NEW DELHI | KOLKATA: Bharti AirtelBSE -1.90 % is shaking up operations in Africa, where some 20 senior executives are moving out as the world’s third-largest carrier takes steps to reduce headcount by 15 per cent to 20 per cent this financial year in a concerted bid to turn around the lossmaking business.
About 700 to 800 employees of Bharti Airtel’s Africa tower operations are set to exit the company’s rolls over the next six months, while as many as 20 senior executives across functions are leaving, some after the expiry of their contracts, two people familiar with the matter told ET.
At least six top Airtel Africa executives have already left over the past two months. They are George Fanthome, chief information officer; Willie Ellis, director (data); Mark Chambers, project director (segmentation); Sagar Darbari, finance vertical head; Vishal Gupta, supply chain management head, and Somasekhar VG, executive operations director of an SBU, clustering Zambia, Congo B, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Chad, Madagascar and Seychelles.
“Most of the positions aren’t being replaced,” one the people said. Of the six executives who left, Andrew Kossowski replaced Fanthome in May, while Wim Vanhelleputte, ex-CEO of MTN’s Ivory Coast unit, succeeded Somasekhar in early July. A Bharti Airtel spokesman said there were no layoffs in its Africa operations. However, “based on various functional requirements, certain employees were either relocated to or hired at Airtel Africa for a specified period.
The contracts of some of these employees have already expired and some are close to expiry.” Lately, the Sunil Bharti Mittal-led mobile carrier has been monetising tower assets and reducing costs to bring its unprofitable Africa business on track. The company has operations in 17 African countries. After raising $1.3 billion by selling its tower business in five African countries, Airtel is cutting multiple tower asset divestment deals across six more countries, which will see employees move to the rolls of the tower companies.
Airtel’s Africa employee count stood at 5,130 on March 31. The Bharti Airtel spokesman said that some employees of the company’s Africa tower operations “have already moved to the acquiring entity (where transactions have closed), and in some cases, are in the process of moving to the acquiring entity where the transactions are being closed”.
An industry executive familiar with Airtel’s HR developments said several executives in Africa were keen to return to India or take up assignments in other markets as “the company is tightening its belt” in the second most populous continent, where continued losses are weighing down the company’s consolidated operations.
Bharti Airtel’s global CFO B Srikanth has previously said that “substantial Africa tower asset divestments are likely in the first quarter of FY16 and that the impact on Airtel’s margins and bottom line would be very clear in the second quarter” of the current financial year.
He had added that “the second quarter would probably be the first full quarter after substantial divestments (of Africa towers) happen in Q1.” Airtel is also planning sales of its operations in four African countries to France’s Orange Telecom. Bharti Airtel, however, said “it does not envisage any redundancy in the four markets” in which it is in discussions with Orange since the French company “is not present in these markets, and hence there is no overlap”.
Ever since Bharti Airtel’s entry into Africa five years ago, lacklustre performance has dragged the telco’s overall performance, partially eating into gains made by the carrier in India, its biggest market.
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