Sifiso Dabengwa, CEO and Group President, MTN Group, South Africa
As the former head of MTN’s Nigerian unit, Sifiso Dabengwa understands well that the sources of MTN’s growth probably lie outside of its comfort zone.
The group, among the first telecoms groups to realise the potential in sub-Saharan African markets, is now one of the continent’s most recognisable businesses. Ranked Africa’s most-valued brand, it has operations in 24 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Dabengwa has run the company since 2011, and is reportedly one of the highest-paid CEOs in the telecoms sector, taking home R23.5m ($2.1m) in 2013.
Like many companies in the technology and telecoms sector, MTN’s challenge is to try to understand the shape of a capricious and fast-moving consumer market. Dabengwa has bet that MTN’s future is to be more than just a mobile operator, and has led the company’s expansion into the internet business.
Penetration of broadband in Africa is still low, but mobile data services are expanding across the continent, and analysts expect affordable internet-enabled devices to have a transformative impact, just as the mobile phone did a decade ago.
Dabengwa’s MTN has invested heavily in enterprise technology, building data centres and taking a stake in enterprise software company TIBCO. To service the consumer and small enterprise market in South Africa, it acquired a majority share in Afrihost, a South African internet service provider.
MTN has also bet on the future of tech start-ups, putting $300m aside to invest through a strategic partnership with incubator Rocket Internet, putting the company at the cutting edge for internet-driven growth in 2015 and beyond.