GUGULETHU MFUPHI: It’s Thursday January 19 2012 and in this special report podcast we speak to newly appointed chief executive of Cell C, Alan Knott-Craig. Alan, after years of experience in the telcos space, particularly after heading up the country’s biggest cell phone network that being Vodacom, why did you decide to return to a network operator after two years out of business?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Well, actually it’s three and a half years out of the business and I’ve not been able to work for three and a half years but my restraints come to an end in March of this year. So, I decided, yes, it might be fun to go back into the industry and Cell C was the most attractive company to move into.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Touching on those restraints that you spoke about, I understand that you were meant to render services to the Vodacom CEO personally, did you provide these services to him over the past three and a half years?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Whenever he asked for them, yes.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Okay, coming back to your appointment at Cell C, what do you believe that you can offer the mobile operator?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Well, I think I can offer them some good experience in building a network and an organisation that’s centred around mobile. So, first priority is going to be to make sure that we can indeed roll out a world class network that’s modern and that is very good quality and that has a very competitive footprint. At the same time we do need to strengthen the distribution channels in the company and I think I can add a lot of value there. I think we need to just reorganise the company slightly to make it really, really efficient and energetic and easy to access and easy to do business with and, yes, I’ve done that before, so that shouldn’t be too tough.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: You mentioned reorganising and restructuring, how do you intend to do this?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: I really just want to be sure that the company can work as efficiently as possible. In other words, I don’t want very wide span of controls, I don’t want very many levels of people in the company, so it should be easy to access each other vertically and horizontally, and it must be organised in such a way that decisions are very easy to make and very quick to make. So, we want to be an organisation that is quick on its feet, can make decisions quickly, can react very fast to anything that changes, it can be very responsive to our business partners and that’s the way we will organise ourselves.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Could you give us a walk through as to how you got the job at Cell C?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: I had coffee with Simon Duffy, who’s an old friend, and it was really just a friendly cup of coffee and we got chatting, the next thing that happened was we were talking about the possibility of coming to the company. So, yes, so that happened towards the end of last year and yesterday they made me an offer and last evening I accepted it and today their board met and ratified that or approved that. After they’d done that I think I signed my contract a couple of hours ago.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Your predecessor, Lars Reichelt, he left a legacy that made Cell C a serious data player, what are you hoping yours will be?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Well, I think Lars did a great job in the company, number one, and I think he really put it on the map, at least data wise. I think what I need to do is simply much of the same that Lars did and a bit more and the bit more really has to do around I think starting the work that he started, which was building a very competitive voice and data network. So, we need to just finish that, make sure that that is world class, kept the company organised, very well energised and one of the areas that maybe hadn’t been addressed was the distribution channels and I think we just need to strengthen that.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: How do you intend to compete with the other network operators?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: We intend to compete by just having as good or better a network service, number one, both from a voice point of view and a data point of view, making sure that technology wise we’re right up front with all new technology coming in. Making sure that we’re able to deal with customers quickly and efficiently and friendly and making sure that our distribution channels are functioning super fast. I think that’s all you need to do really.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Will you be looking at possibly listing Cell C?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: In terms of that I don’t know what the shareholders have in mind. It’s certainly not part of my brief.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Looking more at the consumer trends, Cell C appears to be missing a trick when it comes to offering the latest cell phones such as the iPhone 4S, will you be addressing this and if so, how?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Well, I can’t tell you how but I absolutely will address it as a number one priority because I use those phones myself, so can’t work here and not use the phone.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Is it safe to say that Cell C won’t just be loving android?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Well, I can only tell you that when I get here, which is only in April because I’m still currently under restraint from Vodacom. But we will absolutely make it our business to make sure that every smart phone is available in the company.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Looking at that I know the iPhone 5 will run on 4G technology, any future plans with infrastructure, particularly looking at LTE there?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Well, I think LTE is on everybody’s roadmap and I’m sure it’s on Cell C’s roadmap, I haven’t spoken to them in that depth but it has to be on everyone’s roadmap. No one can afford to not be in any new part of technology coming out these days in the cellular industry. Some people have tried not to do things and they’ve finally had to come round and I think it will be no different with LTE.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: And with your son being at MXit, do you see any synergies between MXit as well as Cell C?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Well, not obvious ones right now but at least through my son I know a hell of a lot more about social networks and I think they will do very well. Quite frankly I think that cell phone networks are going to have to get more social network savvy if they want to really stay right up in front of the game.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: Will social networks be a particular focal point for Cell C going forward?
ALAN KNOTT-CRAIG: Well, I think it would be difficult not to be thinking social networks as one moves forward because social networks are just becoming bigger and bigger and people are identifying themselves with the social networks rather than with cell phone networks.
GUGULETHU MFUPHI: That makes sense. Alan Knott-Craig is the chief executive of Cell C.