The fourth session of Africa.com’s four-part webinar on Crisis Management for African Business Leaders co-hosted by faculty from Harvard Business School held on the 6th of May 2020. The session which was on Crafting Strategy in the Face of Uncertainty brought together African business leaders to discuss how their companies have adapted during the coronavirus pandemic.

This particular session had Andy Zelleke, Ph.D., Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer of Business Administration as moderator, joined by Nolitha Fakude, Chairman of Anglo-American Management Board, Acha Leke, Chair of McKinsey & Co. Africa, Funke Opeke, Founder and CEO of MainOne, and Rob Shuter, President/CEO of MTN Group Ltd.

As with other sessions, the floor was opened by Teresa Clarke, Chair and CEO of Africa.com who made a quick run through some questions, highlighting a question which according to her caught ‘our attention.’

What is your greatest concern with regard to COVID-19?

“I am concerned about how we plan for the future. Our governments are not strong enough to shelter us, and so understanding the macroeconomy in which our business will be operating is tough – internet rates, foreign exchange – all play a role in how we approach the market. At the same time, the government doesn’t know how to plan because they are looking to businesses to fill gaps they can’t fill. The government and private sector are looking at each other with a puzzled look on our faces. How do we resolve this circular quandary?”

After taking this question, Teresa Clarke then handed over to Andy Zelleke, who continued with a brief introduction of himself and the other panelists, a run through the topic, and the flow of the session.

Kick-starting the session, Andy Zelleke explained through a slide how the session would be handled. The talking points were divided into two: Panel discussion: firm-level strategy and Panel discussion: Society-level strategy. While speaking briefly on the title of the session, he went ahead to define ‘strategy’ as an integrated set of choices that positions an organization within its environment to achieve its vision over the long term. Still speaking on the definition, he laid emphasis on the opportunity to choose and make choices, matching an organization and its capabilities with opportunities within its environment to achieve a long term vision.

COVID-19 in African business and economy

Moving forward, Acha Leke walked the audience through the impact of COVID-19 on African businesses and the economy while discussing McKinsey’s outstanding take on strategy with some prescriptive guidance.

With the help of a slide, he talked extensively on the three major challenges African countries would face due to the COVID-19 crisis in the coming month. The global COVID-19 pandemic covered disruption in global supply chains, lower demands in global markets, and delayed/reduced FDI. The pandemic also covered the limited movement of people and the disruption of work. Oil impact covered a reduction in government and business revenue for oil exporters, but lower-cost costs for oil importers and consumers.

Nolitha Fakude while speaking on her company’s strategic positioning, urged everyone to know who they are, what their goals are, and what they stand for. Emphasizing more on her company’s strategic positioning, she highlighted the company’s three strategic pillars: Portfolio, innovation, and people.

Rob Shuter, answering Andy Zelleke’s question on ‘how big a disruption COVID-19 has been for MTN’ talked about his company’s effort in building a digital operator. He spoke extensively on MTN’s strategy, talking about the evolving telco, the finch player, and the digital player as part of building a big digital operator.

Answering Andy Zelleke’s question, Rob Shuter said “It’s been an enormous challenge because it affects just about every polity business. On the one hand, it affects what customers need from us because with the lockdown, social distancing, and working from home, the requirements of customers, they, even more, depend on these reliable networks. And it also affects how we work, the internal workings of the company.”

Funke Opeke spoke about MeanOne, giving a brief introduction of the company, what the business is about and how they moved from a cable company linking Europe with West Africa to providing services to more African countries around the continent.

What is the new normal

The panelists had similar views on ‘the new normal’ with more emphasis laid on businesses trying to understand the government’s structure and making sure that strategy development process is more dynamic, while understanding that we will have weak consumer demand for quite some time due to issues like displacement of jobs, weaker resource prices, and weaker exchange rates.

“We should realize it’s not something we get out of quickly,” Rob Shuter said while explaining what he feels is the new normal.

Conclusion

Teresa Clarke took over the session by addressing two quick poll questions, giving the audience time to answer and displaying the answers on the screen before moving to the question & answer session where the panelists responded to questions from different guests and leaders in the sector.

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