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Etisalat aims for revival with new blood

Etisalat hires a new group chief financial officer with a background in M&A as it attempts to avoid repeating missteps made on the global stage last year.

Etisalat is trying to revive its troubled international expansion plans with new hires, appointing a regional specialist in corporate takeovers to a key management position.

The telecommunications company announced yesterday it had appointed Serkan Okandan as the group chief financial officer. Mr Okandan joins from the Turkish telecoms company Turkcell, where he oversaw a US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) takeover of 80 per cent of Belarusian Telecommunications Network in 2008.

His appointment comes as Etisalat revamps its group-level management to kick-start its international expansion. Etisalat shares have fallen 11.7 per cent this year as the company faces a strong challenge from du at home and its overseas efforts have encountered difficulties.

"This appointment comes amid the requirements of the new phase the company is pursuing to strengthen its position regionally and globally," the company said. At Turkcell, Mr Okandan had a wealth of experience "in merger and acquisitions businesses, and conducted a number of deals estimated at millions of dollars through bonds, syndications, acquisitions and divestiture activities regionally and internationally", the company said.

Salem Al Sharhan, the previous chief financial officer, resigned in April for what the telecoms company said were personal reasons, a month after the collapse of a Dh44bn acquisition of a regional rival.

Etisalat's efforts to take control of Zain, based in Kuwait, were thwarted after the UAE's biggest telecoms company failed to meet a deadline to complete routine due diligence.

In India, Etisalat became ensnared in a high-level corruption scandal through its partner DB Group, while Etisalat's application for a mobile licence in Syria was withdrawn in March after the Assad government responded violently to unrest in the country. In Egypt, the company postponed attempts to list its local subsidiary on the Egyptian Exchange.

With a sense that the company was in need of greater direction, the company appointed Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar as the group chief executive in August. Mr Julfar, a UAE national, is a former chief operating officer of Etisalat.

Last month, the company hired Daniel Ritz as the group chief strategy officer, while the company said on Wednesday that it had appointed two UAE nationals to top positions in its overseas operations. It selected Ahmed Mohammed Alhosani as the acting chief executive for its Afghanistan business and promoted Ahmed Khalfan Al Mutawato the post of chief financial officer for Etisalat Zantel, the company's subsidiary in Tanzania.

Appointing a chief financial officer from a publicly-listed company overseas could also signal a willingness to open Etisalat to international investment. Currently, only UAE nationals can buy stock in the company.

"Having an investor-friendly chief financial officer is key if you want to open up to foreign investors," said an analyst who asked not to be named.

ghunter@thenational.ae

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