CEOs League

PhoneWorld team’s successful benchmarking for QoS and Pricing gained popularity among the readers, so this time we have tried to do relative benchmarking of personalities of presently working five mobile operators’ CEOs

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The “Justice League” is a team of superheroes who represents the respective qualities of their characters. It comprises of heroes of supernatural qualities portraying the role models of humanity, commitment to their duties, risk-taking, loyalty and decision-making. Keeping in view the same background, comparison of Pakistan’s mobile operators CEOs has been drawn in this article analyzing their skills, attributes and the repute they have in the industry.  Pakistan is a success story when it comes to mobile sector with expanded coverage, low tariff and now mobile broadband data services for consumers that brought extra innovation and helped change the very dynamics of mobile industry and helped Pakistan winning international awards. This could not have been achieved without the talent that exist in the sector and the incredible leadership that we see in the telecom sector of the country, i.e. the heroes of mobile industry.

Evaluation of personalities was indeed the hardest task as one can only estimate and give weightage to certain skill sets and attributes which are quite difficult to quantify. An industry HR expert once told us that “a person does not apply rather he gets picked up for CEO position because of his repute” which cements our belief further that industry opinion and perception for a business leader is really important. Therefore, we have tried to benchmark our mobile leadership based upon the skills sets that we could find on public domain such as Linked-in and other websites and attributes based on industry opinion, reputation and perception.

We have also evaluated our telecom leadership by setting some parameters and judging each leader according to them. Leadership is all about the mapping out where you want to take your people, best utilizing the resources at hand by making bold, innovative and timely decision. Let’s look at ranking based on criteria stated for each indicator that are considered important in a mobile corporate world. We have given each indicator a separate weightage with grand total of hundred.  Final position has been given according to the total points secured by each CEO.

Leadership Skills

Leadership means different things to different people around the world but everyone agrees that the ability to lead effectively is built upon the basic foundation of three key areas i.e. education, experience and achievements (although achievements and experience has certain overlapping ingredients. Let’s first try to measure comparative standing of our five super heroes on these three parameters and then move on to the leadership attributes of their personalities which are even more important.

Education (Total: 15 points)CEOs League

Knowledge and experience always go hand in hand when it comes to organization’s performance, it is also the major prerequisite for any job whether it is your first job or at the prime of you career. Relevancy of the education is even more important for one not only to rise but also to be an effective manager.

The preferred educational tools could be a combination of technology and business education for the top job manager, but if that is not the case lets settle for the more appropriate educational skillset.

HR Gurus believe “one does not apply rather he gets picked up for CEO position because of his repute” which shows that industry opinion and perception for a business leader is really important

Jeffery Hedberg and Michael Foley both have very appropriate educational background for a top telco manager in line with the ideal scenario discussed above. While, Jeffrey Hedberg has studied business at Northeastern University and International Management at the University of Denver, Michael Foley is a Graduate of McGill University, Montreal with Organizational Psychology as a subject specialist that is equally equipped with right educational skillset for the top job. Therefore we have given 13 points to Hedberg and 12 points to Folly.

If we were to evaluate CEOs education for a banking sector the race would have definitely be won by Aziz Khan. He with a Chartered Accountancy credentials is probably the most well-read person amongst all. A finance degree is not really the best pick while taking in consideration a top position of a telecom organization. Aziz Khan is at number three position with 11 points.

Pakistan is a mobile industry success story and this is primarily because of the overall talent that exists and the incredible leadership that we see in the telecom sector of the country

Mr. Liu Dianfeng, CEO Zong is a masters from Chinese Academy of Sciences and has done Executive MBA from Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, which supposedly is a very prestigious school but when it comes to a full time business study against an executive program surely more weight has to be given to fulltime programs. So Dianfeng is at number four position with 10 points.

Muneer Farooqui, CEO Warid who has done Masters in Computer Science would be fifth in the line. He surely cover a good part of technology aspect important for a Telco CEO as technology is moving from hardcore engineering to IT. Some HR headhunters would also look at the graduating institutions and it would certainly have weighted more for Mr. Farooqui had he done his masters from a more prestigious school. However, it remains a fact that Preston has been pioneer in higher education by a Private sector institutes and produced some of the best corporate leadership. But still Muneer Farooqui comes last according to our ranking with 9 points.

Jeffery Hedberg- 13 Marks

Michael Foley- 12 Marks

Aziz Khan- 11 Marks

Liu Dianfeng- 10 Marks

Muneer Farooqui- 9 Marks

Experience (Total: 15 points)CEOs League

Experience and especially relevant experience is the most fundamental ingredient for any professional to be considered for the top job. Companies don’t want starters and would like to have someone who has rounded experience of various functional areas and environments that includes markets and services in the mobile eco-system. Being a top guy for a number of operations is certainly the key.  While, looking at the profile available on public domain it is obvious that CEOs in Pakistan mobile industry all came from well reputed telecom organizations and that makes our task of ranking them even more difficult.

Jeffrey Hedberg is ranked on top with 13 points on the basis of his working experience with major Telcos around the world. Jeffrey remained at influential positions like CEO of Telkom South Africa, CEO of Multi-Links Nigeria, CEO of Cell C in South Africa, Executive Vice President and Member of the Board of Management of Deutsche Telekom AG, CEO and Chairman of Deutsche Telekom USA.

Jeffrey Hedberg is ranked high because of his working experience with major Telcos around the world

Muneer Farooqui, CEO Warid gets 12 points with over 20 years of experience and is ranked at number 2 in comparative standing with his peers in the Pakistan mobile industry. He started his professional journey with Shell Pakistan in 1990. Joined Mobilink in 1993 and worked in various capacities till 2004. Mr. Farooqui joined Warid Telecom in 2004 as part of the core team when the Company stated its journey in the local Telecom Industry. He was elevated to the position of Chief Executive Officer at Warid Telecom, Bangladesh and at a very difficult time was asked to lead Warid-Pakistan in 2010. He has done well considering the difficult situation Warid has been for the past few years as the shareholders have put the company on sale for quite some time and probably has stopped investments in the company. His strategy of face saving to migrate Warid to LTE in an environment where they were cash strapped is also commendable and may go a long way in solidifying his credential as a business leader.

Mr. Aziz is also a very seasoned player but most of his experience is of local market and financial sector, this also is his first assignment as a CEO. He has around 28 years of telecom experience in different organizations like Warid, Price Water Coopers, PICIC, Millicom International Cellular, Celtel etc. Aziz has been in Ufone as CEO since 2008, which is a big plus. However, inability of Ufone to get enough Spectrum against all expectations in the last 3G/4G spectrum auction conducted by PTA has really smudged his image as Ufone has dropped to number 4 position in terms of subscribers.  Therefore we have given him 11 points.

CEO Telenor, Michael Foley, has more than 30 years of sales, marketing and operational experience in the telecom and retail sectors in both advanced and growing markets and is our 4th choice. This is his first assignment as a CEO of major Telco. Michael Foley has worked as CCO at Celtel Nigeria and Executive Director and Chief Commercial Officer of M-Tel Bulgaria from March 2004 to July 2005 when the company was sold to Telekom Austria. He also served as Group CCO for Emirates International Telecommunications (Dubai, Malta, Tunisia).  Additionally Michael worked for Procter & Gamble Inc., New Brunswick Telephone, Bell Canada, was President of @Home Networks (Canada) and served on the Board of Excite Canada. He scored 10 points according to our evaluation.

Mr. Liu Dianfeng, CEO Zong, has 25 years of commercial and corporate affairs experience at China Mobile Beijing Co. He was also board member of China Mobile Jilin Co. While, China is a big market and important market that leads business world today, however, it will take some time for Mr. Dianfeng to prove his metal and his first test case is Pakistan.  Therefore he comes last on our list with 9 points.

Jeffery Hedberg- 13 Marks

Muneer Farooqui- 12 Marks

Aziz Khan- 11 Marks

Michael Foley- 10 Marks

Liu Dianfeng- 9 Marks

Achievements (Total: 15 points)CEOs League

Number of accomplishments attained by an individual are definitely the best way to evaluate performance. Therefore, we have tried to recollect some successes of each CEO to rate them. Jeffrey Hedberg is certainly the most accomplished CEO in the list. In 2011, Fortune Magazine ranked Jeffrey as one of the Top 25 Global executives under age 40 due to his multi-billion dollar experience of leadership positions across three Continents. So he once again tops our list with 12 points.

Mobilink under the supervision of Jeffery Hedberg has locally achieved some milestones like the operator has expanded its 3G Network to Over 200 Cities, won 8th Annual CSR Excellence Awards’ and became the fastest growing 3G service provider of Pakistan by reaching 1 million 3G customers only in 90 days. However, his most recent major achievement is bringing in some new talent from other companies to get rid of otherwise stagnated and rusty leadership that Mobilink had been suffering from quite some time.

Our 2nd position with 11 points would go to Mr. Muneer Farooqui as he has two achievements to his credit. The first being in January 2006, when Warid decided to expand its horizon of telecom business outside Pakistan it tasked Muneer Farooqui against other experienced hands to lead the challenging task of establishing Warid operations in Bangladesh, which he accomplished quite successfully. The 2nd one is the role he played in leading Warid-Pakistan in turbulent times when the company shareholders had lost faith in investing further and asked him to lead the team. The metal of a business leader is best judged in challenging times and probably he has seen more than his share of challenging tasks in the last decade.

Abdul Aziz-CEO Ufone did exceptionally well in his initial years and managed to put Ufone brand at an elevated position despite slower growth in subscriber base

Abdul Aziz-CEO Ufone did exceptionally well in his initial years and managed to put Ufone brand at an elevated position despite the fact that it subscribers growth remained slower than other operators in the same period. He tried to cover the set-back at the 3G/4G auction quite well by launching it 3G commercial network ahead of others and having the best advertisement campaign for it. He rightly won in 2011, the venerated ‘Asia Communication Awards (ACA)’ committee award for the “CEO of the Year”. Therefore he gets 10 points.

Michael Foley has done well where ever he served but his biggest challenge is yet to come as Telenor needs to strategize with its limited spectrum. This leaves very limited opportunities for growth in the data and data oriented services that Telenor is so focused on. He has been able to get himself appointed as representative Director at the National Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) & Research and Development (R&D) Fund. Mr. Foley is acting as the representative of the cellular mobile industry in Pakistan; which is his first achievement in the local mobile industry as a business leader and made him secure 8 points on our evaluation table.

Jeffrey Hedberg is certainly the most accomplished CEO among the list. In 2011, Fortune Magazine ranked Jeffrey as one of the Top 25 Global executives under age 40 due to his multi-billion dollar experience of leadership positions across three Continents

Little is known and said about Mr. Liu Dianfeng CEO of Zong, as the case is with many Chinese executives.  We don’t know much about how he has done at the regional China Mobile entities that he was associated with or otherwise.  However, as a start he needs to focus more on ensuring the best from the Zong’s initial win of 4G/LTE Spectrum where they have not fared well as Warid is neck to neck with Zong in terms or LTE subscribers despite limited spectrum and smaller deployment.   Due to all these reasons he comes at last number with 7 points.

Jeffery Hedberg- 12 Marks

Muneer Farooqui- 11 Marks

Aziz Khan- 10 Marks

Michael Foley- 8 Marks

Liu Dianfeng- 7 Marks

Leadership Attributes

Besides the three major areas i.e. education, experience and achievements (although achievements and experience has certain overlapping ingredients) there are also certain attributes that are important for CEOs as they play a very important role for leaders to lead their organizations from the front. Therefore, we have also evaluated our league of CEOs on the basis of their leadership attributes in terms of their public image in the industry, personality outlook, their vision for the future, appetite for innovation and strategic approach.

Public Image & Team Player (Total: 25 points)CEOs League

In current days of connectivity and communication public appearances and image has gained a vital importance. The work you are doing won’t really mean much if it is not properly highlighted in the media. What people think of you and how they perceive you has become the biggest challenge for everyone, this is the reason why public image is now equally important for politicians, business professional, social workers etc., as it is for showbiz and sports celebrities. The CEO who has been in the forefront of creating a positive image through media be it social media, television or print is none other than Michael Foley, CEO of Telenor. Not only Michael has quickly adopted Pakistani culture that he has propagated successfully being a foreigner but with his confident personality he has made a good name for himself, both in and outside of industry.

Michael’s adoption of Pakistan’s national dress, shalwar qameez has gained him lot of appreciation. He is also quite active on his Facebook page where he personally interacts with Telenor customers, Employees and answer their queries- a true team player.  Although, you can’t find Jeffrey Hedberg on any social media but he is accessible easily at most events. He is also known to be the friendliest expatriate CEO in Pakistan amongst the local staff who know him very closely.  Amongst Mobilink employees he is very well appreciated for his down to earth nature.

Michael has quickly adopted the Pakistani culture that he has propagated successfully being a foreigner and with his confident personality he has made a good name for himself, both in and outside of industry

Our local CEOs, Muneer Farooqi and Abdul Aziz could both do well if they interact more often with their customers, employees and importantly with credible industry as their images need to be correctly highlighted. CEO of Zong, Liu Dianfeng still seems to be struggling to settle in, with language barrier as the biggest hurdle. Despite that he is quite active with media. He is working on improving his English speaking skill so that he can interact with people more freely and we are quite sure that he could come up to the level of his predecessor, Dr. Fan Yun Jun-who would have been a clear winner on most categories had he stayed longer.

According to this analysis we have given 22 points to Folly, 15 to Hedberg, 12 to Aziz, 10 to Dianfeng and 14 points to Muneer Farooqui.

Michael Foley- 22 Marks

Jeffery Hedberg – 15 Marks

Muneer Farooqui- 14 Marks

Aziz Khan- 12 Marks

Liu Dianfeng- 10 Marks

Vision and Strategy (Total: 20 points)CEOs League

Clarity of a leader’s Vision and Strategy to achieve specific goals is critical to the development and expansion of all organizations. Organizational success solely depends on the competency of its leader/CEO as a competent leader is one who is motivator, inspirational and timely decision-maker. It represents the science of crafting and formulating short and long-term initiatives directed to optimally achieve organizational objectives. As far as the strategies of Pakistani mobile sector is concerned, the much delayed spectrum auction held last year was of vital importance strategically and indeed was a milestone. Although besides Warid all four operators participated in the auction but the result for each one has been quite different.

Warid didn’t participate in the auction and everyone thought that the demise of Warid in the near future is imminent, but it came back strongly and used its existing spectrum to launch LTE services. Although the move is quite cosmetic, but by making this move, Warid kept itself relevant in the industry and from devaluation as a corporate entity. This was also done in a way to make sure not to upset the auction winners. The credit rightly should go to its CEO, given that there were not many options available to the company.

Mobilink is the leading operator of Pakistan since the beginning. After Jaffery Hedgburg joined Mobilink, the expansion and development efforts have been further pumped up and Mobilink has successfully deployed network in 200 cities of Pakistan. It is also widely known in the industry that they are considering to buyout Warid which is a huge strategic move on Mobilink’s part. To top it all it has recently reshuffled the team at the top to ensure that growth strategies that they have planned are implemented on ground.

Warid didn’t participate in the auction and everyone thought that the demise of Warid in the near future is eminent, but it came back strongly to launch LTE services. Although the move is quite cosmetic, but Warid kept itself relevant in the industry and from devaluation as a corporate entity and credit rightly goes to Muneer Farooqui

Telenor with only 5MHz of spectrum has successfully secured the biggest 3G market share in the country which shows its aggressive market strategy but more importantly it has focused itself on providing more advance services like m-commerce, IoT services and have came up with an application store knowing well that it may lose out with plain Data services if their counterparts start a price war on data pricing that have managed to get larger chunks of spectrum.  It is important to note that Telenor has very strong group bindings and SoPs are very clear so very little is at play for local team and CEO to make a difference except operational activities.

Ufone leadership although largely driven by Etisalat Group made a technical mistake in the spectrum auction that saw its otherwise dream of become the dominant player shattered and its employees dejected. It has already been left far behind by Telenor and Zong both of whom are later entrants in the mobile industry. The company although has a very aggressive marketing team but with same amount of spectrum as Telenor, it has the least number of 3G subscribers.  The company has slipped to number 4 position despite strong shareholders support and has done little to reverse the downward trend especially in the last couple of years.

While, Zong came out as the most successful operator in 3G/4G auction under the leadership of Dr. Fan Yun Jun with the largest chunk of spectrum, it was expected that Zong will gain a stronghold in the market but interestingly Dr. Fan was replaced at a very critical moment and the result now are quite unexpected. Zong’s 3G/4G penetration rate is quite low as it is currently on number 3 position in terms of 3G subscriber and in struggling position for 4G subscribers with Warid, which has launched services on limited spectrum. The industry does not carry a very favorable view of Zong’s current leadership who doesn’t have the vision and strategic depth to compete with the likes of Telenor & Mobilink despite having a huge spectrum and deep pocket shareholders, so Zong will really have to work hard in making things look otherwise.

So in this round we have given 14 points to Micheal Foley, 13 to Muneer Farooqui, 12 to Hedberg, 10 to Aziz Khan and 9 to Dianfeng.

Michael Foley- 14 Marks

Muneer Farooqui- 13 Marks

Jeffery Hedberg – 12 Marks

Aziz Khan- 10 Marks

Liu Dianfeng- 9 Marks

Innovation (Total: 10 Points)

Bringing innovative ideas and services is also amongst the most important factors for the long time success of any organization and an attribute of a successful Telco leader as it keeps company image and customer intact while making business profitable. Looking at the recent past, Telenor has no doubt been in the forefront for introducing new and innovative ideas and services.

Some of the services sometime called shouts in the Telco business includes launch of Pakistan’s first Online Payment Solution – Easypay, for its subscribers, App Store facilitation of local App purchases through credit minutes, Pakistan’s first ‘International Remittance Doorstep Delivery’ Service and innovation to disaster emergency response through Beneficiary Communication Project. While, Michael Foley certainly a pat on the back but the innovation is embedded in Telenor organizational culture and a business head, he has further facilitated the process.

While, Ufone has dropped to number 4th position as an operator in term of subscriber base but it also is quite known for introducing newer ideas and services. Some of these include the most innovative and humorous television commercial that have become quite famous, other services that show the innovation of the organization which could be associated with Aziz as a CEO includes customer centric packages, Karachi Police Mobile Emergency Alert System and, Pakistan’s lowest Quadcore 3G Smartphone ‘U5’ to cater to every segment of its customer base.

Muneer Farooqui could rightly take the third place as despite difficult situation he has been able to not only launch LTE services but have introduced the industry’s first Shared Tariff Plans and MiFi Devices that were the hallmark of the fixed wireless operator in Pakistan, the PTCL.

Liu Dianfeng as a new comer faces multiple challenges but also has a lot of opportunities for himself and his company to excel with the resources available at hand

It is very difficult sometime for a large organization to be innovative sometimes and that is exactly what is happening probably to Mobilink right now. They will need to change the company culture to encourage newer ideas to bloom and establish simpler to implement SoPs that entice smaller companies to partner up for introducing and bringing new services. Being big is currently playing to Mobilink’s disadvantage. However, we feel they should be 3rd because some of the growth strategies have really worked for Mobilink such as expanding their 3G network to 200 Cities so more people could be reached and newer services offered, reaching for the 1 million 3G customers in 90 days all goes in its favor but they have yet to launch any first in the industry.

Zong CEO Liu Dianfeng again will have to work hard in giving his organization the much needed imputes that desires and crave for innovative ideas. It would do him well if he can make use of his experience in China to bring some innovative services to Pakistan and establish closer relationship with the local staff as it has been heard that most decision making is done in the company by expatriate Chinese staff.

With his innovative approach in doing business Micheal Foley has topped this skill set with 8 points whereas Jeffery Hegberg came second with 7 points. Muneer Farooqui landed on third with 6 points place leaving Aziz Khan and Liu Dianfeng on third and fourth places with 5 and 4 points respectively.

Michael Foley- 8 Marks

Jeffery Hedberg- 7 Marks

Muneer Farooqui- 6 Marks

Liu Dianfeng- 5 Marks

Aziz Khan- 4 Marks

Final Verdict

Michael Foley due to his extra ordinary leadership attributes is our first choice on our final score chart although if we judge him according to his achieved skillsets alone, he will move down to 4th position as compared to rest of his peers in the industry. Following him very closely is Jeffrey Hedberg, although he is outstanding if we judge him on basic skills criteria. Muneer is our number 3rd choice as he has balanced points in both his skill sets required and the leadership attributes. Mr. Abdul Aziz is ranked 4th, just a fraction behind from Mr. Farroqui. Mr. Liu Dianfeng while presently has not fared well but being new comer is a challenging task. He has a lot of opportunity for himself and his company to excel as all operators are aware of the fact that if Zong can put its act together, it can turn around the whole market. So for Zong leadership, there are some tough decisions to make, it is now up to Mr. Liu how he measures to this challenge.

Our ranking of the mobile operators’ CEOs is strictly based on the information available to us through internet and our personal observation of the industry.   As earlier said, there are other skills and attributes that are at play when one takes the herculean task of running a big company, so we do accept that it may not provide you the most exhaustive, extensive and accurate analysis. However, we have tried our best to provide as much information as we found on public domain, popular sentiments and our personal knowledge of the industry. We are also running a poll on our web site to get feedback from our readers and we encourage them to participate and pick their favorite CEO. So please visit and vote for the CEO you like the most.

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