FILLING THE VACUUM

Zambia 2017 | IT, TELECOMS & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Lars Stork, CEO of Vodafone Zambia, on building the company in Zambia, competition, and attracting customers.

 Lars Stork
BIOGRAPHY
Lars Stork is a Danish executive who has lived and worked in 15 countries around the world with a proven track record of starting up, launching, growing, and transforming businesses. He holds significant management experience, from FMCG (Unilever) and telecoms businesses (Celtel). His most recent telecoms experience was with an Indian startup, building an organization for the implementation of 4G LTE services. Stork has won a global award for the best innovative approach in penetrating rural areas in Africa. He was also named in the GTB top-100 list of the most influential people in the telecoms industry.

What was the driving force behind Vodafone's expansion into Zambia?

Vodafone Zambia was a product of Vodafone and Afrimax Group entering a non-equity partner market agreement for Zambia with a clear vision of becoming the number one next generation operator in Zambia. The communications sector in Zambia has undergone a substantial shift, turning it into one driven largely by the growth of data services, proving research which suggests Sub-Saharan Africa is currently undergoing a mobile digital revolution with consumers awakening to the possibilities of 3G and 4G technology. Most smart-phone owners' usage patterns have increasingly become more data-heavy, with the quantity spent on non-voice activity rising noticeably. Against this backdrop, we entered the Zambian market in June 2016 with the launch of 4G LTE data services aimed at transforming the communication sector in order to bridge the digital divide, with an initial investment of USD40 million.

What was the response to Vodafone's entry into the market from leading companies in Zambia?

Since we launched, we have continued receiving overwhelming response from customers. The growth we have experienced in such a short period exemplifies the massive vacuum that has existed in Zambia's internet space—a vacuum we will gladly fill. In light of the overwhelming response we received, we established Zambia as the regional operational center of excellence of the Afrimax-Vodafone Group, servicing other markets across the continent like Ghana, Uganda, and Cameroon. This is testimony of the great skill-set that our local team possesses and provides a unique opportunity for the team to share best practice, transfer skills to other markets on the continent, and also provide job opportunities both locally and regionally as a way of enhancing talent development. To date, we have already exported innovative products and services to our operations on the continent and to the Global Vodafone Group. Currently Vodafone stands as the only international organization within the telecommunications sector, to set up its regional hub in the country—another first in Zambia.

How can ICTs be harnessed to enable the youth segment, and what is Vodafone doing to spearhead this endeabour?

Zambia is continuously embracing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as an enabler of social and economic development. The industry is growing fast and making a significant contribution to national trade and investment. In this market, 60-70% of the population is below 25 years of age, signalling an impressive pool of talent and immense capacity just waiting to be tapped into. To demonstrate the power ICTs have to transform and empower, we developed a free e-learning platform called JUMP, which is a tool for young people focused on education and entrepreneurship. The platform hosts video lessons from Zambia's most distinguished lecturers through the JUMP Academy. As such, we are making education accessible to young people who do not have the funds to attend varsity. In addition, we have content focused on entrepreneurship, self-motivation, lifestyle, and entertainment. In the entertainment category of the portal, we will soon imbed a music sharing section. Here, we hope to offer an online space to encourage local talent to upload video and audio content. Furthermore, we have a radical approach to human resources by employing top graduates who now account for 50% of the organization's staff compliment. We designed a program for Institutions of Higher learning in Zambia, and from there we handpicked graduates to become part of the business' “next generation" culture that is characterized by innovation and market disruption. As a result, we received the Africa Best Employer Brand award from the Employer Branding Institute for our dynamic work culture; this is uncommon for many corporates in Zambia and we hope to be an inspiration to others.