Change is in the Air as Airtel Kenya Gets a New CEO

Adil El Youssefi, who joined the company in 2014, is leaving

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Change is in the air at local telecommunications company Airtel Kenya after the company announced a new Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Prasanta Das Sarma.

Mr Sarma is described as an Airtel veteran having served the company in various capacities for 14 years. His most recent posting was as the head of Airtel’s operations in Bangladesh where he served in the same capacity he is taking up in Kenya. He has 31 years experience in the technology industry.

He takes over from outgoing CEO Adil El Youssefi who, according to a statement from the company, “has decided to pursue external opportunities post the completion of his contract period.”

Replaced: Adil El Youssefi at a past Airtel Kenya event

Mr Youssefi, an outspoken gentleman who was very passionate about defending the Airtel brand during regular media briefings when he would go on a tirade and tear into rival Safaricom whom he accused of market dominance, joined Airtel Kenya as CEO in April 2014, taking over from Shivan Bhargava.

During his tenure at the helm of the second largest mobile network operator in the country, Mr Youssefi is credited with the successful absorption of customers of Yu Mobile which the company acquired as Yu exited the volatile Kenyan market as well as the introduction of several innovative products in the market. Some of the bold and ambitious ones, like the Unliminet product, have all but been scrapped off recently. He leaves at a time when the company is in the middle of a second tranche of staff retrenchments and has been dogged by rumours of potentially exiting the market.

Airtel Africa was recently forced to release a statement to dispel rumours that it was considering exiting the African market. Speculation about a possible exit by Bharti Airtel, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, from the African market rose after chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal’s revealing interview with Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Airtel Kenya currently holds 17.5% market share according to the latest data from the Communications Authority of Kenya, the industry regulator, trailing market leader Safaricom which sits pretty at the top with 69% market share.

Even with rumours of a possible exit having been dispelled, at least for now, it is widely expected that a massive restructuring of Airtel’s Kenyan operations is underway and the appointment of Mr Sarma could be just the start of what is a grand scheme of things.

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