Reshaping the nation

Interview with

Mr. Yérim A: Sow,
Chairman and CEO

October 28th, 1999
Loteny Telecom is the Mobile Phone leader in Côte d'Ivoire. Held in high regard and with a strong reputation. Could you please give us a brief historical background of the Company?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for allowing me to introduce the group Loteny Telecom. The group, better known by the commercial name of Telecel of Loteny or Telecel Côte d'Ivoire, was established on the 27th of March, 1996. This is the result of the coming together of 3 entities:

  • Telecel International: A Company created between 2 African Sub-Saharan cellular networks

  • Access Telecom: a paging systems company in Senegal and the Côte D'Ivoire

  • Loteny Electronics: a company with a reliable knowledge of telecommunications technology and the Ivorian socio-political environment.

  • As a result of this partnership, we did not begin any activity until six months of intense work in a strongly competitive environment. We had to intensify our efforts to be ready for the official launch of the three official cellular networks in Côte d'Ivoire. In fact, three licenses were authorized by the Ivorian authorites during the liberalization of the telecommunications sector. The Côte D'Ivoire had opted for one liberalization in the cellular phone sector before the telecommunications sector privitisation. The licenses were effectively given to the companies COMSTAR, SIM (France Telecom) and Loteny Telecom. It should be said, however, that we were the last to create and implement our network. The Date of the 28th of October, 1999, was for us a notable event: Our 3rd year in existence and our 3rd anniversary. In fact, this is thanks to a very dynamic marketing and media campaign and following the opening of our head office located in the business district of Abidjan. After some very exhausting work, we were able to advance progressively to the number 1 position in celular telphone services in the Côte d'Ivoire and today hold 50% of the market.

    Our initial capital of CFA F 200 million increased to CFA F 2,865,000,000. The group that I represent, Access Telecom, which owned 20.1% capital at the inception of the company, now possesses 47.5% capital following the transfer of shares held by Loteny Electronics. The rest of the capital is shared between Telecel International (up to 52.5%) and Loteny Electronics (0.89%).

    Can you give us your company's turnover?

    At the end of '98, we had a turnover of CFA F 17 billion with a net profit of CFA F 3,390,000,000. For 1999 we expect a turnover of 34 billion with net profits of about 9 billion. Today we have a staff of more than 285 with the workers' average age being 30.

    What are your competitive advantages vis a vis the competition?

    I think we have the obvious advantage of being a real private enterprise. Another thing is the fact that I personally run the company as Chief Executive/Managing Director and shareholder which allows for a more flexible decision-making and consequently, a better response in strategic decision-taking. Our staff is made up of young people and we are lucky to have as partners, Telecel International who is a pioneer in cellular phones with great experience in AfricA: Added to all these is the partnership with Access Telecom which has a good understanding of the Ivorian market. I suppose it is this symbiosis that enables us to make the difference. Today, we have the largest network, the largest coverage and we have always been the first to innovate and introduce new services.

    In what area of your activities do you foresee future growth in your company?

    Today, we would love to give more impetus to our customer service to ensure our company's continuity. We also want to enlarge our network, develop our branches in Abidjan and in the hinterland to attract and satisfy the clientele.
    Do you intend to spread your network in the sub-region?

    Telecel is already present in Africa, especially in the sub-region. We are starting off in Togo in December 1999, and in Benin and Gabon in the first quarter of 2000. We are also present in Central African Republic, Burundi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Niger. It is thus obvious that we are striving to build a pan-African network. Indeed, with the latest technologies, and with more than 80% of our clientele on prepaid, our subscribers could benefit from this pan-African network while moving around the sub-region.

    What are the strategies implemented towards your company development?

    We communicate a lot and we have a communication and marketing budget of nearly CFA F 1 billion. Our communication strategy is focused on the network's quality of service as well as service at added value. We would love to become a conspicuous actor in Côte d'Ivoire's telecommunications sector. This is why we recently took over the Canadian company Prestige Telecom which specialises in data transmission. With Access Telecom being an internet provider, we also would gladly bring the internet to the service of Ivorians and integrate this service into our network with quality.

    Paying special attention to internet services and customer service - This is the major focus of our future development strategy.

    Our readers are constantly seeking new investment opportunities. In what areas of your activities would you be interested in attracting partners?

    I encourage investors to come to Africa especially to Côte d'Ivoire where the judicial provisions and economic policy favour private investors (Investment incentive code). Côte d'Ivoire is part of the emerging markets. The Ivorian market has only three cellular phone operators. Much needs to be done in the telecommunications sector. Foreign investors should come and invest in this country as we need partners to assist us achieve our ambitious objectives for growth in this sector undergoing constant technological change.

    What is the secret of this development in market share?

    The secret of this success is hard work.

    Can you give us an overview of you professional background? What has been most satisfying to you since you came to the head of this company?

    I spent the early years of my education in Dakar, Senegal. I then entered the University of Montreal, Canada before completing my studies at Boston University. I am a qualified engineer.

    In 1994, I established Access Telecom in Senegal and in Côte d'Ivoire. I established Access Telecom in 1995 and Loteny Telecom in 1996.

    My greatest satisfaction is to observe today that we have proved our capability of installing ourselves as the cellular phone leaders in Côte d'Ivoire amidst impressive competitions like France Telecom that has a world-wide reputation. This to us is a source of great satisfaction.

    What last message would you like to give to our 4.5 million readers?

    I would ask your readers to have a little more faith in Africa; I also urge them to invest more in this part of the world to help us build this Africa that we cherish so much.

     Read on 

    © World INvestment NEws, 2000.
    This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Côte d'Ivoire published in Forbes Global Magazine.
    August 21th 2000 Issue.
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