Wim Vanhelleputte: A Brief Profile on Safaricom Ethiopia’s New CEO

Vanhelleputte New CEO Safariom Ethiopia

On the 4th of September, Wim Vanhelleputte began work as the second CEO of Safaricom Ethiopia. He took over after the departure of the first CEO, Anwar Soussa at the end of July.

Mr. Vanhelleputte has extensive leadership experience and deep industry knowledge, having worked in the telecommunications industry across multiple markets in sub-Saharan Africa for over 25 years.

Wim Vanhelleputte Education History

Despite working extensively in Africa, Mr. Vanhelleputte is a Belgian national. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in General Engineering and a Master’s degree in Nuclear and Solid-State Physics, both from the State University of Ghent.

Furthermore, Mr. Vanhelleputte also holds a Special degree in Power Plant Management from the Free University of Brussels.

Career Path

In what is surely a well-travelled career, the Belgian began his career in the Czech Republic. For his first job, he served as an Associate Engineer at Westinghouse Energy Systems.

After that, he joined Siemens Atea, where he was a Project Engineer in Zimbabwe before becoming a Residential Project Manager in Gabon. He had a notable tenure as Chief Executive Officer at Sentel GSM in Senegal, and General Manager at Telcel Gabon.

Here is a timeline of some of the places he has served, the roles, and the duration.

  • June 2003- August 2004: CEO of Tchad Mobile (a subsidiary of Orascom Telecom Holding S.A.E)
  • 2004 to February 2006: Managing Director of Imagine Partners Uganda
  • April 2009-July 2015: Chief executive of MTN Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire)
  • August 2015-Feb 2016: Regional Head of Business Airtel (Gabon, Congo B, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Madagascar and the Seychelles)
  • February 2016-June 2016: Regional director of Francophone Africa Airtel (DR. Congo & Congo-Brazzaville)
  • June 2016 – July 2022: CEO of MTN Uganda
  • August 2022- July 2023: MTN Group’s Chief Operations Executive (Liberia, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, and Congo-Brazzaville)

In his role in Uganda, Mr. Vanhelleputte had some notable success. During the 6 years at MTN Uganda, the company witnessed a growth in revenue of 57%. Revenue grew from UGX1.308 trillion in 2016 to UGX 2.060 trillion in 2021. This was a compound annual Growth Rate of 8%.

Net profit for the company also grew. The company experienced a 254% profit leap from UGX 96 billion to UGX 340 billion. This represents an annual growth rate of 23%.

Furthermore, MTN Uganda witnessed a growth in subscriber numbers from 8.9 million subscribers to well over 15.7 Million.

Vanhelleputte Deportation Saga

In February of 2016 while serving as CEO for MTN Mr. Wim Vanhelleputte was deported to Belgium from Uganda. He was among four executives kicked out of Uganda for allegedly undermining state security.

Days following the deportations, President Yoweri Museveni met with MTN Group chief executive Rob Shuter in Davos, on the side lines of the World Economic Forum. At the meeting, the MTN group agreed to spread the company ownership to more Ugandans through a share placement with the National Social Security Fund.

On that condition, the Ugandan government reinstated MTN Uganda’s operation license. Wim went back to Uganda and served as CEO until July 2022.

He was replaced in MTN Uganda by the current CEO Mulinge Sylvia who hails from Kenya.

Special Bond with Uganda

While it is clear the gentleman has trans versed Africa, Uganda appears to be a special place. Mr. Vanhelleputte first visited Uganda in 1993. This was long before he had any work engagement in the country.

Additionally, the pearl of Africa is where he was to find a wife. The new Safaricom Ethiopia CEO is married to a Ugandan lady.

Vanhelleputte’s Ethiopia Challenge

Ethiopia is Africa’s second-largest country in terms of population. Notably, Safaricom Ethiopia is Safaricom PLC’s biggest start-up venture and is currently a loss-making investment.

Safaricom Ethiopia generated KES 562.4 million (over $4 million) in revenue in the last financial year, and started commercial operations in October 2022 after months of tests and customer onboarding. It has since grown its user base to over 4 million customers.

Mr. Vanhelleputte will be charged with the growth of this start-up and the rollout of M-Pesa in Ethiopia. Certainly, his vast experience will come in handy during his tenure.

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