CFO of the Year: MTN’s problem-solving CFO

Two years into his role as MTN CFO, Ralph Mupita received four CFO Awards, including CFO of the Year, for the pivotal part he’s played in turning MTN around. CFO South Africa met with Ralph to learn more about the man behind the strategy and the awards. What emerged was a clear picture that this engineer has turned his mind to solving problems in telecommunications, finance and the African continent. By Georgina Guedes, CFO Magazine.

At the CFO Awards 2019, Sugentharen Perumal, executive: group finance operations at MTN, walked up to the stage to accept an award on behalf of Ralph Mupita, not once, but four times. He was accepting the awards because Ralph, MTN CFO, who was voted CFO of the Year, along with taking home the Strategy Execution, High-Performance Team and Finance Transformation awards, was unable to attend the awards ceremony. This was because he was in Nigeria, listing MTN Nigeria on the local stock exchange. This was a crucial step for the telecommunications giant, and also a significant contributor to the strategy that propelled Ralph to his CFO Awards success.

The Nigeria listing was the end point of a long-term plan to resolve some complex issues in the country. To say that MTN has had a difficult time in Nigeria in recent times is an understatement. Many of the issues were inherited when Ralph and CEO Rob Shuter took the helm two years ago, but it fell to them to resolve these various challenges, including a demand by the Central Bank of Nigeria for $8 billion of dividends to be repatriated to the country, a $2 billion tax demand by the Attorney General, and ensuring that the agreement related to the 2015 SIM registration fine of $1.6 billion is fully implemented. One of the conditions of the SIM registration fine was to list the business in Nigeria, which was achieved by 16 May 2019, the day after the CFO Awards.

Coming in a very busy and complex week for Ralph, his awards recognition was uplifting news – and he was glad that his team was there. “I am very appreciative of the recognition. For me it was really about my team. I’ve had a strong team working in the background supporting some of the listing activities. And some of those people were in the room for the awards. I’m glad they were there, even though I couldn’t be.” He added that he felt very humbled considering the “class acts” among the others who were nominated. “It couldn’t have been easy for the judges.” He does confess to a sense of relief that the two processes – the Nigeria listing and the “interesting” but intensive awards interview process – had come to an end.

The engineer in a finance role

 Ralph is an engineer by training. He went to UCT to study after completing schooling in his native Zimbabwe 30 years ago. “I worked on engineering and construction sites all around the Western Cape, then kind of drifted towards doing an MBA. In the middle of those studies, I realised I wanted to move away from engineering, and I ended up in financial services, working at Old Mutual for 17 years – even though I started with a one-year plan – and ultimately serving as the CEO of Old Mutual Emerging Markets.” Then, he received a call from Phuthuma Nhleko, the former CEO and non-executive chairman of MTN Group board. “Halfway through him drinking his tea, me drinking my coffee, he said, ‘How would you like to join MTN?’ Initially, I chuckled. Then I went home and asked my wife, Makole Maponya – who is a CA – what she thought of the proposition. I’d never worked in a CFO role. It took me all of two days to think about it. Having reflected, I felt I could take up the role and be part of a leadership team that would put the business into a stronger position to take advantage of the opportunities that digital and financial inclusion presented in Africa and the Middle East. MTN was looking for a CFO who could go beyond the traditional role of the CFO and add a few more things.”

Ralph did some further research and was reassured to discover that many global CFOs are not CAs, and that in South Africa, somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of listed companies’ CFOs also do not hold the qualification. “Obviously you need someone who understands numbers. And I see numbers as a language that tell me why things are the way they are. Having trained as an engineer, I am very comfortable with numbers. I believe the most important thing about them is that they have integrity.” While the change from being a CEO to a CFO was an unusual one, Ralph was encouraged when he recalled that one of the people he had looked up to, Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Credit Suisse, was once a CEO before taking on the role of CFO. “It’s unusual, but it happens.” He also points out that while bringing a financial services CEO into a telecommunications company might not seem like the most obvious move, there’s a certain logic to it. “At MTN, we firmly believe that the future of financial services is on the phone, so my appointment isn’t as unusual as it might appear on the face of it.”

The other experience Ralph had gained in financial services that was now becoming increasingly important was capital allocation and a focus on returns.

A curious mind

Ralph says that his curious mind has served him well as he’s shifted industries twice in his career. “I’ve always had the view that you must be constantly learning and have a mindset that says when you get into new situations, you should immerse yourself and become the situation you are in. I’m blessed that I am always curious and always able to adapt.”

He’s found mentors to support him in his learning and growth journey. “When I moved from engineering to finance, one of my mentors told me that there were five things that I needed to understand the industry and its value chain, and then those things each branch into another five things. It was a useful way to get a real grasp of the sector.”

He says that always being a bit of an outsider has helped him to ask interesting questions that deliver new insights. “Coming into financial services, the learning curve was pretty steep. There’s always a year to 18 months that’s difficult, and during which time I was learning every day.” He went through the knowledge acquisition process all over again when he joined MTN. “I’m still learning and will continue learning. There’s always that first 18 months of the steep learning curve, but then I get more comfortable and start picking things up almost intuitively rather than learning them.”

The other transition, that of moving from being the CEO to a CFO, also took some adjusting. “The CEO is where the buck stops, but a CFO needs to be an advisor, not only to the CEO but also to the company. It’s a strong advisory role. Also, the CFO is there to provide balance to decisions – to provide strategic thinking and highlight the financial effects of decisions. Or at least that’s how I work with Rob – providing balance, giving a risk-based view, providing clear options and working through the consequences of those options, and testing their soundness based on the data, instinct and history.”

He adds that he’d been fortunate to work with Rob before, when Rob was at Nedbank and Ralph was at Old Mutual, which was helpful in the transition. “I must also commend Rob for helping me on the learning journey because he had also made the transition from financial services to working in telecommunications, working for two years as a CFO at Vodacom, before becoming a regional CEO there.”

He says that he has to credit Phuthuma Nhleko for his support. The opportunity to work with Phuthuma was one of the benefits of joining MTN, as far as Ralph was concerned. Phuthuma, like Tidjane Thiam, has been a role model over the last two decades for Ralph. “He’s another engineer MBA, and engaging with him has helped me to learn a lot about the industry and business more generally. Between Phuthuma and Rob, I’ve learnt a lot.”

MTN culture and values

Aside from the change in industry and role, working in any new organisation comes with a cultural adjustment. “What was very helpful coming into MTN just over two years ago was that the values deep within the company are my own personal values – having a can-do attitude, teamwork is key, believing that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern, connected life, where digital connectivity and financial inclusion is critical. And as I have already mentioned, we’re making a difference on the African continent, which I am passionate about.” His engineering background means that he likes to solve problems. MTN presented him with the opportunity to do just this. “It’s in my DNA, my make-up to solve problems. And the more complex they are, the better. When I came to MTN in 2017, I was very mindful of the challenges the company was going through.

I was very clear, coming into the situation, that there was a need to make some changes, working with Rob and the broader team, to put the business in a more stable position. It has an industrial strength finance organisation and risk organisation, and I knew I was coming in with those key things.”

He says that when he came into the business, he had a list of three-year goals. The first was building a world-class finance function, and he has been making the necessary changes, and will continue to do so. The second priority was capital allocation. “I had the benefit of my financial services experience to see what happens when margins really come under pressure. So we had to reposition the business in a lower margin environment. We had to prioritise putting capital where the returns are going to be. We now have set out a very clear capital allocation process.”

His third priority was to enhance the risk control environment. And the final goal was to build a culture of excellence. “A culture of excellence never gets to its destination. It’s always improving.”

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MTN Nigeria progresses on its Fintech strategy following Central Bank award of full Super Agent Licence

MTN Nigeria today announced that its subsidiary, Yello Digital Financial Services Limited (“YDFS”) has been granted a full Super Agent Licence by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The Super Agent licence enables the scale launch of MTN Nigeria’s fintech strategy. The licence will enable MTN to convert their existing airtime agents and recruit other small businesses to distribute financial services.

YDFS received approval in principle for its Super-Agent Licence in December 2018 and has been conducting a pilot project since then to meet the conditions of a full licence. The successful pilot has now led to the granting of a full licence under which YDFS will distribute financial services to all Nigerians.

Commenting on the licence, MTN CEO Ferdi Moolman said: “We are very pleased that YDFS has been granted a Super-Agent Licence, which enables us to extend access to financial services to a much broader group of Nigerians. This forms part of our commitment to contribute towards the achievement of Nigeria’s financial inclusion goals. Through the network established by YDFS MTN is in a position to broaden the availability of financial services for the under-served across the country. This marks a very important first step in leveraging our infrastructure to scale our Fintech initiatives. We have also applied for a Payment Service Bank Licence, which will enable us in time to offer a broader and deeper range of financial services to those communities and we remain hopeful we will receive approval shortly.”




Summary of MTN Nigeria unaudited results for the six months ended 30 June 2019


  • Service revenue increased by 12.2%
  • Voice revenue increased by 11.4%
  • Data revenue increased by 31.7%
  • Fintech revenue increased by 21.2%
  • Digital revenue decreased by 64.5%
  • EBITDA grew by 40.0% to N304.9 billion (IAS 17: 16.2% to N253.0 billion)
  • EBITDA margin increased by 10.7 pp to 53.8% (IAS 17: 44.6%, up 1.5pp)
  • Capex increased by 63.8% to N105.8 billion (IAS 17: 48.9% to N96.1 billion)
  • Mobile subscribers increased by 3.3 million to 61.5 million

MTN Nigeria Communications Plc (“MTN Nigeria” or “the Company”) is one of Africa’s largest providers of communications services, connecting over 61 million people in communities across the country with each other and the world.

Guided by a vision to lead the delivery of a bold new digital world, MTN Nigeria’s leadership position in coverage, capacity and innovation has remained constant since its launch in 2001. MTN Nigeria is part of the MTN Group – a multinational telecommunications group which operates in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East.

MTN Nigeria announces its unaudited results for the six months ended 30 June 2019. In January 2019, MTN Nigeria adopted IFRS 16 accounting standards in line with global best practice and adjustments are reflected in the results. All financial comparisons are year-on-year (YoY) unless otherwise stated. All subscriber numbers are compared to end of December 2018 unless otherwise stated. This announcement is the responsibility of the MTN Nigeria board of directors.

 MTN Nigeria CEO, Ferdi Moolman comments:

In the first half of 2019, we sustained a solid performance, delivering double-digit growth in service revenue, underpinned by growth in voice and data revenue. We added 3.3 million customers to our network, increasing our subscriber base to 61.5 million. Pleasingly, we saw data subscribers increase in the period by 2.1 million to 20.7 million.

We made significant network investments to improve network quality and expand our 4G coverage. Our recent work to revamp our data prices and accelerate our 4G network has put us in a strong competitive position to offer more value to our customers, supporting data and voice revenue growth which will ultimately strengthen our business.

We are pleased with obtaining a super-agent licence from the Central Bank of Nigeria, which will enable us to build an agent network and accelerate the growth of our fintech business.

In May, MTN Nigeria was successfully listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), making us the first mobile network operator to list on the NSE. The listing demonstrates our commitment to the Nigerian market and provides local investors with an opportunity to participate in and benefit from the company’s growth prospects.

We made changes to our board following the retirement of six pioneer non-executive directors on the expiration of their tenure and in compliance with applicable corporate governance codes. We express our heartfelt appreciation to our outgoing directors for their contributions to the success of the company. We also welcome the incoming directors whose combination of extensive experience across the worlds of technology, finance, regulatory and policy development and corporate governance offers a hugely synergistic set of skills that will be of great benefit to us as we move into a new phase of growth.

Our Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Adekunle Awobodu has indicated his intention to resign from the position of the CFO of the company in the second half of 2019 for family-related reasons. The identification of a suitable successor has reached an advanced stage to facilitate a seamless transition. To ensure continuity on certain projects, Mr Awobodu has graciously accepted to continue to support the company on a consultancy basis. The board extends its appreciation to Mr. Awobodu for his contributions to the growth of the company.

In line with our dividend policy guidance at listing, the board has approved a maiden interim dividend as a listed company, of N2.95 kobo per share to be paid out distributable net income.”

Operational review

MTN Nigeria delivered a solid performance, with strong voice (+11.4%) and data revenue (+31.7%) driving double-digit service revenue growth and further improving the margin on earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

Voice revenue growth was supported by an increase in subscribers (+5.7%), relatively stable tariffs and our focus on pro-consumer activities. This was boosted by our targeted customer value management (CVM) initiatives. Data revenue growth was driven by an increased number of smartphones on the

network, greater data usage and growth in the number of active data users. We added 2.5 million smartphones, increasing smartphone penetration by 2.1pp to 39.2%. Active data subscribers increased by 11.0% to 20.7 million and data traffic rose by 67% YoY.

Our fintech business continued to gain momentum with 21.2% growth in revenue YoY. The super-agent licence will allow us to leverage our established distribution channels to offer a wide range of mobile financial services. We will continue to work towards obtaining a payment service banking licence that we applied for in late 2018. Digital revenue continued to be impacted by the optimisation of value-added services (VAS). However, our focus is to build a sustainable base of active digital users in order to boost revenue growth. Our enterprise business also delivered satisfactory results, with revenue increasing by 31.3%, to contribute 11.9% to service revenue.

We recorded an EBITDA margin of 53.8% on account of the implementation of IFRS 16. On an IAS 17 basis, operating expenses increased by 9.7%, below inflation. The 1.5pp improvement in the EBITDA margin was supported by a stable naira against the US dollar benefiting our operating expenses as well as lower digital expenses arising from our VAS optimisation initiatives. Our bottom line remained strong with 30.9% and 34.8% growth in profit before and after tax respectively, while earnings per share increased by 34.8% to 486 kobo.

Corporate and legal matters

The hearing on the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) matter, which was originally scheduled to be held on June 26, 2019 for commencement of trial on the substantive issue before the court was adjourned to October 29 and 31 2019. We remain resolute that MTN Nigeria has not committed any offence and will continue to defend this position.

The redemption of MTN Nigeria’s preference shares has always been envisaged as a necessary part of the simplification of our capital structure. The redemption process is underway and will be completed after necessary regulatory process.


Our overriding priority for the rest of the year is to focus on our BRIGHT strategy to build a sustainable business and create value for customers. We will continue to progress in the second half of the year, making improvements to our network experience, subscriber growth and enhance operational efficiency. We expect lower data pricing and our acceleration of the 4G network expansion to bolster the acquisition of customers and data traffic volumes in the second half.

This announcement is only a summary of the information in the full announcement and does not contain full or complete details. Please visit for the unaudited results for the six months ended 30 June 2019.

MTN Group appoints Thato Motlanthe as its new IR executive

MTN Group has appointed Thato Motlanthe to the position of Executive for Investor Relations, with effect from 1 September 2019. Thato replaces Nik Kershaw who left MTN Group at the end of May 2019, and will report to Ralph Mupita, MTN Group CFO.

Thato brings to the role extensive experience of South African and global capital markets, having worked in both the sell-side and buy-side of equity capital markets. He joins MTN from Absa Asset Management, where he held the role of Portfolio Manager, co-managing the flagship funds within the Equities franchise. Prior to this, he has held senior positions at STANLIB Asset Management, Citigroup Global Markets and UBS Investment Bank over a career spanning 16 years.

“I am excited to join a company with an incredibly strong pan-African and Middle East footprint, great market positions and attractive assets. MTN Group is well positioned to capture growth from digital and financial inclusion”, said Thato.

Commenting on Thato’s appointment, MTN Group CFO Ralph Mupita said, “We are pleased to have secured someone of Thato’s experience and leadership profile. Thato will play a critical role in the management and building of the investor base for MTN Group, as well as ensuring that the communication of the investment case of our “Digital Operator” strategy remains clear and compelling for stakeholders.”

Group Chief Digital and Fintech Officer

MTN Group today announces the appointment of Yolanda Cuba as Group Chief Digital and Fintech Officer. Yolanda will join the MTN Group Executive Committee reporting to the Group CEO Rob Shuter. In this role Yolanda will lead the Group’s strategic expansion of its financial services and digital solutions efforts and transformation into a digital operator.

Yolanda brings extensive telecommunications and leadership experience to MTN Group. She joins MTN Group from Vodacom, where she served as Chief Officer of Strategy and M&A. She was previously the CEO of Vodafone Ghana for a three-year period, a role that saw her named Telecom CEO of the Year in 2018.

“This role gives me the opportunity to drive digital innovation and financial inclusion across the Group’s vast footprint. I’m really looking forward to the new challenge and being part of the MTN leadership team”, said Yolanda.

Rob Shuter said, “We are very pleased to bring an executive of Yolanda’s calibre into MTN Group. Yolanda is a highly qualified and experienced executive, with a unique combination of operational telecommunications experience as well as finance, financial services and digital skills. I am confident that Yolanda’s leadership will place us in good stead as we intensify our efforts to build a digital ecosystem and scale our fintech offering across our markets”.

Under Yolanda’s leadership, MTN will continue to progressively grow the fintech and digital opportunities in Africa as we see these areas as major drivers of our BRIGHT growth strategy. Yolanda’s start date will be communicated in due course.

MTN Group adds GlobalConnect to portfolio of Operating Companies

MTN Group has announced that GlobalConnect, the company’s wholesale infrastructure company, is now an operating company (Opco) of the group. The Opco, headquartered in Dubai, will continue to be led by current CEO Frédéric Schepens.

MTN GlobalConnect was established in 2017 as the main driver and commercial vehicle for the consolidation of MTN’s international and national major wholesale activities. To further enable its growth, and in line with the group’s strategic focus on wholesale, the operational structure of GlobalConnect was revised, resulting in its establishment as an Opco.

Commenting on the development, MTN Group COO, Jens Schulte-Bockum said, “I am pleased that after less than two years of operation, MTN GlobalConnect has exceeded expectations, growing its customer base and revenue ahead of targets. I have no doubt that the team, led by Frédéric will continue to build on their gains to drive value to our operations, and lead MTN’s ambition to build Africa’s leading wholesale company.”

Offering the most complete backbone network in Africa, the company provides reliable solutions for fixed connectivity and international mobile services and is the single-entry point to the largest network infrastructure on the continent.

Furthermore, the company’s robust and IP/MPLS network includes:

  • 47 multinational points of presence
  • 29 countries across the MEA region (Middle East & Africa)
  • 14 Submarine cables
  • More than 100 000km of national and metro fibre network
  • 31 multinational Network-to-Network interface enabling connectivity to global networks
  • A backbone capacity in excess of 3Tbps
  • Peering with major content providers

Driven by the belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life, GlobalConnect strives to enable services that create significant value for other MTN Opcos, partners and third parties looking to gain from the growing opportunities in the Middle East and Africa.

Further reading