15 May, 2013 10:44

Telkom Appoints New Strategy Head

My initial reaction on hearing that Telkom has appointed a new strategy head was to ask what had happened to the ostrich. This semi-public, semi private, company has lost the way, and I suspect much of the blame lies with its main stakeholder, the State. The new Head of Strategy, Dr Miriam Altman, is an impressive individual, serving on the NPC. But what of the Board of Directors and the CEO? Are they not supposed to provide the lead, to decide on strategy? Or are they mainly political appointees who know far too little about the challenges of steering a telecoms company through the rapidly changing challenges in this highly-competitive industry?

Expert views

1. Mario Pretorius, CEO Telemasters:

In appointing a part-time Strategy Director, one wonders how seriously Telkom is taking its future. Dr Altman will retain her position on the NPC and effectively liaises with the President’s inner circle. It is entirely possible that Telkom’s future may be directed not by Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, but from the inner circle itself – and that could be severely problematic. In this enormous and varied behemoth there are a wide range of products and services and enormous, expensive bets on the most appropriate technologies are laid. Given the more than 400 new competitors and a changing regulatory landscape, a keen observer would have expected an experienced and serious industry insider to fill this important position. It is debatable what a PhD in Economics with no industry and no business experience will add to Brian Armstrong’s idea of the future. The move makes no -pardon the pun – strategic business sense, which is good news to the Barbarians pounding at the Gates. This looks like a move to imbed an insider – appointed by the CEO. I wonder how Telkom might be used to fulfil Dr Altman’s other mandate – creating jobs, as a goal for the Centre for Poverty, Employment & Growth – where she still serves with 7 staff?

2. Chris Hart from Investment Solutions:

Telkom has been in an unfortunate position where its strategy has been mangled over the past few year, having to deal with a number of stakeholder interests, notably the State. A huge amount of value has been taken away. It needs a huge overhaul in its strategy, as it is in a rapidly changing sector, with powerful competitors.

3. Malcolm MacDonald from Tersos Business Solutions:

Miriam Altman’s recent appointment as Head of Strategy for Telkom is interesting, noting that her background gives no indication of special interest in technology or telecommunications. Economics and Philosophy are relevant in any strategic role, though, so the degree to which she allows the technology leaders in her team to support her will be crucial. The rapidly decreasing cost of bandwidth, the trend to Voice over Internet services, and the eventual abandonment of voice-only connections are pressuring all of the telecoms companies. The role of Strategic Head for Telkom is a difficult one, taken on at a difficult time for the telecoms industry. So for the nation, and for the improvement in overall business communications, we hope she can find the right balance between great communications products for the nation and profitability for the shareholders – but given a choice, I’d much prefer the first one.


Telkom clearly needs a strategy, the sooner, the better. Once can only hope that this can be devised and implemented efficiently, without political interference.

Tweet of the Day

Joan Rivers (@Joan_Rivers) Just saw The Rolling Stones on the cover of Rolling Stone. Not saying you have to look like me but I’m BEGGING you to retouch a little

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