Monday July 7 2014

Mazen Mroue: a Chief executive of short tenures

Mroue, Stanbic Bank’s Phillip Odera and South

Mroue, Stanbic Bank’s Phillip Odera and South African Airways’ Yogi Birigwa at a wine festival early this year. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

Two years ago, Mazen Mroue assumed office as the new CEO of MTN Uganda. Today he is in the company’s books of records as its shortest serving chief executive.

“I was hoping to extend my stay. But sometimes when opportunity comes, you have to accept,” he remarks, at the start of the interview, in a tone that reveals a man that is divided between being happy for the new opportunity and sad to be leaving an environment he had become familiar with.

He meets this writer, with a firm handshake, in the waiting lounge and walks him to his office while engaging him in a chit-chat.

When the interview commences, he opens up like he is under obligation to do so. In his deep Arabic accent, he seamlessly chooses the appropriate diction to put his point his message across.
His bouffant and immaculate hair is whiter than seen in pictures published in print media. In the pictures,
His office (now former office) is dominated by gifts that were presumably given to him in appreciation of his work.
He is, however, hesitant to take credit for the accomplishments MTN has registered during his tenure.

He is more hesitant when I suggest that his new posting point out that he is an efficient CEO.
“The team is behind all the success in the company. They were supportive yet they had the choice to resist my leadership,” he says.
When the question is posed again, he responds with a brief smile and says, “That is the cost of being successful. You have to be prepared for the next challenge.”

Mroue says he will miss Ugandans’ hospitality the most. There was never a time during his two-year stay when he felt he was a foreigner or stranger. “The people are hospitable. A policeman, businessman and ordinary man on the street are all hospitable. This is good. It has a big impact on the future in terms of more people coming to Uganda to live the Ugandan experience and definitely give back to the community,” he states.
His concern, however, is with the lackluster marketing of the tourist spots in the country. He only got to know most of these after reaching Uganda and after his driver offered to take him there.

He terms Uganda’s tourist attractions as “very natural” and breathtakingly beautiful. But it is unfortunate, he says, that countries with “artificial” tourist destinations do more marketing and in turn earn more from the industry than Uganda. “The Ministry of Tourism needs to do a lot of advertising and communication,” he says and concludes, “nevertheless, wherever I’ll go, I will definitely tell the people I meet about how beautiful Uganda is.”

winning formula
The 43- year-old Mroue took the reins at a time when MTN Uganda was receiving negative press over allegations that some staff had manipulated the Mobile Money system and stolen billions of shillings.

However, figures from the company indicate that Mobile Money Agents grew by 100 per cent during his term at the helm of the company. But what was his magic to achieve this?

When he joined the company, his maiden focus was on the people he was working with. “People are the engine, drivers and heart of any organisation. If attention is paid to them if they are motivated, then the results will come,” Mroue states.
The mistake most CEOs make, he says, is to focus on the results instead of the people they are working with.

Mroue’s educational background says a lot of his success as CEO. He holds a master’s degree in Engineering in Intellectual Systems and Networks. The IT background enabled him to understand the technicality of the business, he offers. It made it easy to understand all the functions of the business. “And the moment you understand all the functions, it means you can leverage this knowledge to lead a wider team,” he says. But, overall it is a combination of factors ranging from people management to networking which make one a successful CEO.

He describes the Ugandan market as one with immense potential.
“The population is young. They are eager and hungry for telecommunication services,” he says.
There are seven operators in the market, he adds, but very few are serious to meet their licence obligations and fulfill their promises in terms of investments, job creation and having sustainable growth.

Responding to that market
The telecom, Mroue says, has been in the country for the last 16 years and over that period, the company has maintained its connection of growth and investment.

“The two areas are related. The moment you stop investment, you lose your position,” he says.
A day before this interview a journalist with one of the local dailies took to social media to raise an alarm about MTN “taking” data from his phone before he could use it. Many people have raised on social media complaints about dropped calls and inefficient network. The outgoing CEO attributes these inconveniences to the difficult environment under which telecom companies operate.
“For example, we don’t run power, we rely on it. When it goes off, we are also disturbed,” he states matter-of-factly.

He explains that the company has generators to handle such eventualities but the batteries are stolen. Infrastructure is vandalised almost daily. He stresses that the company has no interest in having a bad network.

What about claims that telecom companies are now more interested in cashing in from promotions than providing reliable services to the customers?
He replies that the telecom is an established company, which is not interested in prioritising promotions.

Besides the destruction of infrastructure, according to Mroue, high taxes on telecommunication companies is the other challenge
Challenges are in all markets, but the Lebanese national says he does not foresee any at MTN Irancell.

“That is why I am going there,” he says seemingly in jest. MTN Irancell is the second biggest operation – Nigeria comes first – in the MTN Group with over 40 million subscribers – more than Uganda’s population.
His strategy is to focus on data and financial services including mobile money.

His strides in numbers
to launch higher speed internet platforms in Uganda using 3G 42Mbps and 4G LTE

Growth of data and Internet users

Overall subscriber base up from 7.5 million

Ugandans holding senior position in other MTN operations