Mazen Mroue, Chief Operating Officer at MTN Nigeria

Mazen Mroue
How have you focused on expansion in the market?

We believe everyone deserves the benefits of a modern, connected life. This is the philosophy that drives our expansion strategy. We are focused on strategies that help us achieve sustainable results and ensure that people remain connected through our voice and data service offerings. Our expansion efforts are focused on opportunities in financial technology and digital. The next three years will see us investing about N600 billion to accelerate the expansion of our network infrastructure, deepen population coverage and support the Federal Government’s broadband initiatives. In the fintech area, we will continue to leverage our Super-Agent licence to support the Nigerian government in achieving set objectives for closing the financial inclusion gaps. At the same time, we continue engaging relevant authorities to obtain a Payment Service Bank licence. Our expansion plans are also largely determined by our customers; we are committed to nurturing and earning their trust and will continue to invest in new products and services tailored to meet their needs. 

Digitization is reshaping the industry landscape. How are you optimizing customer touchpoints?

Digitization will enhance the delivery of telecommunication services and also help economies perform better. Digitization, when properly implemented, will lead to improved socio-economic benefits for citizens by providing additional job opportunities and boosting productivity. We have continued to see this in action, partly due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and we believe that as a company in active collaboration with the country, we should continue to make necessary investments to deepen and fully deploy a digital economy. This is why in 2019, we restructured our digital division in a bid to drive the growth of our digital business, make significant contributions in enabling the ongoing digital revolution by providing access, interconnectivity and applications and most especially, improve intimacy with our customers. We are leveraging and combining technology such as cloud, mobile, social, data analytics, artificial intelligence in innovative ways to improve service delivery. We offer an integrated suite of communication products and services including voice, data and digital service with 2G, 3G and 4G LTE technology as well as exploring 5G technology. We were the first telecoms operator to test the 5G technology in West Africa, and we will continue to make the required investments to deepen and optimize digital solutions and touchpoints for our customers.

How is MTN Nigeria meeting the telecommunication needs of the rural communities in the country?

We are constantly looking for ways to ensure that everybody including those living in unserved and under-served communities has access to voice, data and fintech solutions because we believe that connectivity has a significant impact on the quality of life and socio-economic outcomes for people and the nation. Through our rural telephony programme, we have identified 3,000 communities that will benefit from our network expansion plans over the next three years. This is being delivered through a phased approach. Over the course of this year, communities in Abuja, Enugu, Ibadan, Kano, and Port Harcourt have already begun to benefit from this program.

As a telecoms company, what has been the greatest challenge amid the COVID-19 pandemic? What course of action have you taken to buffer the effects?

The pandemic greatly affected the global economy and health systems leading to unavoidable loss of lives and finances. To this day, many industries and economies are still dealing with the effects of the spread of the virus, and in some countries, the government and health sector are continuing to contain the spread of the virus as new cases are recorded.

With all the uncertainties that came with COVID-19, it was important for the business to adapt quickly and to a considerable extent, put plans in place to avoid significant disruptions that could have otherwise caused major setbacks. Our focus was on keeping our customers connected all through the period and on our staff welfare. We executed a digital transformation that saw our staff working from home while our essential workers continued to work at our physical locations while observing strict hygienic measures. We strengthened the reliability and sustainability of our networks to ensure that our supply chain was not affected, made availability for spares as a mitigation strategy, and we developed products and services to assist our customers. With all this in place, we have been able to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our operations. As part of our commitment to the communities we operate in, we made financial, product and service investments and fostered partnerships to support the efforts of the government and the NCDC. We also waived a percentage of our service charges on our MoMo Agent network and provided payment extensions for our postpaid customers.

What are the current telecommunication challenges/opportunities in Nigeria?

The need to accelerate our transition to digital is essential and presents an opportunity for growth. The world is fast moving from the conventional way of doing things, and with the outbreak of the pandemic, we have seen that we must move more quickly. During the early days of the pandemic, digital means of communication ensured that the day to day running of many businesses and the economy did not have to stop, thereby preventing additional business losses. Providing access to finance through innovative financial technology solutions is another opportunity area. It benefits vulnerable groups by fostering better socio-economic outcomes, supports the government’s economic and financial inclusion objectives and supports the activities of other conventional financial institutions.

IoT/5G/Cloud Hope – or Hype?

This is definitely “HOPE” for Nigeria and the rest of the world. I say this because of the potential to improve living outcomes through job creation and help economies work more efficiently. As the world steadily moves towards digital even as the outbreak of COVID-19 has further accelerated the process, many countries, including Nigeria have now experienced some of the benefits of these innovations. These innovative technologies will enhance connectivity speed a hundred times faster than the current 4G networks blurring geographic and operational borders. It will support the delivery of healthcare services, improving remote diagnostic and treatment outcomes. It will also enhance socio-economic outcomes and experiences of everything digital, including financial services and the emergence of innovations, smarter cities and healthier people. At MTN, we fully understand the immense potentials of IoT, 5G and cloud, and we will continue to make the required investments to deepen and support the deployment of these technologies in Nigeria.

What trends in the industry right now excite and perturb you?

Over the last decade, the telecom sector has reinvented itself to match the rising demand for content and digital services. We are now comfortably in the age of smartphones which is widely affecting the reach of digital marketing, making it easier to understand consumer behaviour and allowing us as network operators to personalize our offers and products to meet customers needs and their expectations. Digital Marketing is taking our businesses far providing a better Return of Investments, and by having a clear understanding of our own customers’ journeys and experiences, we are now able to identify what’s working and what needs to be changed or improved.

How have you approached change amid the pandemic?

With the outbreak of the pandemic and the challenges, it was clear that the only way to remain on a growth curve was to quickly adapt and make quick decisions and changes that may have previously seemed impossible. As an organization that is committed to delivering value to all groups of stakeholders, we adopted a stakeholder-first mitigation strategy with a critical focus on employee satisfaction, customer experience, shareholder satisfaction and family life. Our approach has been adapting to the changes, making critical decisions quickly, investing in critical infrastructure, investing in our people, our community – especially vulnerable groups and supporting the government in all its efforts to limit the adverse effects of the pandemic.

What do you hope to achieve in your current position?

Since my appointment as the COO of MTN Nigeria, I am proud of the collective success we have achieved prior to and after my appointment. It is that solid foundation that I am riding on and will continue to ride on to deliver and achieve sustainable results. Throughout my stay, I will continue to provide the necessary leadership and direction to our commercial and technology functions while harnessing new and existing technology to deliver the best customer experience and accelerate digital innovation for shared prosperity for the nation. This is all towards achieving the end goal of leaving a legacy that successive leadership teams can leverage for the continued growth of the business that impacts the Nigerian economy positively.

As 50% of Nigeria’s population is below 18, we need to be resilient and speak the language of the new generation.  We are a well-known brand in the country. Still, we need to play in the space of the young generation, and we need to adapt ourselves to their language, without losing the relationship and interface we have established with the current generation.

How do you plan on accelerating business growth?

In accelerating business growth, we are guided by the principle of shared value and prosperity because we believe that the success and growth of our business are linked to the success, wellbeing and development of the communities in which we operate. Therefore all of our growth strategies are targeted at identifying and investing in opportunities that bring about positive and sustainable impacts for the people and the government. We will continue expanding our network services to ensure more rural communities are connected. We will leverage our quality of services and new technologies to continue increasing smartphone penetration in the country and enable existing and new users to join the digital world. Our commitment remains to play our role in leading the private sector contribution to the digital economy and financial inclusion. By doing so, we will make the necessary investments in our critical infrastructure, expand our network and support the Nigerian government’s goal for digitization.

Describe yourself in three words?

Stay humble and be persistent; success will follow!

MTN continues to empower young entrepreneurs in Nigeria. What has been the most recent initiative and how successful was it?

A recent youth empowerment initiative is the Revv Programme which was designed as a give-back initiative to address the critical needs of SMEs during the COVID-19 period and in the aftermath. We are targeting 10,000 SMEs and have been delivering a series of business-related masterclasses, advisory services, marketing and technology support services. The ongoing Y’ello Star is also a youth targeted initiative which provides a platform to discover, nurture, expose and launch music talents in young Nigerians.

Through the MTN Foundation we deliver ICT and business skills training to young people between the ages of 18 – 35 with the aim of improving their chances of gainful employment. This we deliver with some of our ecosystem partners, including Oracle, Google, IBM, KPMG and Digital Bridge Institute (DBI). We also provide scholarships to eligible 200 level students studying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses and also to 200 level blind students studying in public tertiary institutions across Nigeria.

What’s next for MTN Nigeria?

In the coming years, we will continue to explore ways to ensure that our customers have the best customer experience and will implement our strategy with a major focus on fintech and digital. The next three years will see us invest about N600 billion to expand our network and accelerate digital transformation, and support the Federal Government’s broadband initiative. We will continue to invest in our infrastructure to deepen access to technology and accelerate financial inclusion for underrepresented groups.

The industry will continue to be a key driver in the transformation of lives – both in the business and personal space and with no doubt, the telecommunications industry will continue to be a catalyst for economic development. The future is bright and very promising, especially with the very young generation forming the bulk of the population. This is a huge potential because all these young people will rely more and more on access to communication and digital services. We are confident that together with all our partners we will drive Nigeria to the next level and ensure that jointly we will address the digital economy agenda.