Thursday, January 28, 2021

Lippe aims to widen BTC footprint

Sitting with Lippe at his office situated on the 8th floor of the Botswana Telecommunication Corporation (BTC) head office where he is a Chief Executive Officer, he talks about beating competition locally and launching his company as a pan African outfit.

“Often times people think I am crazy,” he points out.

He is inspired by the words of one panelist at a recent conference who said that “you need scary people and scary ideas to realise a return on investment”.

A month after arriving at this government diversified telecommunications parastatal, he sees possibilities and years of lost investment opportunities.

“When we went digital, we were pinnacle of Africa….but we were complacent and did not invest”.

Now Lippe says his vision is to see BTC buy controlling stakes in telecommunications companies across Africa and hoist the country’s flag high.

“We have to invest in other countries. Licenses are available in Malawi and Zambia. We are a cash rich country and doing an extremely good job. We can potentially exploit these,” he says of his pan Africanism dream.

He points out that just like France Telcom that has a controlling stake in Orange Botswana, by investing in other markets, the companies will be controlled by government of Botswana hence the people of this country. He says his vision is to consolidate the three BTC companies namely landline divisionÔÇöBTC ‘Fixed’, mobile outfit and new in the market, beMobile and internet division Botsnet.

“We are consolidating the operations towards privatisation. My vision is to restore BTC to the rightful place as a market leader in the telecommunications sector and launch them into the pan African market”.

He admits that after the partial liberalisation of the industry in 1998, BTC Fixed received a lot of battering although it was saved by the fact that the market was not deregulated. BTC was not competitive enough because it took months to put a fixed line into a home although now it takes around 14 days. This was made worse by the P60 million faulty billing system that led to customers refusing to pay outrageous bills. However, Lippe says BTC was ‘only saved because the market was not deregulated’ by then adding that the mobile companies (Orange and Mascom) still came to BTC for some services. Is the landline still relevant? Lippe answers in affirmative saying there are still households that do not have phones including the mobile ones. On the beMobile arena, two weeks back the mobile division made its presence felt when on the major roads in the city there were young women wearing skimpy dresses, that Lippe says was to ‘let potential customers that beMobile is here’.

“I commend the team for implementing 3G within eight months. Others when they came, they were riddled with problems. This was a successful campaign”.
Although he could not give figures for the current beMobile subscribers, saying they are ‘insignificant’, he hopes the mobile division will grow.

“We have been successful without market animation. My goal is to build the brand, launch competitive products and take competition head on”. Who can doubt Lippe who when at Orange made sure that people wore the Orange brand?
When he joined Orange, the company had zero profits and it was surviving on a bank overdraft of P800, 000. He then grew the company’s revenues by 36.9% which, on year on year basis, was an increase of 41% while Orange customer base grew by 45%.

“We need the nation’s support: this is our money. I hope I will get full support of the people. My goal is to make sure that the minister (of Communications, Science and Technology) made the right decision in appointing me”, he pledges.

His other idea is to see that BTC’s credibility restored while simultaneously opening the opportunities for the nation in the pan African market.

“It will take sometime and that is why I have a three year contract. I take full cognisance of the fact that we have fully dysfunctional system”.
On the other hand, he says he wants to create a revenue stream for the nation, including the problematic internet division Botsnet.
He says he wants to grow this internet business supported by the energetic and innovative people there.

By taking over the position of CEO at BTC, Lippe is making a second coming at Megaleng House since he had a one year stint there as an IT Consultant. During the period May 2003-May 2004, he was responsible for three projects amongst them disaster recovery, business continuity planning. He left BTC when his son was born and worked for his private business for sometime before joining Orange. He says he sees changes at BTC on his second coming except for the consultancy undertaken by Irish Development International (IDI) to restructure the corporation.

He singles out beMobile, privatisation and the fact that government could appoint a young Motswana to position of CEO as major changes.
“It (the appointment) speaks volumes. She (the minister) has made it clear that I have her support and that of the board,”

He said of IDI: “When I was here, IDI was here. I do not think government realised return on its investment with IDI”.
“We are still dealing with restructuring. We are all aware of the court case.”

With the ongoing restructuring, Lippe says with BOTEU, a telecommunications union, they have now cleared the retrenchment issue saying this is the first time executive management has worked with a union as a partner. The new CEO has been touring the country and meeting the staff and admits that the staff at BTC has suffered at the hands of consistent management changes.

Since the controversial billing system, BTC has been headed by consultants from IDI, Noel Herity, Vincent Seretse and now Lippe.
“I appeal to the staff that I will change things for the better. They are my number one priority”, he says in his parting shots.

Lippe accepted to head BTC after a short stint with software giants Microsoft where he was the General Manger for Microsoft East and Southern Africa (ESA).

For the six months he spent in Kenya where he had a house, he only ‘spent 10 nights’ in the house. He was constantly moving around his jurisdiction from Uganda to Mozambique and Botswana.
“I left for peace of mind. I had a family that I did not move with. It was very challenging,” he says. “It was a great opportunity that came at a wrong time.”


Read this week's paper