Mendes to overhaul entire exco at Cell C

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 28 Nov 2023
Cell C CEO Jorge Mendes.
Cell C CEO Jorge Mendes.

Mobile operator Cell C has set its sights on refreshing its executive committee team, as it looks to emerge from the financial distress it experienced over the past several years.

So said Cell C CEO Jorge Mendes yesterday, in an interview with ITWeb.

According to Mendes, the company is looking to reset and meaningfully compete in South Africa’s telecoms space.

Mendes, former chief consumer business officer at Vodacom South Africa, was appointed as Cell C’s boss in June. Since taking over, the business is showing some signs of improvement, he said.

Yesterday, the telco issued a trading update, revealing it has slashed its debt from R9 billion to R3 billion, as it forges ahead with its recapitalisation drive.

It also said business stabilisation efforts are yielding improved results, positioning it to return to growth and enhanced competitiveness in the market.

Key on the to-do list is injecting new blood into the exco team, in order to execute the mobile operator’s strategy, noted Mendes.

“We are starting to see some green shoots in performance. It’s all very encouraging. Of course, we have come from a financial-distressed position, so we just want to give transparency and clarity to the market in terms of where we have come from, what’s happening and where we are going.”

New roles, new titles

“We are overhauling the entire exco team. To create context, we are creating job titles and names that reflect what we want to them to do.”

As an example, he said human resources has shifted to chief people officer.

“You will find that people and culture are a critical component of our strategy. It’s the most deliberate thing we intend to do to build the best culture in the company. That’s our number one ambition above all the other targets, and we believe that if we get that right, we will withstand difficult times, and we will really thrive in good times.

“We need the best collective team. Coupled with that is to make sure we’ve got great competencies in each of the areas.”

Mendes revealed Cell C is looking to create and fill the position of chief growth officer by February. This will be followed by the appointments of chief of data and analytics, as well as chief of regions sales and distribution.

“What’s already been done is our chief marketing officer − Melanie Forbes − started in August, and we have already started to see a lot of that work showing up in the market in the form of great roaming propositions or structures.”

Like Mendes, Forbes was also recruited from Vodacom.

“We now have the best network campaign and a lot of propositions asking customers to try our network, test our network and switch to Cell C.

“We’ve got a chief of strategy and business transformation, and chief of staff who started with me exactly on the same day.

“What we are starting to see is rigour and a rhythm of operational excellence, and making sure we execute on our strategy, so that we are a results-oriented team and we want to get stuff done. It’s very important to structure the organisation that way,” Mendes said.

“We also have El [Kope] as the acting chief financial officer, and she has been in that role circa two months. What you are seeing is a completely new team in addition to myself. We also have the same guys, like our CTO Schalk [Visser] is still the same.

“There will be a transition away from the more technology stuff, from an engineering point of view, to more IT-related kind of stuff, given our capex-light model.

“We’re really supporting our strategy, and we think we are now well-positioned to sustainably grow going forward.”

Regarding the appointment of a data and analytics chief, Mendes said: “Today, there are a number of moving parts in terms of data, and if you don’t have an analytical structure within your organisation, you may make business decisions that are quite loose.

“While you need to have good business acumen and inherently know what’s right or wrong, those decisions need to be properly supported by very deep analytical work.

“For example, if you put fibre into a household, what is the implication of the pricing of that product? And, most importantly, what does it do to your mobile revenue? If customers have mobile devices and you plug in fibre, you could lose mobile revenue.

“If that is not taken into consideration during the pricing and structure of that proposition, you could end up in hot water – you will have a lot of migration from prepaid to postpaid and vice versa.”