My best and worst at Vodacom: Uys

Former Vodacom CEO, Pieter Uys says that the launch of 3G, the collaboration on WACS and Vodacom’s JSE listing rank among his top achievements at the company.

Uys has been with Vodacom for nearly 20 years, and during this time, the company grew from a small mobile operator to one of the largest and most successful companies in South Africa.

Uys served in various positions during his tenure at Vodacom, including COO, from April 2004 to September 2008, and CEO, from 1 October 2008 to August 2012.

He was involved in various groundbreaking projects during this period, begging the question as to which were most memorable for him.

Launching 3G in 2004

In an interview with MyBroadband BusinessTech, Uys said that the launch of 3G in December 2004 was one of the highlights of his career.

Uys explained that the 3G technology was only showcased at a mobile conference early in 2004, but that his interest in data communications (which stems from his data communications work at Telkom in his early career) meant that the technology immediately interested him.

Alan Knott-Craig – who was the Vodacom CEO at the time – and Uys were both convinced that mobile data was a winner, and they did not waste any time in getting a 3G network up and running. In December 2004, Vodacom launched its commercial 3G data services, half a year ahead of MTN.

WACS

Another project which Uys is particularly proud of is the successful launch of the West Africa Cable System (WACS). Unbeknownst to many people, Uys was behind the idea of the WACS project, and convinced all parties to join forces in building another submarine cable on the West Coast of Africa.

Before WACS was on the cards, many parties tried to push their individual projects to create a new cable system to complement SAT-3.

Uys felt that a cable system where all parties were involved had the biggest chance of success and started lobbying government and the big telecoms operators to support the system.

WACS went live earlier this year and, with a design capacity of over 5Tbps, promises to serve South Africa’s international bandwidth needs for many years to come.

JSE listing

One of Uys’ biggest achievements, which also proved to be the most challenging, was Vodacom’s successful JSE listing in May 2009.

After months of negotiations and planning, Vodacom was set to be listed on the JSE on Monday 18 May 2009. On Friday 15 May 2009, at around 17:00, Vodacom was served an urgent application by Cosatu and ICASA to stop the Vodacom listing.

In an obvious political minefield, Uys successfully avoided a big legal battle and the company successfully started trading on 18 May as planned.

Uys later had a constructive meeting with Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, to reassure the union that the country and workers would benefit from the listing and Vodafone acquiring an additional 15% shareholding in Vodacom.

Rebranding

Vodacom’s rebranding – where the company changed branding from its traditional blue to Vodafone’s red – was another great success for Uys.

Vodacom made it to the top of the telecoms brands ranking in the Sunday Times Brand survey recently, illustrating the success of the rebranding campaign.

Challenges

During his time as CEO, Uys faced many challenges, including the aforementioned JSE listing battle, and the time taken to restructure the company to create a distributed power base, rather than having a single person making decisions.

But these challenges were child’s play in comparison to Gateway.

Uys lists the acquisition of Gateway, and the subsequent losses to Vodacom, as the single biggest task he had to tackle as CEO.

Uys explained that the Gateway acquisition was concluded before he took over at Vodacom, and that the economic crisis essentially destroyed Gateway’s business model.

Vodacom had to write off a large amount of money because of this failed business unit, and Uys said that, while it is not easy to tell shareholders that a poor acquisition cost them billions, the best way to approach it was with brutal honesty.

Earlier this year, Vodacom entered into an agreement to sell certain investments‚ supplier agreements and assets of Gateway Carrier Services to PCCW Global Ltd for US$26.4 million on a cash-free-debt-free basis.

The next step for Uys

One can clearly see that the former Vodacom CEO has a few notches on his belt, and the good news is that these skills will remain in the country.

Uys said that, instead of taking another position at Vodafone in one of the territories where the mobile giant operates, he will be staying in South Africa to see how he can add value to the country.

Uys has not made any decision about his future yet, but he added that he will make an announcement on his next position before he leaves Vodacom in March 2013.

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My best and worst at Vodacom: Uys