Upwardly mobile

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub

Vodacom CEO, Shameel Joosub believes that people can achieve anything they want in life, they just need to set their minds to it

With businesses expecting mobile technology to greatly influence the way in which consumers conduct product research, interact with brands and buy products in future, it is crucial that leaders in the field are innovative and switched on to constantly push the boundaries.

In September 2012, Shameel Joosub took over as CEO of the Vodacom Group in South Africa to replace Pieter Uys. By that time he had already been with the company for 18 years. With an accounting background, that serves as good grounding for any business, Joosub’s inherit ability to understand numbers enabled him to quickly suss out whether something is going to work or not.

“When you’ve audited various and different types of companies from cigarette suppliers and car dealers to bottle stores, filling stations and big corporates, one really gets to know how businesses function and make money,” says Joosub. This experience and background is what certainly led him to climb the corporate ladder successfully year after year. Joosub joined Vodacom in 1994 at the age of 23 as the senior accountant in the general ledger budget control division, three months before the company launched commercial operations. Six months later, he joined the financial management department which provided him the opportunity to sit in key strategic meetings and get a full overview and insight into the entire business. This led him to take over the entire commercial side of Vodacom. After setting up and running the service providers, he remarkably doubled the base within one year.

“The biggest significant contribution I’d like to believe I made, is help making sure more people have access to communications, and that’s something I feel proud of,” Joosub told Leadership magazine.

In 1998 at age 26, he was appointed managing director of Vodacom Equipment Company and was set to grow Vodacom as a healthy and happy team. “But being able to give back to society through the Vodacom Foundation, an entity dedicated to change lives, create new possibilities and solve social problems, is probably the part I’m most excited about,” admits Joosub.

With a passion of wanting to do more and an inherit drive to support it Joosub believes, “You can achieve anything you want in life, you just need to set your mind to it. It’s important to expand your role, be bold, push the boundaries, and grow the potential of what that role is. That’s what I did and that’s why I managed to succeed at a very young age.”

Joosub was born on 8 March 1971 and grew up in Laudium, Pretoria. He sold samosas and packets of chips at school, and set up a stall in Marabastad selling earrings at taxi ranks to contribute to the family income. By age twelve his uncle left him in charge of managing his salt packing factory over weekends and during school holidays. He kept on working after matric and studied accounting part time through UNISA.

Joosub became managing director of Vodacom South Africa in 2005 and CEO of Vodafone Espana in 2009. “Spain was very different culturally and one needed to understand the little nuances that mark the difference between our people operating in South Africa versus how people operate in Spain.” People in Spain, on average, are far more educated than South Africans, “But I’d say the level of initiative in South Africa is lot higher. What we probably lack in formal education, we certainly make up for with a lot of initiative.”

Talking about initiative, it’s fundamental for each South African to rise up and make sure they achieve says Joosub. 

“However, people need something to rise up to. Thus, you have to set big goals. In a company like Vodacom, we’re blessed from that perspective that once we set a big, hairy, audacious goal, the company rises up and achieves it.” A spirit of teamwork and a spirit of wanting to succeed are the most important ingredients in people. “Passion is also what I look for when I recruit people. I think everything else you can teach.

Joosub naturally fills his leadership role with a calm and collected approach, though not without challenges. “I think the biggest leadership challenge is always making sure you have the right people on the team with the right talent to take the company forward.” A good team (with the right skills and capability) working hard is vital for team performance. “It’s also extremely important for people to have clear objectives, so that every person in the company knows what is expected of them and are delivering on those objectives,” stresses Joosub. “It’s also important to align objectives across the company, so that people are not working in different directions.”

One of the major reasons for Joosub’s accomplishments is his belief: “Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today. Put the effort in and get it done because it’s not going to happen on its own. If you have a problem, hit it head on and solve it right now. In any challenge, make a decision, make a call and believe in yourself.”

Joosub bought a new house for his parents and converted the old family home into an orphanage to give back to society. He explains, “I wanted to do something useful to our old house. I had a vision to do something for kids since they are so innocent. It just breaks my heart to see children abandoned and homeless.”

At any given time, the orphanage has between 28 and 30 kids who have been either abused, abandoned, been thrown in dustbins, addicted to drugs or sexually abused. “Every child has a story that’s quite heartfelt, but also very sad at the same time. We are very blessed with the lady running it. She’s extremely competent in providing a home for these kids.” Joosub is also supporting two schools at the moment, “For me it’s important that everyone in South Africa realises that you have to give back. If we’re going to evolve as a country and really create a better place for everyone, you have to give back to the country,” he says.

Joosub holds a Bachelor of Accounting Science (Honours) from the University of South Africa and a Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, which he completed while apprenticing at Vodacom. He is a certified Associated General Accountant and Commercial and Financial Accountant, and a member of SA Institute of Commercial and Financial Accounts, and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants. He also serves as the Chairman of the Executive Committee at Vodacom Group Limited. 

South Africa’s mobile generation

Africa is right in the midst of a technological revolution, and nothing illustrates that fact more than the proliferation of mobile phones. It is astonishing that more Africans on the continent have access to mobile phones than they have access to clean drinking water.

Even more so, the rapidly evolving telecom sector in South Africa is staggering. According to Nielson, a consumer and market research company based in the USA, South Africa ranks fifth in the world for mobile data usage, ahead of the US which ranks seventh. Smartphones are South Africa’s biggest market, and e-commerce is growing at a rate of around 30% per year.

Businesses can expect cellphones to greatly influence the manner in which consumers conduct product research, interact with brands and ultimately, buy products in future. It is therefore essential to focus on formulating new and innovative ways to implement mobile technologies and promote mobile enterprise.

“One of our growth areas is definitely mobile enterprise,” says Joosub. “About four years ago, we decided to build our own fixed enterprise offering. As we were connecting a lot of our base stations and having to upgrade the capacity required because of data, we started to build fibre or high-speed transmissions. This gave us the ability to develop new products and services such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).”

In the future one would have a SIM card in your car for instance, with internet services and real-time tracking options. “Tracking is becoming extremely important, especially for corporates wanting to manage their fleets, routes and productivity,” says Joosub. 

“With the whole data explosion, cell phones will become much more integrated into our daily lives. We can expect to have a lot more connected devices as we go forward, utilising telecommunication for many different things, as in health for example,” he says.

Environmental development

Worldwide, mobile phone technology is changing people’s lives on a daily basis. Access to broadband and mobile technology improves communication with wide access to various services. It creates opportunities for a better quality of life with a huge socio-economic impact, improved productivity as well as economic growth.

Mobile phones have greatly reduced communication costs, allowing consumers and corporates to send and obtain information quickly and cheaply on a variety of economic, social, and political topics. 

Research shows that the reduction in communication costs associated with mobile phones has tangible economic benefits, improving agricultural and labour market efficiency and producer and consumer welfare in specific circumstances and countries.

Rizel Delano 

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