This month, AB Communications appointed Benson Mbewe (BM) as its new chief executive officer, taking over from Susan Makore, who was at the helm of the company for more than a decade.
Mbewe is an astute business leader, marketer, and strategist with vast experience in the media and financial services sector.
He holds a Bachelor of Business Studies, a Master of Business Administration, both from the University of Zimbabwe and a Master of Development Policy from KDI School of Public Policy and Management, South Korea.
Business Times Investigations Editor Tinashe Makichi (TM) caught up with Mbewe to chat about his vision and other issues.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
TM: Congratulations on your appointment as the new CEO of AB Communications.What does the appointment mean to you and how are you planning to take the integrated media organisation forward?
BM: Thank you so much Tinashe. The appointment, to me, is a confirmation of my commitment to the company. It means a lot as it shows me the faith and unshakeable conviction the board and shareholders have in me as a professional.
In the same vein it is a challenge that I embrace and accept.
Managing people is not easy and doing so in this difficult season is even harder.
I am therefore not under any illusion of the task ahead; it is a huge one but certainly one that is not insurmountable.
TM: You have taken over from Susan Makore, who has been at the helm of AB Communications for more than a decade. What is your view of AB Communications today and what does the future hold for the group?
BM: Firstly, let me hasten to say, the shoes left by Susan are so huge, I cannot even try to fit them. AB Communications for the past decade has been synonymous with the name Susan Makore.
She is credited with organising and structuring the company the way you see it today.
I am glad I worked with her in various crucial capacities and along the way learnt quite a lot from her.
My view and knowledge of the company is that AB Communications has a great culture and vibe. It is a company that one aspires to work for. It is a company poised for great success as it has a g r e a t foundation, its young employees.
We are pinning all our hopes for the future in these young professionals across the company.
TM: You have more than 10 years working experience as a business executive, marketer and strategist, in the media and financial services sectors, how do you see this experience helping you in your new role as CEO?
BM: Not many people in my position are privileged to have in-depth finance and marketing knowledge, the main anchors of business. I thank God for the opportunity he gave me to work in all the various capacities over the years.
I have worked in treasury, investments, sales, marketing, business development, compliance and general management within the media and financial sectors.
I believe I will contribute my vast knowledge to the company and be able to mentor and guide our young people in various departments.
Tapping into my reservoir of knowledge will prove pivotal in steering the ship during this difficult time.
TM: In the eyes of many, AB Communications Group is an upmarket brand. Are there plans to cater for the alternative audience?
BM: That has been said on many platforms and those who know me fully comprehend my understanding of the market positioning of the company.
AB Communications group is a quality driven brand that thrives to deliver its products across various demographics and target audiences.
We are an aspirational brand whose products appeal to that listener,viewer or reader who aspires to be somebody tomorrow.
That rural boy, that ghetto girl, that young man from the university, college,or high school, that farmer, that executive, that stay at home, anybody who aspires to be better than they are today can find that inspiration within the group.
We can only add to our existing portfolio, new entities and platforms to widen our existing offering, but you can be guaranteed that the product will be of a high quality.
We do not segment our market by social status or economic standing of our clients, we take our market seriously and whoever they are we believe they deserve a quality product.
So, in a nutshell AB Communications is not an upmarket group but a quality driven, upwardly mobile and aspirational brand for the everyday Zimbabwean.
TM: Accessing AB Communications’ flagship radio station, ZiFM Stereo in ex-Japanese cars is quite a challenge? How are you going to deal with this?
BM: We are always on the hunt for new partnerships to provide bandwidth extenders for free to our listeners.
We have had similar arrangements in the past; we are planning to do the same with more partners this year.
Bandwidth allocation is not something that we as a station has control over, we can only work with what we are allocated.
TM: Zimbabwe and the rest of the world are experiencing exponential growth in COVID-19 infections, especially in the past few weeks. This has caused uncertainty in business. How is AB Communications going to position itself to deliver value to consumers and other stakeholders in the future?
BM: We are very protective of our employees, families, audiences and the health sector. As a company, as soon as we saw the trend of infections growing, we declared our own internal lockdown.
We have decongested the workplace in order to ensure there is proper social distancing within our various premises across the country. Our various teams are working from home.
As a digitally agile entity we are fully connected and so able to continue providing value to our stakeholders flawlessly.
Let me also take this opportunity to advise our stakeholders, Covid-19 is real, it knows no boundaries, it is claiming lives indiscriminately and all of us have a duty to ensure the health of each other.
Let us follow the Covid-19 guidelines in our conduct with each other for whatever period it is. Let us make it our new normal way of life – mask up, stay at home, keep your distance and wash your hands.
TM: What do you think are some of the opportunities the pandemic has presented to organisations?
BM: The pandemic has sped up digitisation of entities.
A year ago, digitisation was something most organisations could work without.
Fast forward March 2020, it became urgent that entities put in place solutions to connect with their stakeholders in the normal course of delivering value.
Entities have also been forced into taking care of employees.
Employee wellness has suddenly been promoted above all objectives, a very welcome move as they are the backbone of any organisation.
TM: Your strategy is to have the business become digitally anchored, what offerings can be expected from this thrust?
BM: Without divulging much, AB Communication is launching a myriad of apps, websites, podcasts, shows and platforms meant to provide our audiences with relevant, quality content. We will be telling the Zimbabwean story in style just watch the space.
The world has been starved of the unique Zimbabwean story and the group is set to step up and do just that.
TM: You are well travelled across continents, what trends have you observed as far as the use of digital technology in media is concerned?
B M : I have observed that all progressive media houses across the continent have gravitated towards taking full advantage of the internet.
They have converged their entities in virtually every sense and can now challenge traditionally large entities.
The internet has levelled the playing field and brought down most barriers. Imagine, online TV channel can compete with a small blogger, a youtuber, a newspaper and a radio station.
They have since ceased to be defined by the technologies they have and channels they use but by the content they create.
TM: With that regional and international impression as far as digital technology is concerned, how do you intend to position AB Communications units especially the radio and newspaper divisions?
BM: We are finalising our own convergence. Our platforms; newspaper and radio are also going to be following global trends in order to provide quality Zimbabwean content to our audiences and solutions to our advertisers and partners.
TM: AB Communications has registered strong regional presence through Hevoi and 98.4FM. Are there plans to bring more stations in the future?
BM: There are plans to that effect – we would welcome an opportunity to serve a greater part of our people through providing a platform for them to tell their story. The experience so far with the two has been fantastic.
We have confirmed the long widely held view that Zimbabwe has diverse and rich subcultures.
It will be great to set up more radio stations in more cities and districts and showcase their stories to the national and beyond.
TM: AB Communications applied for a television licence which, unfortunately, was not successful. What strategies are in place to make sure the organisation remains relevant and continues to participate in the television space?
BM: We continue to make progress on the online space.
We are licensed to offer webcasting and video on demand services online.
So we have TV licenses in that regard. We just hope and pray that the fortunes of our stakeholders improve, and data costs progressively go down.
Online access is different from terrestrial free to air broadcasting.
So, the uptake is still pretty low but we predict a very steady growth going forward.
The beauty of it is that consumption patterns of the greater part of the market have shifted towards video on demand and streaming services through mobile gadgets.
Once data is affordable to most people we will see an upsurge in demand for these services.
TM: What is it that you can tell us about yourself?
BM: I am a relentless and positive person who believes in results, an ardent fanatic of ethics, a believer and servant of God who puts God first in all I do. I love young people and believe in offering them opportunities and mentorship.
Young people are our present not the future.
I am an avid reader and follower of global affairs. I am a husband of one, a father to four and a brother to many.
TM: Any closing remarks?
BM: Though today we are all closed up in our homes because of this Covid-19 pandemic, I look to the future with hope and conviction that this too shall pass, and we shall prevail as a people. Covid-19 will surely make us cry but will not break our spirits.
We are a strong and resilient lot.