SBC veteran puts his name on line for Telkom
THE sudden resignation of Telkom managing director Brian Clark this week has thrust R. McRae ("Mac") Geschwind into the spotlight.
A veteran of 34 years with US telecoms group SBC - which recently bought 30% of Telkom together with Telekom Malaysia - Geschwind will become chief operating officer of Telkom when the deal becomes effective on May 15. In that position he will report directly to the MD, previously Clark and now in an acting capacity Telkom chairman Dikgang Moseneke.
Nevertheless, it will provide Geschwind with direct responsibility over Telkom's most ambitious project ever - the R53-billion roll-out of 2.8-million new telephone lines and upgrade of 1.2-million lines.
Telkom's new equity partners will also appoint, in addition to Geschwind, chief technical, financial and strategic officers to manage existing Telkom divisions. The officers will be supported by 70 experts throughout the group and five directors on the 15-seat board.
The complex new management structure will vest significant powers in the new team, headed by Geschwind, and it will undoubtedly dilute some of the powers previously held by Clark.
Moseneke said this week in a statement that Clark was leaving "to pursue other interests", but this is pretty hard to swallow given that the architect of Telkom's privatisation will not see the project through to its final fruition.
Whatever the reason for Clark's departure, it will leave a significant void at the Telkom top level. Moseneke said the search for a new, South African chief executive would soon begin in earnest. Meanhwile, Telkom would allow Geschwind time and space to make his mark at Telkom Towers North, the parastatal's Pretoria HQ.
Not much is known about Geschwind apart from the official media information issued after his appointment last month, in which he described the chance to help develop the local telecommunications potential as "a great opportunity". He has been barred from making public statements until he officially takes up his position.
He will be leaving his post as president and chief executive of Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages in St Louis, Missouri, a position he has held since 1991.
Under his leadership Southwestern became the leading Yellow Pages company in the directory publishing industry in the US Midwest, says the release.
Glaringly absent from his résumé is any hands-on experience in the development of telephone networks, although SBC itself has been involved in the roll-out of phone services in developing countries, particularly Mexico.
But as the statement points out, he will have the backing of a vast and one of the most profitable telecoms operators; SBC has nearly 110 000 employees and reported 1996 revenues of $23.5-billion.
"Obviously we will have to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, but on first impression we wonder if he (Geschwind) is the right calibre for one of South Africa's most important business posts," a senior executive in the industry said.
At the announcement of the Telkom deal, SBC executives said they expected to show good returns on their $757-million investment (Telekom Malaysia invested $500-million).
It will be Geschwind's primary role to balance the massive roll-out requirements with a healthy bottom-line.
Then there are some side issues to be tackled almost immediately. SBC has a 15% stake in cellular phone operator MTN; since Telkom controls 50% of Vodacom, competition policy authorities have warned that SBC will have to shed its MTN interests. SBC's fellow MTN shareholders have already voiced their opposition.
Geschwind holds a business management degree from Rockhurst College in his home town of Kansas City. He arrived for a brief look-and-see visit in South Africa last month to find a home for himself and his wife.