Rejuvenating Maxis and Celcom – B.K. Sidhu

One of the first things Lundal did when he took control of the company, was to give a 150-slide presentation telling the board what was wrong with Maxis and what was needed to be done to regain its lustre.

Maxis had seen its margins come under pressure from intense competition. Customer complaints were at an all-time high because of service disruptions and it had lost nearly one million subscribers, especially in the prepaid segment.

Compounding matters was, apart from a bloated workforce, the fact that its network was not fully-equipped to address the data business explosion.

He tore down walls, cut the workforce from 3,500 to 3,000 people, compressed layers of decision-making, made the customer the central focus of the company and changed the way it distributed its products.

The decision to hire this Norwegian and the changes he has made seem to have paid off.

Axiata’s board had to act and brought in Michael Kuehner as CEO to address the rot. He joined on Sept 5 last year.

His appointment as CEO comes after Celcom’s famous 31-straight quarters of growth, in which it claimed to have the widest network during that time and once the highest number of subscribers.

Kuehner was selected because he had the track record, having worked in the local market for many years. Also, Kuehner had successfully turned around Robi Axiata Ltd in Bangladesh some years back. Axiata has a 68.7% stake in Robi. Kuehner was CEO of Robi from 2009 to 2013.

What he had done at Robi would not be very different from the task for him at Celcom. Both have the same symptoms of network issues, sluggish distribution, weak sales, too many layers of hierarchy and a focus that is inward rather than the consumer, competition and trends.

Today, even the once smallish Digi has overtaken Celcom by the number of subscribers. Still, Digi is seen to be disruptive and yet innovative just like U Mobile to shake up the two big players every so often.

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