9Mobile, the Nigerian telecom company, has appointed Alan Sinfield as its new CEO. Sinfield takes over from Stephane Beuvelet who had served as acting CEO since late 2018.
According to his LinkedIn page, Sinfield has worked in a number of telecom companies over the last two decades. Between 2006 and 2019, he served as CEO of Starlink in Qatar, CADSCOMM in Cambodia and Ananda Livemore in Myanmar. Sinfield has a tough task ahead of him. 9Mobile has suffered a decline since 2016 when it was unable to finance a $1.2 billion loan it borrowed from 13 Nigerian banks. This set off a debt crisis that forced major investors such as Mubadala, the UAE fund, and Etisalat to exit the company in 2017. Originally called Etisalat Nigeria, the telco rebranded as 9Mobile following the exits. An utter collapse was prevented when government regulators intervened and instituted a bidding process. 9Mobile was sold in late 2018. During this crisis, 9Mobile’s customer base was in free fall.
In September 2015, Nigeria’s fourth major telco had 23.5 million subscribers. By March 2020, its customer base had dropped to 12.1m, losing 11.4 million subscribers within five years. It has lost subscribers every month since March 2019 and is far behind Airtel (51.3m subscribers), Nigeria’s third major telco. Despite these challenges, 9Mobile’s prospects remain strong. The domestic market is value seeking. Subscribers will switch to networks that offer the best quality. The telco has strong appeal when it comes to quality, notes a 2019 analyst presentation by a rival telco. Official industry data shows 9Mobile has recorded the most number of new subscribers from other telcos every month since June 2018. In February 2020, months after securing a new $230 million loan, 9Mobile said it will invest around $220 million expanding its 4G network. This could shore up its data subscriber base that has plummeted to 7.8 million users. For Sinfield, the struggling telco’s new CEO, the market sentiment about 9Mobile’s quality could play a huge role in any transformation of the company