Alan Sinfield: Charting A New Course For 9mobile
Telecommunications as an industry has changed along with people’s need to connect—faster, more reliably and free from physical constraints. This resilient industry has progressed from landline telephones and dial-up Internet connections to delivering mobile-first connectivity to customers constantly on the go.
Telecoms companies, also known as “telcos,” aiming to stay competitive in this rapidly shifting marketplace must figure out how to deliver the products and services people want, consistently—and at a price that allows them to remain both competitive and, viable.
Accordingly, it’s a delicate balancing act that requires both insight into what customers really care about and the technological capability to provide it.
Besides knowing what customers want, and being able to deliver it, managerial expertise is equally of great importance, especially in a very competitive environment such as Nigeria. Indeed, in recognition of the enormous task of repositioning 9mobile, the management is now led by a seasoned telecoms expert with extensive international and operational experience in wireless telecoms, fintech, and banking sectors spanning over 30 years.
Alan Sinfield, who assumed duty as Chief Executive Officer of 9mobile on June 1, 2020, possesses extensive subject matter expertise with the proven capability of delivering an uplift in shareholder value through increasing revenues and customer base while reducing operational costs. He is a hands-on business manager with a history of building high-performance organisations and enhancing operational efficiency by implementing fundamental change in turnaround and high-growth situations.
Having held CEO roles since 2006 across different frontiers and emerging markets, with significant senior positions in mature markets, and has also served in board advisory capacity, he draws upon highly diverse experience across Europe, the Middle East, South-east Asia, and Africa.
As the new CEO of 9mobile, a network operator with close to 13 million subscribers, Sinfield will work closely with the Board to define the further transformation and strategic direction of the business, which includes not only capitalising on the evolving TMT space but also, the launch of 9PSB, a newly licensed Payments Service Bank as a challenger online bank with a strong focus on financial inclusion.
Bringing in Expertise or Experience
Sinfield described expertise as a strong word but would rather say he brings experience. He said the experience he brought in is about bringing all elements of the company and the various strategies together, creating a credible story around these strategies that will move the business forward and deliver real value to all stakeholders.
His words, “We have a lot of ground to catch-up on against the other operators in this market and effect a turnaround on the business. I believe that what I bring to the table is a way to galvanize and energise our incredibly strong team, looking at their strategies, and at how we are going to weave all elements together to move things forward.
“Specifically, elements of that will be around building a high performing team and organisation, which we will achieve by investing in our people; working on ensuring that everybody has proper training plans and coaching plans tied into succession planning around every role so that everyone in the company knows the potential they can reach. We shall also ensure everybody is brought onboard and party to our goals and vision for the business whether you work in the Call Centre, Reception right through to the C-Suite team. Instilling how key their role is to deliver exactly what we need to achieve over the next one to five years, and even 10-year period.”
Sinfield admitted it was not all going to be plane sailing; especially in bringing back to the network, the millions of customers that left during the exit of the previous owners.
According to him, as a wholly-owned Nigerian company, “we are addressing the issues that led to the loss of subscribers. First, we are currently looking at the communities that we serve, looking at the type of data services and products that they want, and making sure that we deliver accordingly.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s about providing quality of service, the scale of network coverage, and great customer service. To achieve this, we will be expanding and bringing a well thought through a lineup of products and services that customers want and need, all at affordable prices. That’s the foundation of what we need to do to bring back customers and in fact, we are already doing that. Since June we’ve grown our subscriber base by nearly one million customers already, so we’ve already turned the cornerback to growth.”
The 9mobile boss pledged that customers can expect much more investment in infrastructure, product developments and services that are fit for them and deliver real value to their everyday lives.
Significance of October 23 to the Company
While the company celebrated 12 years of servicing the Nigerian market on October 23, having started commercial operations in Nigeria with the Etisalat brand before transforming into 9mobile in 2017, Sinfield said he didn’t see the 10 years as a significant anniversary, rather a time to reflect on the future.
“It’s actually not our anniversary. It’s the anniversary of the network. Our anniversary is November. We acquired the business in November 2018. November 2020, we will be two years old as a business. So that’s what I see as our milestone and the fact that we’ve turned that corner and moving forward. But I’m joking slightly on that. Yes, it’s a big achievement. We’re 12 years old and we did extremely well in the beginning. We’ve lost a little bit of ground. But you know what they say about hard times, you learn from them and we are coming out stronger, and better.”
Competing in a Competitive Environment
Sinfield is pleased about coming into the Nigerian market because, according to him, it is a well-regulated market with mature network operators.
According to him, with this maturity and regulatory framework, everybody is competing in a fair and proper way, which is not the case in other markets, where he has previously worked.
The 9mobile boss said in all honesty, the Nigerian market has been very positive for him. He said there is a good, strong regulator (NCC), that’s making sure that it represents the rights of the consumers, as well as trying to create a fair and open market for operators to compete effectively.
On regulations, Sinfield’s experience so far has been very positive. According to him, he’s not bothered about competitors’ market penetration but strongly believes that 9mobile has the capacity to compete favourably.
“Obviously, we’re now the fourth largest operator in this market. We have around 13 million customers. The other operators have quite a few more customers than we do. That’s not because of any inherent incapability on our part, it’s simply because of the transition to the new Nigerian ownership.
“We’ve practically completed the transition and dealing with the legacy issues, now the firm is gradually on the path to growth and profitability. While we were adjusting to the exit and transition, the business effectively fell close to four years behind our competitors. They’ve made good use of that time, but that’s not to say that they’re not catchable, we have every intention of doing that.”
Restoring the Data reputation of the Brand
One of the things that attracted people to the brand pre-crises was the data strength. But that appears to be a lost glory now. Though he admitted that there were some challenges, Sinfield believes that 9mobile still has huge data strength and capability to attract despite the lack of earlier investments in infrastructure.
He recalls that the brand came to market then with 4G technology, which was very cutting edge compared to the predominant 3G infrastructure, which was when data was at its infancy in this market, but that there’s a lot more maturity in the market now.
Sinfield said people now need higher data speeds with more data throughput amongst others. “We know that in some of these areas, the brand is a little behind in terms of network dimensioning, which is not because we don’t know those things or that we no longer provide good services. We’re still providing the same service that we did four years ago and driving improved service in several key areas where we’ve done some smaller investments of late. The fact remains that we need to catch up a little more around 4G deployments (and 5G too), so that we can offer much higher speed and data throughput than we currently do. This is all a part of our future plan though.”
Vision for FG’s 2020 to 2025 Broadband Target
Sinfield commended the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami and the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, on the New National Broadband Plan 2020-2025, which targeted 70 per cent broadband penetration.
He appreciated the Ministry’s effort in engaging the state Governors’ on Right of Ways charges, stressing that the move was in the best interest of the states. He said broadband facilities will open up the market as much as they (states) can let the operators, and also any licensed fibre provider.
Though declining to comment on 9mobile’s investment plans due to commercial sensitivities, Sinfield said the brand has every intention of competing and getting back to the top of the table against other operators.
Sinfield said 9mobile will be investing in new infrastructure, networks upgrades, enhanced products and services that will enable it to compete more effectively, and most especially contribute to helping the Federal Government attain the 70 per cent broadband target.
PSB License As Part of the Revolution
With the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) granting the brand a Payment Service Bank (PSB) license, Sinfield believes this is a solid opportunity for the 9mobile network to aid the Government to achieve its financial inclusion goals across the country.
The new bank shortly to be launched will be named 9PSB, and he said that a number of the 9mobile subscribers which could potentially be classified as unbanked will soon benefit from access to a wide array of banking products and services that would deliver real value.
According to him, one of the key things about the PSB license is to change the narrative. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re an MTN or Airtel or any other operators’ customer, you can use 9PSB regardless of the network you use, which is one key benefit.
“Despite the operator agnostic element, what this actually means to 9mobile customers is obvious; it provides them with immediate access to best-in-class banking services and from that, it opens up a whole world of possibilities for digital inclusion; access to e-commerce so that they can go online, buy things, and can potentially search the Internet and find things that add values to their lives.”
All Work And No Play
When asked about his relaxation mode, Sinfield said he’s yet to start relaxing given the work at hand.
According to him, when you move into a new role in a new business, there is a lot to do, there’s a lot to learn about, absorb and plan for the business’s evolution.
“But generally, I like the outdoors. So, I like Horse riding, Cycling. Motor-boating, Sailing, Swimming and Scuba Diving and, I really like motorbiking too. I do quite a lot of those types of activities, so that’s generally how I try to wind down.
“So far, I haven’t done a great deal of relaxing since getting to Nigeria. But I’ve been very lucky to meet some very nice people since coming here one of whom invited me to the Lagos Polo Club, where I luckily had the chance to do some riding. The horses are fantastic but more of that will come later, the job first!”
N.B: The name Alan was wrongly spelt as Alain in our magazine, Sunday’s Issue, however, this has been corrected.