Life seems to have come full circle for Wim Vanhelleputte. The Belgian, who has spent most of his professional life at various African telecom firms, has a lot of connections with Uganda, where he returned in late August last year to head MTN Group’s Uganda subsidiary, the country’s telecom industry market leader with a subscriber base of about 10 million.
Vanhelleputte took over from Brian Gouldie who had been in charge of the company for about 2 years. Gouldie, the former CEO, has since been recalled to MTN head offices in South Africa as Group Executive for Special Projects. He was seconded to Uganda in mid 2014 from MTN Group’s headquarters where he had been the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of MTN South Africa.
(TOP: Wim Vanhelleputte, CEO, MTN Uganda).
By moving back to MTN and Uganda, it can be said that Vanhelleputte has “gone back home” in two aspects – that is as far as both his professional and personal lives are concerned. Even though he had quite a long stint at rival Airtel – beginning as Executive Director for Key Business Units in Africa comprising Gabon, Congo B, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Madagascar and Sychelles since July 2015 and most recently serving as MD of Airtel DRC – Vanhelleputte had previously held senior positions at MTN, the most notable being CEO of MTN Cote d’Ivoire from
At MTN Cote d’Ivoire, he’s credited with transforming the telco from a GSM only operator into the number one fully integrated industry player in the country. In his previous stint at MTN, he was the Chief Project Officer for the MTN/CCT acquisition project in DRC between September 2008 and March 2009, before moving to Cote d’Ivoire.
In a statement to staff following his appointment, Vanhelleputte noted: “I have worked with MTN for close to 10 years and through that experience I have entrenched the company’s values into the way I interact with both staff and our customers…”
Away from his professional journey, Vanhelleputte’s connection to Uganda goes much deeper – he was part of a group from Belgium who came to Uganda as part of the Red Cross Youth Volunteers for three months in 1990’s and met his future Ugandan wife – also a Red Cross Volunteer – during the trip.
“During my time in the Red Cross, I met a cheerful and ambitious young Belgian called Vanhelleputte. He came to Uganda as part of the Red Cross Youth Volunteers for three months. We became friends and stayed in touch. Over the next few years, he facilitated me to go to Belgium and visit him. After school, he got a job as a telecom engineer in Zimbabwe and moved there in 1998. I went there to visit him as well”, Vanhelleputte’s wife – Babra Adoso – told the New Vision in a previous interview.
“It was then, after seven years of knowing him at a strictly platonic level that we started getting romantically involved. Most of our dating was on email. In June 2000, we got married in Kampala. Thereafter, I continued working for the IFRC for the next six months and resigned my job to join my husband. He had since left Zimbabwe and moved to Gabon. It was a challenge staying in Gabon…”, narrated the CEO’s wife.
The CEO’s association with the telecom industry began in November 1998 when he became Project Engineer, Siemens Atea, Zimbabwe supporting Telecel Zimbabwe. He would later become the in-country Project Manager, Siemens Atea supporting Telecel Gabon, before becoming GM, Telecel Gabon in November 2001. He was afterwards elevated to MD, Tchad Mobile, a position he held between June 2003 and August 2004. He then went back to Uganda as MD of Imagine Partners Uganda between September 2004 and February 2006. He afterwards worked as CEO, Sentel GSM, Senegal from March 2006 to July 2008 before moving to MTN.
He holds a Bachelor’s degree in General Engineering from the State University of Ghent, Belgium, a Master’s degree in Nuclear and Solid State Physics from the same University, and a Special Degree in Power Plant Management from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium.