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Remembering Chilima, the business executive


Without a shred of doubt, the country’s departed Vice President, late Dr Saulos Chilima was a larger-than-life character, evidenced by the outpouring of tributes from far and wide. Away from public service, he had curved an impressive reputation as a business captain of great repute. As the country continues to observe the 21 days of mourning the late Vice President, our journalist Justin Mkweu explores the adventures of Dr. Chilima, the business executive.

After completing his secondary school education, Dr. Chilima studied for a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, computer science, and economics at the University of Malawi from 1990 to 1994 before enrolling for a master of arts in economics at the same institution, where he studied from 2003 to 2005.

He went further with his education, acquiring a doctorate in Knowledge Management at the University of Bolton, United Kingdom from 2011 to 2015.

After completing his bachelor’s in 1994, Chilima held Senior Sales Marketing positions in the banking sector and the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector, notably with the Leasing and Finance Company, Unilever Malawi, Southern Bottlers (SOBO) and Carlsberg (now Castel Malawi).

From 2002 to 2006, Dr. Chilima was the Deputy Sales and Marketing Manager at SOBO where he held accountability for sales, marketing, and general staff welfare issues within the department, which was charged with the responsibility of growing business within the country.

MIXING BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE – Dr Chilima had an affinity for golf

In 2006, he joined Celtel (now Airtel Malawi) as Sales and Distribution Director, a position he held until 2010 when he made history as the first Malawian to be appointed Managing Director of the telecommunications company.

According to information from Bizcommunity (a South Africa-based business-to-business publisher), as part of Celtel and later Zain Malawi management team before he was appointed MD, Chilima had been instrumental in growing the business by pioneering award-winning merchandising standards.

These include the Quick Refill Centre (QRC) initiative, a merchandising model that used containers to place Zain’s products and services within easy-to-reach areas of customers in the market.

The QRC scooped the Innovation of the Year Award for Central Africa in 2008, the same year when Zain Malawi won the Operation of the Year (OPCO) Award in the Zain Group.

Chilima is also credited with driving the company’s Payphone Micro-Finance initiative, popularly known as Airtel Money, growing the corporate segment, and increasing points of sale outlets across Malawi.

As the new MD, Chilima’s immediate task was to oversee the seamless brand transition of the company from Zain to Airtel later in the same year (2010) which he successfully handled.

He took over the operations of a $160 million turnover business, with 231 employees, serving a big percentage of the Malawi population with international roaming services and data services EDGE, SMS, and MMS, and an Airtel mobile money transfer and a “one network” service allowing prepaid customers to enjoy roaming services in other Airtel GSM networks outside Malawi.

He developed, executed, and monitored a strategic plan, oversaw the delivery of country network performance targets and key performance indicators (Customers, financials, HR, Network management, Customer service) and took corrective actions as necessary, and identified and executed additional strategic initiatives (pricing, products, promotions) to ensure delivery of targets.

Under his tenure, the company’s customer base grew from 1,850,000 in 2010 to 2, 800,000 in 2012, representing 64 percent market share, among other achievements.

Dr Chilima made history as the first Malawian to be appointed Managing Director for Airtel Malawi

Airtel Malawi’s current Managing Director, Charles Kamoto, says the legacy that Chilima has left at the company is unforgettable.

Overall, in late Dr. Chilima, the private sector has lost not just institutional memory but an ambitious youthful strategic leader who has contributed a lot to the development of the sector in Malawi.

Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce (MCCCI), President Wisely Phiri says among many other attributes, Dr. Chilima will be remembered as a person who brought the private sector mindset to the public sector.

As seen from his track record, Dr. Chilima was a marketer par excellence and Institute of Marketing in Malawi (IMM) Vice President George Damson attests that the institute has lost a patron who was championing that the institute should be supported by an Act of Parliament.

Having entered the public sector area in 2014, Chilima did not discard the business sector mentality in him.

On several occasions, he represented the country at key business and economic forums locally and abroad, the latest being the Africa Korea summit which was held in Seoul, South Korea and sadly, this was to be his final assignment.

Dr. Chilima’s solid legacy will possibly be remembered for years to come, not just by captains of industry, but the entire Malawi.


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