Airtel Halves Its Expatriate Staff in Favour of Kenyan Talent

Mobile phone company Airtel Kenya has cut the number of expatriate staff at the management level by half in the past nine months, giving locals more room to be involved in the daily running of the company.

The changes show a tactical shift from the approach by previous owner – Zain – whose tenure was marked by frequent changes at the management level. The frequent changes were cited by research analysts at Citigroup as the firm’s main undoing over the years.

Airtel has replaced four expatriate staff with Kenyans in the past nine months increasing their number at the management suite to nine out of 12, with the appointment of Ms Irene Kitinya as its new Human Resource Director being the latest.

Airtel Kenya managing director Rene Meza said the recent high level appointment of Kenyans “demonstrates the company’s belief in Kenya, its people and the opportunity it offers for multinational business partnerships.”

“We are fortunate to have attracted some of the best talent available locally,” he said.The latest statistics from the industry regulator Communication Commission of Kenya shows that Airtel Kenya increased its market share to 13.5 per cent from 9.1 per cent in the past eight months. A recent report on the industry prepared by the Prime Minister’s office said all the mobile phone operators, except Safaricom, were making losses.Stable management and innovative products such as money transfer service M-Pesa and per second billing are seen as the main strengths of its rival, Safaricom, that currently controls 75.9 per cent of the market share having dropped from 80.7 per cent due to aggressive competition from Airtel and Telkom Kenya’s Orange that has four per cent of the market share from the previous 2.7 per cent.

“Underinvestment by Zain, plus frequent management changes resulting in market share losses means that a focused strategy will itself help to reverse some of the market share losses,” says Citigroup in a report, adding: “Bharti has tried to more or less keep management stable and in addition the operational changes being undertaken also primarily involves the locals.”

Muriuki Mureithi, a telecoms industry analyst and chief executive of Summit Strategies, says Airtel’s new strategy would help to cut employee costs as locals are not likely to have perks such as foreign travel or holiday as in the case of expatriates.

Mr Mureithi also says that the Indian firm could be aiming at changing the perception that it is a foreign company.

“The company has been seen as a foreign and Safaricom has been using this card very well, by putting more locals at the management level, Airtel is possibly trying to use this strategy to prove that it is a locally driven company and have the interest of locals at heart,” said Mr Mureithi.

Ms Kitinya has replaced Pius Wakabi, a Ugandan. She has worked for over thirteen years as a human resource staff with various organisations in Kenya, including her immediate past assignment as human resource business partner at Barclays Bank of Kenya. Airtel says her thirteen years experience will play a critical role in overseeing their outsourcing partnerships with various telecommunication organisations such as Nokia Siemens, IBM and Spanco.

Her appointment follows the hiring of John Barorot as the head the Network Director, who replaced Alec Mulonga from Zambia. Mr Barorot is a former Technical director at Safaricom.

Other key posts include; CFO currently held by a Kenyan in acting capacity, Director customer services currently headed by Job Njiru who took over from Luis Fedrian, who moved to head the IT department and that of Marketing manager under Henry Njoroge who took over from Raed Heddadin last year. The three positions now under expatriates are Managing Director Rene Meza, IT services, Luis Fedrian and the Sales department held by Hassan Saleh.

“Ms Kitinya will be at the heart of the implementation and integration of our business partnership program to deliver a more cost-effective, efficient and world-class product and quality service delivery to delight our customers,” said Rene Meza.