Safaricom picks new Ethiopia chief executive on Soussa exit


Wim Vanhelleputte has been appointed the CEO for the Ethiopia unit, effective September 1, 2023. PHOTO | COURTESY

Safaricom has appointed Wim Vanhelleputte as the new CEO for the Ethiopia unit, effective September 1, just a week after the telco announced the exit of Anwar Soussa, who had been at the helm for two years.

Read: Safaricom Ethiopia CEO to step down after two years stint

Mr Vanhelleputte will be expected to turn around the operations of the Ethiopian unit, which is weighing down Safaricom’s profits.

He joins Safaricom from MTN Group where he served as the operations executive since last August, tasked with the performance and governance of four operating companies in West and Central Africa.

Safaricom’s net profit for the year ended March 2023 dropped by 22.2 percent to Sh52.48 billion from Sh67.49 billion posted in the previous year, majorly on increased operating expenses in Ethiopia.

The profit plunge was for the third straight year from the peak of Sh73.66 billion in the year ended March 2020, the lowest for the telco since 2017 when net earnings were Sh48.44 billion.

Mr Vanhelleputte served as the CEO of MTN Uganda from 2016, a position that was taken over by Sylvia Mulinge last year after she left Safaricom Kenya’s post of head of consumer business.

Read: Safaricom’s Sylvia Mulinge joins MTN Uganda as CEO

During his six-year tenure heading the Ugandan telco, he was credited with growing subscriber numbers from 8.5 million to 16 million, doubling the network towers to 3,000 sites and increasing revenue by 75 percent.

Also read: Deported MTN-Uganda CEO sues government

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Wim Vanhelleputte as the chief executive officer of Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia PLC effective September 1, 2023,” said CEO Peter Ndegwa in an internal communication to staff.

“Wim brings extensive leadership experience and deep industry knowledge, having worked in the telecommunications industry across multiple markets in sub-Saharan Africa for over 25 years.”

A Belgian national, Mr Vanhelleputte began his career as an associate engineer at Westinghouse Energy Systems Europe in the Czech Republic before joining IT firm Siemens Atea as a project engineer in Zimbabwe, and then as a residential project manager in Gabon.

Between 2009 and 2015, he served as the CEO for MTN Cote d’Ivoire then later briefly joined Airtel Africa between 2015 and 2016, first as the regional director – of Francophone Africa, then as cluster CEO for the Airtel Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo Brazzaville.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in general engineering and a master’s in nuclear and solid-state physics, both from the State University of Ghent in Belgium. He also has a special degree in power plant management from the Free University of Brussels.

Mr Vanhelleputte will take up the mantle from Mr Soussa, who is set to step down at the end of July and will be charged with building on the milestones achieved by the subsidiary’s first CEO, which include setting up the team that launched commercial operations of the second telco operator in Ethiopia.

Mr Soussa has, so far, steered Safaricom Ethiopia to acquire over four million customers, with the network now covering more than 25 percent of Ethiopia’s population in 50 cities and towns. The telco was on May 11 granted a licence for mobile money in Ethiopia after paying investment fees of $150 million (Sh21 billion).

“As Wim joins us, we have planned for a seamless transition to ensure that we maintain our momentum,” said Mr Ndegwa yesterday.

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