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Econet Kenya CEO calls it quits

February 5, 2009 • Mobile and Telecoms

michael_foley.jpgEconet Wireless Kenya has announced the resignation of its CEO, Mr Michael Foley, just six months after he took up the appointment.

A terse official statement from the company said that Mr Srinivasa Iyengar, the company’s resident director, would take over the position as company head, indicating the firm could be hunting for a new chief to direct its African operations.

However, sources said that the company was also in the process of realigning its strategic focus following subdued take-up of services in this market.

“His departure was very unexpected and sudden as it only became clear this (yesterday) morning. It is not clear why he left. He may have been unhappy or the parent company may have wanted him out,” said one Econet source, who declined to be named.

Mr Foley, who is said to have resigned because of personal reasons, had been slated to have overall responsibility for the group’s investments and operations in the region and was expected to oversee the roll out and launch of Econet in Africa, using Kenya as a test case.

With 25 years of experience under his belt, Mr Foley had significant commercial and management experience gained from a number of leading firms in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and closer to home, Tanzania and Nigeria.

Mr Iyengar is expected to represent the interest of Indian conglomerate Essar, who early last year acquired a 49 per cent stake in Econet Wireless International Limited (EWI).

However, industry analysts say Kenya may be proving to be a tough nut to crack for the new company, which has to content with the entrenched position of market leader Safaricom.

Econet officially launched services in November last year under the brand name Yu, but has struggled to gain footing in the highly competitive market.
From the outset, Econet faced challenges as it started to roll out its network across the country.

As an increasing number of base stations threatened to reach saturation point, Econet had to enter into ground breaking agreements with its competitors to secure base stations in some parts of the country.

On the consumer front, an aggressive marketing policy is said to have yielded little return in subscriber numbers, despite the company pioneering a concept that saw its subscribers gain free airtime every time they received a call.

Econet secured its licence on the basis that it would gain three million subscribers in three years.

But with industry statistics dividing the share of new subscribers almost equally between Safaricom and Zain, both Econet through its Yu brand and Telkom’s Orange Mobile had to deploy drastic price cut campaigns and pay-back schemes to entice subscribers away from Safaricom and Zain, which has won subscribers with its low flat cross-network rates.

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