fibre rollout on a national basis. So on the whole from the capex point of view in 5years we have invested about 1.4million dollars. In 2012 alone we have invested close to 80 million dollars and we are still doing alot of modernization on the network as we speak. So we have continued to invest in growing the network, making sure that we have enough capacity to get new subscribers onto the network in a sustained way. It has been an encouraging year and I think we are also quite excited about what we are doing in the Corporate Social Responsibilities realm. About 2 weeks ago, we celebrated 5 years of the formation of the MTN Foundation. Over the last 5 years we have invested heavily in the education and health, spending over 10 million Ghana Cedis in terms of projects we have done in those areas. This year we are working on economic empowerment. We believe that as we continue to build the network we actually provide people means by which they can communicate and enrich their lives.
Number portability has been a success in Ghana. What do you think accounted for this?
I think there has been a lot of cooperation amongst the operators and with the regulators. I must commend the National Communications Authority. Since we started this in July 2011, there have been technical working groups amongst the operators and we have worked very closely. In the earlier days, we had the normal teething problems, but over time we have managed the process quite well to a large extent. So, we are celebrated as one of the most successful markets as far as MNP is concerned which achieves the objectives of promoting fair competition in the market.
LTE seems to be the technology of the field what is your opinion on that and what does MTN Ghana do to stay on the competitive edge of technology since its the driving force of the future?
As of today, we have rolled out our 3.5G network nationwide. We are quite excited about the number of subscribers we have, about 30% of our subscribers are now using data actively. So for me LTE is a natural evolution. GSMA tells us that by next year we will probably have 290 LTE networks in 75 countries. It is a natural evolution, for now the focus will be how we optimize on the 3.5G network we have. We will be happy to engage in discussions regarding spectrum allocation and licensing for LTE at the appropriate time.
What are the major challenges MTN Ghana is facing and how are you addressing them?
The key challenge is obvious it is a very competitive market that is something we are bracing up to. The other issues are more operational issues. Another problem is fibre cuts, which has been a big concern for not just MTN, but the industry. We have had close to 400 fibre cuts this year alone. And the challenge for us is the impact it has on our operations and our ability to provide good services to our customers. For that, we are engaging the entire relevant authorities. For instance; on the 1st of November we had a joint workshop with the NCA and the Ghana Telecom Chamber. The Chamber is set up as an independent body to manage common issue for the operators. So the Chamber has been very active engaging people in government and the highway authorities. We have received quite a lot of co-operation in that area. I must say at least we have been able to create awareness about it and we are getting a lot of support now from the key people especially the regulators and the relevant government agencies to find a way to manage that.
You recently complained about delay in getting permit to install mast to improve your services delivery. Where do you think the challenges are coming from?
Yes that was sometime ago, we did complain about some delays in terms of permitting especially for the erection of masts. I know that there are discussions going on about that, because as you know MTN actually leases its towers from tower companies in Ghana. We have ATC, Helios and Eaton. We have been having those discussions with the tower companies and also we have being trying to engage the relevant Agencies to try and accelerate the process. We look forward to improvements in the process in 2013.
Broadband initiative is on the increase globally. What effort is MTN Ghana taking to be part of this development in the area of broadband improvement?
We believe and we are proud to say we have the largest 3.5 G network today. And the first thing is how do we actually acquire more active data users. We engaged different segments and customer groups through different platforms to enable them appreciate how data can enrich their lives and improve their businesses. We have also engaged our young populace with exciting data propositions and campaigns. . We have also had a focused Data-specific customer engagement campaign called “i-FEST” now for two years in a row where we set aside specific time to actively engage customers at different Regions and platforms across Ghana. We intend to continue to lead awareness creation in this space.
What is MTN doing to increase rural penetration?
I would say already we have quite a lot of coverage in surburban and rural Ghana. But what is most important right now is looking for cost effective solutions to enable us attack the rural market. Incentives being offered to telcos is a welcome development but the most important thing is we obviously have to find cheaper and effective ways of operating in those markets which will enable us to achieve deeper coverage in those markets. We are upgrading our capacity and coverage in specific areas. In terms of coverage, this year we have spent close to 5 million dollars on new sites. So its a plan that we will continue to roll out but right now we are looking at different options of what will be the best way and what will be the cost effective solutions to consolidate our position in these markets.
On the consumer level, what should the consumer expect from MTN Ghana?
What is most important is having a deeper understanding and interaction with our customers. We believe that whatever products and services we come up with must be relevant to the lives and aspiration of our customers and we cannot do that if we don’t interact with them. Last year February we launched “Just for you”. The product its a unique model of where we actually segment customers based on their profiles and give them offers that are bespoke and relevant for them. So, for us going into next year we are going to be extremely passionate about customer, understanding our customers better and making sure we are relevant to their needs. When we say we want to enrich their lives we have to be sure that the products and services that we give them are actually relevant to where they are. Innovation is something that we always want to keep focusing on. At the end of the day, this business is about building capacity and that is something we will also continue to focus on going into the future.
Being on top of the ladder for such a company like MTN, what is your leadership style? How do you manage your daily operations?
I believe first of all that we have got good staff in MTN Ghana, so a leader is as good as his team. My approach is to ensure that we build on the team and harness the resources to deliver good business results that are a CEO’s responsibility. I try to engage my people and get them involved and committed in what we are doing in the organisation. We are focused on translating the strength of our people into a great company culture. My style is that I have to rely on people. I have to encourage people, create the right kind of environment for people to be able to give in their best. In an innovative industry like MTN, a telecom industry you have to provide a platform for people to be innovative, and also create an environment where people can passionately contribute to the business.
How do you manage the family and work life?
I dont know how successful I have been, but I try to maintain a sound work life balance. I play golf over the weekends and try to spend as much time with the family as possible