Pakistanis Leading The Telecom CEO League

PhoneWorld team’s first relative benchmarking of mobile operators’ CEOs last year gained immense popularity both among our readers and the industry. This time we are sharing our second report of currently serving four CEOs, three of whom assumed roles during 2016

The telecom sector of Pakistan has undergone phenomenal changes since the arrival of mobile network companies in the country. Pakistan had just 5 million mobile phone users till 2004. Who could have thought of such a mind blowing increase in this figure? Today, Pakistan has more than 137 million mobile phone users, over 38 million 3G/4G subscribers and an annual 70% cellular tele-density rate. Pakistan has magnificently emerged as a success story in the last few years with policy papers, fair & free inclusive transparent spectrum auctions, competitive tariffs, logarithmic increase in mobile broadband (MBB) penetration rate and sudden uptake in ICT technology incubation and entrepreneurship programs etc. It is due to the dedicated efforts of the ICT leadership that today Pakistan is winning international awards like “Glomo GSMA Best Government Leadership & Women financial inclusion Awards” at forums like the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017. The telecom sector and specifically the mobile companies have helped other industries through m-Services like m-Agriculture, m-Banking, m-Government, m-health, m-education etc., to bring innovation and advancement in the country. These accomplishments could not have been achieved without the implausible and dedicated leadership contributions of all mobile companies of Pakistan.

The success story of Pakistan mobile industry is evident as we have crossed 137 million mobile phone users with over 38 million 3G/4G subscribers and an annual 70% cellular tele-density rate

A CEO is the highest-ranking executive in a company, and his primary responsibilities include making major corporate decisions that shall result in making the overall operations a success. Someone with great leadership skills like Bill Gates who, despite early failures, with continued passion and innovation has driven Microsoft and the software industry to success. Just as the job of a CEO is difficult, the evaluation of a CEO’s personality based on his skills and attributes is also the hardest task to be done. Therefore, PhoneWorld team has tried to benchmark the mobile leadership by setting some HR parameters and judging each leader according to them; but more importantly his achievements in the last year or so. The data and information for benchmarking has primarily been taken from the publically available sources and we have also tried to contact individual companies and leaders to provide as much information as possible. This not only will help CEOs to evaluate their performance but it will help general public and industry people to know more about the telecom leadership. It was quite a challenging task as some of them did not provide the required information for unknown reasons that definitely have impacted their relative position.

Also, as before we have used the theme of “Justice League” which is an assemblage of superheroes who work together as a squad. It is the A-Team of warriors with some super-powers that enable them to handle all type of situations. Just like “Justice League” heroes, a CEO of a company is nothing less than a “Superhero”. He can make quick & effective decisions; he is a team player who is commitment to the work, innovativeness, risk-taking and visionary. Keeping in view the Justice League idea like before, we have drawn the 2nd comparison of Pakistan’s mobile operators CEOs in this article analyzing their skills, attributes and the repute they have in the industry.

Our criteria for this year’s analysis are also quite similar to the previous one with some improvements of course. One major difference to last benchmarking is that more weightage almost half of the total points are given to recent achievements during the course of their current assignment in the last year or so.  In the first part, we have tried to measure the “Leadership Qualities” of the CEOs of Jazz, Telenor, Zong and Ufone on three fundamental parameters i.e. Education, Experience and Achievements with more weightage to the later as indicated. In the second part of the article, we will move on to the “Leadership Attributes” of the CEOs personalities which are equally important. 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 Qualities

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality” Warren Bennis

Effective leadership is important because it encourages a professional and positive environment in an organization. Let’s have a look at the relative standing of each telecom CEO as we based on their education, experience and achievements.

Education (Total: 10 points)

Specialization in a relevant field always gives priority whenever an HR expert looks at ones profile. Only relevant education along with experience and knowledge leads an individual to top level position. In today’s advanced world, the preferable educational combination could be technology and business specialization but still let’s have a look at the education of Liu Dianfeng (CEO Zong) and other three newly hired CEOs of mobile companies including Aamir Hafeez Ibrahim (CEO Jazz), Irfan Khan Wahab (CEO Telenor) and Rainer Rathgeber (CEO Ufone).

Irfan Wahab and Aamir Ibrahim have very proper educational background for the top level position in a telco company. Irfan Wahab has done BSc. Electrical Telecom Engineering from UET, Lahore and MSc in Mobile and Personal communications engineering from University of Westminster London UK. Not only the basic level education, Irfan also got lead due to his exclusive executive qualification like Financial Management program from Harvard Business School (HBS), Executive diploma in Marketing from London Business School and Advance Management Program in Business Management from INSEAD (SG). Another praiseworthy program attended by Irfan is the “Global CEO Program” in the field of Business Administration and Management from the University of Pennsylvania; which is more than relevant for the position of a CEO; hence we have given 9 points in this category.

Similarly, Aamir Ibrahim has also completed his education from reputable institutions with relevant educational degrees which include MBA from IMD (International Institute for Management Development) and BBA Accounting from The University of Texas. He has also done Advanced Management Program (AMP) from Harvard Business School; which is a plus point. Therefore we have given 8 points to Aamir, if he had done any technical subject it could have really not only helped him with this benchmarking but would have been of immense help in his illustrative career.

Mr. Liu Dianfeng, CEO Zong has done his master degree from Chinese Academy of Sciences and has done Executive MBA from Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, which is supposedly 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. While the combination of study is quite relevant but Chinese Universities do not rank very high, therefore, Dianfeng is at number three position with 7 points.

Irfan Wahab has a combination of technical and business studies with various post graduate certifications, that give him an edge over the others

Rainer has done his master degree in Economics from a German institute. His Economics degree is rather very well suited for Ufone’s  current failing financial situation but as said it is very essential to have a good technical background if the company is to adopt a well thought technology strategy specially on spectrum acquisition and refarming, so very important to Ufone. PTA’s decision on the forthcoming spectrum auction of the leftover 10 MHz in 1800 MHz would be his litmus test for any effort to turn around the company that has been trying to refarm the spectrum with PTCL. Rainer according to his educational background is ranked on 4th position with 6 score.

Experience (Total: 10 points)

After education, comes management experience especially that is relevant to the mobile or telco industry matters more. Generally, companies prefer candidates with experience in multiple disciplines, markets and services in the mobile eco-system. Fortunately, all the present telecom CEOs come from well reputed organizations and have also worked across different countries and continents which is evident from the prospering mobile sector of Pakistan too. This has made our task of ranking them even more difficult.

Mr. Rainer has 21 years of experience in the Telecommunications Industry in consulting and industry roles across 4 continents. Rainer started his career from “Roland Berger”, a leading global strategy consulting firm headquartered in Munich, Germany with 50 offices in 36 countries. In 2002, he joined “Deutsche Telekom Group” where he initially held the positions of Head of Strategy for T-Mobile Germany and Executive VP Sales and Service Strategy for T-Mobile International. In 2004, he became the Executive VP Market Management for T-Mobile International. Having served the Group for 4 years, he was appointed in 2006 as CEO of T-Mobile Croatia, so his elevation to the top job is almost more than a decade back.

In 2009, Rainer moved back into Deutsche Telekom Group and again held two important roles. He was the Senior VP Marketing Europe with responsibility for 13 countries and a customer base of 125 million. In addition to this role, he held area management responsibility equivalent to the role Chief Regional Officer for OTE Group Deutsche Telekom’s 6 entities across 4 countries covering Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania. Rainer has an extraordinary experience in strategy formulation and operations in very mature markets that could be very important for devising a multi-dimensional strategy for the declining health of Ufone; so we have given him 9 points.

The success story of Aamir Ibrahim in his professional career puts him 02nd on our benchmarking list. Aamir joined Mobilink in 1994 as GM marketing & strategy and is presently the CEO of same company. Aamir has over 23 years of working experience in blue-chip companies, across 3 different continents and sectors including mobile telecoms and automotive. From Mobilink, he switched to automobile industry in 2003 and joined ‘Jaguar & Land Rover’ as the Head of Sales Operations. His other venture in the automobile sector was at ‘Ford Motor Company’ after which Aamir returned to telecom sector. All these are world renowned companies. In the telecom industry, Aamir remained part of Warid, Mobilink and Telenor both in Pakistan and at Group level. He served at C-Level with positions like CEO of Warid, Senior VP at Telenor Group and also CMO & VP Commercial Division and CEO TLC. VP Strategy & Corporate Affairs at Telenor Pakistan.

Pakistanis Leading The Telecom CEO League in 2017

Irfan Wahab also has 23 years of experience but only in telecom sector which puts him after Aamir. He served in various positions within Telenor Group both in Asia and Europe, including VP Devices and Vice President – Head of Asia Distribution. He started his professional career in Orange UK as BSS Engineer in 1994 and joined PTCL as Senior Consultant in 1996 for 2 years. After some international ventures like T-Mobile, Telcordia Technologies and Ericsson; Khan came back to Pakistan and became the Director Telecom at MoITT. He has also remained Executive VP and CEO Telenor LDI ltd at Telenor Pakistan for 5 years. In 2009, he was elevated to the position of VP Devices at Telenor Group where he successfully devised Group Device strategy for handset bundles and device portfolio across 11 countries. These experiences led Irfan to further rise at even higher level positions and eventually became the Vice President- Head of Distribution Asia at Telenor ASA. This gave his stronghold in sales and distribution area. In 2014, Irfan joined Telenor Pakistan as the Deputy CEO and after almost 2 years he has been raised to the top most position of CEO; hence becoming the first local CEO of Telenor-Pakistan.

Rainer’s extraordinary experience for over a decade in strategy formulation and operations across 4 continents makes him the most experienced campaigner

Mr. Liu Dianfeng, CEO Zong, has 25 years of commercial and corporate affairs experience at China Mobile Beijing Co. He has also remained the board member of China Mobile Jilin Co. China Mobile is a big and important market that successfully leads business in today’s world but it is also a fact that China Mobile is a homogenous market; hence anyone only working in it losses the diversity in experience. If Mr. Liu overcomes the communication and cultural gap will give him that much needed attribute to make it in any other market.

Achievements (Total: 50 points)

As we know that the clarity of a leader’s vision and strategy to achieve certain goals is directly associated with the overall performance of an organization. The clearer a leader is in his/her vision, the more timely he/she will make decisions. The success of an organization depends on the competency of a CEO; who must be an exemplary motivator, inspirational leader and an expert in managerial decisions. Only with these attributes, a CEO will be able to devise constructive strategies for the organization. As far as the strategies of Pakistani mobile sector is concerned, three operators have 3G & 4G mobile broadband spectrums whereas, Ufone only has limited 3G spectrum. This indicates a huge responsibility on each operator in order to take maximum benefits of the acquired spectrum and make internet based services available like M-health, M-Education, M-Agriculture and other in far flung areas of Pakistan. Ufone will definitely need additional spectrum to realize its mobile broadband vision, if any.

We have included achievements by a CEO as part of personality benchmark during the past year especially for initiatives during the period after appointment to the recent position. Therefore, our team tried to come up with some of the personal successes of mobile CEOs that definitely contribute to the overall organization’s performance.

The success of an organization depends on the competency of a CEO; who should be an exemplary motivator, inspirational leader and an expert in managerial decisions

Aamir Ibrahim is certainly a one accomplished CEO in this category due to some of his noteworthy achievements in the industry especially during his current appointment. He has been hired as the CEO of two merged companies Warid and Mobilink primarily due to the fact that he has served in both these organizations at higher level. Aamir, after joining as CEO in Mobilink, has successfully completed the most difficult re-structuring task of his company and got rid of the dead wood human resource that was so important for taking the company into the future. Aamir’s visionary leadership is also evident from his effective step of rebranding of Mobilink into Jazz; while at the same time successfully cashing the value of Jazz brand name. Both of these tasks involve higher level of decision making and risk taking which Aamir, as a CEO, managed quite well. Mobilink, even before merger, was the leading operator in Pakistan. Hence, these effective changes will play important role in helping the company to witness growth in future.

Not only this, within a short period of leadership, the company has done exceptionally well in the important mobile banking service that is in competition with the likes of  “Easy Paisa by Telenor” that won “Glomo GSMA Award 2017 for Women Inclusion” at MWC.

Irfan Wahab is the first Pakistani CEO of Telenor since it started operations in Pakistan. It is due to his high profile experience within Telenor Group that the Group trusted his capabilities and hired him as the CEO of a country like Pakistan in which the group has keen interest due to its growing market potential especially after the exit from neighboring India where they had a bad experience. Irfan Wahab probably was instrumental in making a timely decision for Telenor to participate in the auction to acquire 850 MHz spectrum hence, getting a step closer to realize Digital Pakistan vision. This indicates the company’s and its leadership’s aggressive strategic approach in the Pakistan mobile market. Also, he is presently re-structuring the company the results of which shall be more visible in the near term. This indicates his vision for the coming challenging scenarios. Being the CEO of Telenor, Irfan has been invited on numerous international platforms like Mobile World Congress (MWC 2016-17) to represent Pakistan. Some other milestones achieved by Telenor under Irfan’s supervision include “P@SHA ICT Award for Innovation in Service” and it also got nominated for two Global Mobile Awards for the fifth consecutive year. It is important to note here that maintaining market share in a challenging telecom environment is equally essential; which Telenor with the exceptional leadership of Irfan has wonderfully preserved. So he is on the 2nd position in our list as does his company on market share.

Pakistanis Leading The Telecom CEO League in 2017

Zong’s leadership achievement in strategy & vision is also worth-praising. Liu has successfully maintained its market share in 4G subscriber base till date giving tough time to the market leaders. Up till last year, we didn’t know much about Zong’s CEO and his achievements but in 2016 Liu Dianfeng has made some worth mentioning contributions to Zong. While, highlighting the achievements of Liu, it is also pertinent to mention that Zong, under his leadership, has achieved its 4G roll out target three months earlier than projected in 2016. Zong has the highest number of 4G subscribers hence utilizing the maximum of its 20 MHz spectrum. Due to these achievements China Mobile has committed to invest further $200 million in Pakistan for network enhancements. Presently, while he is maintaining lead on 4G subscribers but there seems to be few initiatives to cash the digital dividend that the company successfully managed initially. Mr. Liu needs to come up with more visionary approach so that it can manage to reap the benefits of its spectrum assets which will be running out fast.

Aamir Ibrahim is certainly the most accomplished CEO due to his post-merger strategies that includes rebranding and restructuring of the company

As far as Ufone’s achievements under Rainer’s leadership are concerned, we have not seen any fundamental changes in the company profile. Ufone has not devised any effective strategy, despite having a strategy specialist CEO that can change its fate and help the company to improve its deteriorated market share. Ufone’s market share has decreased further in the last year or so that does not speak in favour of Mr. Rainer. Just like 2015 benchmark report we published, also in 2016 the company has remained at number 4 position despite strong shareholders and there seems to be no serious efforts to reverse the downward trend especially in the last couple of years.

Although Ufone reportedly is working on reducing its OPEX further but this has yet to be confirmed from publically available data. It may be a bit earlier for him to be judged on his achievements as he has recently joined Ufone. In future, he shall be mainly judged on two important aspects i.e. how well he performed in the recently announced 4G auction by the PTA (expected in May 2017 which they desperately need for MBB) and turning around the company specially in repairing relationship between the two shareholders i.e. Etisalat and the Government of Pakistan. Rainer has vast experience in serving international ventures like T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom Group etc., where he served at top positions and could be instrumental in developing and importantly implementing effective strategies to grow in the mobile industry.

Leadership Attributes

“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision” Famous leadership expert John C. Maxwell

Having a great idea and assembling a team to bring that concept to life is the first step in creating a successful business venture. While, finding a unique idea is rare enough; the ability to successfully execute this idea is what separates the dreamers from the entrepreneurs. In order to successfully lead an entire organization on an innovative idea, the leadership attributes really matters. Leadership attributes are the inner or personal qualities that constitute effective leadership. These attributes include a large array of characteristics such as values, motives, traits, competencies, style, behaviors and skills. Many leaders are competent, but few qualify as remarkable. If a CEO wants to join the ranks of the best of the best, he/she must embody all these qualities all the time.

We have also developed a collective skillset of “Leadership Attributes” out of above mentioned qualities to evaluate our league of telecom CEOs. Our criteria is based on their public image in the industry, team player, personality outlook and appetite for innovation.

Public Image & Team Player (Total:20 points)

When we hear names like “Steve Jobs” or “Bill Gates”, “Apple” and “Microsoft” comes to our mind. A CEO’s image is almost inseparable from the company he or she leads. The PepsiCo CEO ‘Indra Nooyi’ once said that “When you become a CEO you’re no longer your own person, you’re a public property.” In today’s connected world, public image has gained significant attention. People want to see whatever is done by a politician, model, singer, scientist and also a CEO leading the company. The work done by a CEO won’t really matter much if it is not properly highlighted. Hence, it would be right if we say that “CEOs are Brands.”

Pakistanis Leading The CEO League

In this category, the two Pakistani CEOs Irfan Wahab and Aaamir Ibrahim were close in competition as both of them are striving hard to enhance their company’s name by using their CEO image. Both of them are at the forefront for creating a positive image through media, be it social media, television or print. Hence, it is really difficult to keep either on them at the top in our list.

Aamir Ibrahim took a very nominal lead here with 18 points on the basis of his charismatic and confident style of leadership which also give him prominence in the industry. He is easily approachable by media persons in corporate events. Aamir is active on Twitter and shares many useful initiatives of the company with public. Not only this, Aamir appeared in the “Jazz Anthem-”Jazz-Dunya Ko Bataa Dou”-a TVC that was released to announce new brand identity under one name “JAZZ” after the merger of Warid and Mobilink. He also hosted the official event of “Warid-Mobilink Merger” proving that sometimes personal touch matters more. This attribute was missing for quite some time from Mobilink CEOs and therefore is a very pleasant change from the past coming from the market leader.

Irfan is also very close with 16 points in this category as he is also determined to progress his brand name in the industry. He with his confident and energetic personality pioneered the trend of a CEO appearing in a TVC. He is also quite active on social media mainly Facebook and appears quite often in live sessions on industry issues, career counseling and personally interacts with the youth to answer their queries.

Unlike previous Telenor and Mobilink CEOs, who have established friendly public image; foreigner CEOs take longer to adjust and in Pakistan’s industry due to the culture and language barrier. Same is the case with new CEO of Ufone. Rainer is not at all active on social media neither does he appears at public or industry events. Even it was difficult for us to find his data for this article. He has no LinkedIn profile; this makes him less known among the public; hence we have given him 11 points. Same is the case with Mr. Liu Dianfeng. However, Mr. Liu public image has improved from last year, as he has become more active in events and industry gatherings. Therefore we have given 11 points to Liu and 9 points to Rainer in this category.

Innovation (Total: 10 Points)

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” Steve Jobs

The introduction of innovative services and ideas is an important factor for the success of a company. Customers are always fascinated with more useful and relevant services offered by a brand. The more a leader of a Telco is creative and innovative himself, the more ideas he will be able to add to the overall portfolio of a company. Let’s look at the innovative services introduced by each mobile operator during last year or so.

Irfan Wahab has successfully created a strong brand identity of Telenor in the industry

Some initiatives create a lot of hype and are followed by others in the industry. One such initiative is Telenor’s velocity, -a startup accelerator program to support digital entrepreneurs. Another such initiative is i-Champ- an effort to revolutionize the education system of Pakistan in collaboration with Facebook. i-Champ initiative intends to promote digital education in Pakistan and to bring awareness among the students and give them a better understanding of internet.

Telenor Djuice also introduced Pakistan’s first ever online film “Oye Kuch Kar Guzar” on YouTube; in order to strengthen the digital ecosystem and digital uptake in the country. As far as the previously introduced services of Telenor are concerned, “Easypaisa” (first Online Payment Solution) has bagged an award at the 2016 Financial Innovation Award. Irfan Wahab has successfully created a strong brand identity of Telenor in the industry; hence we have given 8 points to Irfan.

Jazz has improved a lot as compare to the last year when it comes to innovation and new services. Followed by Telenor, Jazz successfully established “Jazzxlr8” the first ever “National Incubation Center” (NIC) in Pakistan in collaboration with MoITT, ICT R&D Fund and TeamUp, hence setting an example of public-private partnership in the industry. The post-merger packages and services introduced by Jazz are also quite popular for its existing and new users.  It also introduced “Ba khabar Kissan” as an m-Agriculture initiative. It also took initiatives to bring low end smartphones labeled as “Jazz X” making it more affordable for users and taking the mobile broadband penetration further. These innovative services introduced under the leadership of Aamir puts him at 2nd place with 7 points.

Liu has maintained his 4G LTE market share and is still leading in this regard. The operator redesigned its logo last year. Other than this, we haven’t heard anything innovative from the operator. So Liu still needs to work hard to give Zong the right potential to mark its place with innovative ideas.

Ufone did not introduce something worth mentioning in the 2016 also as was the case in the initial year of launch. The operator introduced an initiative “Unsung Heroes”-a campaign through which it aimed to share the stories of ordinary Pakistanis doing extraordinary deeds, thus becoming a brand that celebrates the real people and their real achievements. Therefore, we have given 6 points to Liu and 5 points to Rainer in the innovation category as they didn’t manage to come up with novelty during this year.

Final Verdict

Aamir Ibrahim, due to his remarkable leadership attributes is our favorite superhero and also the CEO of the Year. Whereas, Irfan Wahab Khan, right behind Aamir is at 2nd position; as both of them started their professional careers in same year and have remained very close competitors. Zong’s CEO Liu is our 3rd choice with improved ranking this year as we have found him delivering. The new CEO of Ufone, Rainer, is at 4th position as he didn’t add any major contributions after joining in the company. Since, Rainer is a newcomer we can say that he has to struggle hard to establish his credentials and take Ufone out of the red in the competitive mobile industry of Pakistan.

Aamir Ibrahim, due to his remarkable leadership attributes is our favorite superhero and also the CEO of the Year

PhoneWorld’s top ranking of mobile companies CEOs is entirely based on the information available through web and based on our personal observation of the industry. As the benchmarking is done by our team’s self-established criteria, so it may comprise limited information. However, our team has tried its best to provide as much information as possible collected through public domains, popular sentiments and the personal knowledge of the industry analyst.

In order to assess public opinion and choice, PhoneWorld is also conducting a poll on the official website to get feedback from the readers. So please visit and vote for your favorite CEO.

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