Interview – Samsung’s Sthembile Shabangu

Samsung, this year’s most admired brand, tailors its products to meet the specific needs of its consumers.


Despite the Galaxy Note 7 crisis, which wiped off billions off the value of its mobile business and put the overall brand on the line, Samsung has weathered the storm to claim the number one spot as the most admired brand in Africa, ahead of perennial African giant, MTN.

Samsung’s Sthembile Shabangu, head of public relations, public affairs and corporate citizenship, Africa Headquarters, discussed the reasons for their success with African Business.

AB: How did you survive the Note 7 crisis in Africa?

SS: Despite the fact that the Note 7 had not yet been launched in Africa, we proactively aligned with our global strategy to recall any Note 7 irrespective of where it was bought and made it easy for customers anywhere in Africa to return it without any conditions. We were quick, responsive and accessible. As a business, we understand our responsibilities to our consumers, who are at the centre of our decisions.

Why is the Samsung brand is so strong in Africa?

We understand and are committed to the continent. Everywhere we do business, we are connected with our consumers and our solutions – encapsulated here by our Built for Africa strategy – are designed to meet the specific needs and conditions of the region. When people hear the name “Samsung”, the first things that may come to mind are our smart devices, like smartphones and televisions; after all, we are the global leader in both.

Many have experienced Samsung products in the world of business, whether it’s our large-format displays transforming their shopping experience in a retail store, multi-format printers in their office, or one of our healthcare solutions in a hospital. Samsung helps to power more of our digital world than most people probably imagine.

Aren’t you concerned that your Built for Africa strategy may be interpreted to mean a sort of “dumbing down” for Africa?

On the contrary we would probably argue that our Built for Africa products are even more advanced than our offerings anywhere. In delivering these products, we first start with the high specification of a Samsung product and build on smart innovations that adjust the product to market conditions, such as electricity, particularly in Western and Central Africa, and economic challenges. For example, our AddWash washing machines save on water and electricity consumption and our range of solar-powered products take advantage of the one source of energy that’s abundant, accessible, affordable and characterised by an environmentally friendly footprint.

Africa is diverse not only regionally but even within countries. With your brand present in all African countries, how do you do business in Africa?

Our brand is anchored on three key priorities which are adapted to every market we do business in – to commit to consumers, enhance innovations and corporate citizenship, and fit into the lives of consumers. Second, operationally we have segmented the market into three main hubs – Southern Africa, East Africa and Western and Northern Africa – which enables us to serve Anglo and Francophone Africa seamlessly.

So what difference have you made to the lives of ordinary Africans?

Our corporate citizenship approach and engagement with citizens is designed to respond to the specific challenges and government priorities in every market. For example in Tanzania, in the Maasai village of Ololosokwan, an area with meagre modern resources, we have built a digital village featuring smart solar-powered internet school, solar-powered health centre and solar-powered telemedical centre, which can provide patients in rural areas with access to doctors and medical specialists anywhere in the world, working in partnership with UNESCO.

The Samsung Digital Village was born out of our belief that success cannot only be measured by business achievements, but also by how well a business serves its communities and impacts people’s lives through ICT. In Kenya, where our focus is on education, we have rolled out smart schools and smart libraries.

Our Samsung Engineering Academy revolutionises traditional education by providing technical and vocational training for school learners, tertiary students and unemployed youth. In South Africa, we launched the Khulanathi Enterprise and Supplier Development Programme, an initiative designed to help former employees start their own businesses, in line with Samsung’s objective to support enterprise development in South Africa.

We have partnered with New Generation Mindset (NGM), a supplier development and incubation company to focus on building entrepreneurs’ business and technical skills over the next three years, so that they may develop the competence and confidence to serve as suppliers to Samsung and other businesses. Foreign multinationals are often criticised for using their own nationals to lead African businesses while local talent is targeted for positions away from the real strategic centre of the organisation.

How is Samsung dealing with that challenge?

While in the early stages experienced South Korean leadership is dispatched to build the businesses, our global mandate is to always find and develop local talent and capacity to lead the business into the future. In fact, in the majority of our offices around the continent, our management reflects the countries in which we do business.

How are you going to maintain your leadership in the hearts and homes of African?

We never rest. Innovation is at the heart of Samsung. We will continue to innovate solutions that help transform the continent.

Globally, we want to be one of the world’s most valuable brands, and earn the consumers’ trust and admiration by pushing the limits of what technology can do and continue to make our products relevant to everybody’s lives. We are proud to play a significant role in addressing various challenges in Africa, including socio-economic challenges, particularly in the education sector, and will work with partners around the continent to make a lasting difference.

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