Africa has taken center stage as a frontier for growth. The continent is experiencing a surge in economic growth, driven by stronger internet connectivity. Africans everywhere are connected like never before and now access across the continent is only a tap of a screen or keyboard away. The desire for connectivity and digital technologies has made telecoms businesses among the most important in Africa.
You have to be close to the customers and your staff, you need to put down clear actions, trust the team and always do it with a smile.
In Zambia, Mark Townsend is leading one such business. He is a man with technology at heart and everything he does is driven by his desire to see a more connected Zambia through the provision of integrated technology solutions. Mark is the managing director of Liquid Intelligent Technologies (hereafter referred to as Liquid), previously Liquid Telecom, where he started as an account manager early in his career, when the business was called Real Time. He describes his return to Liquid as a homecoming. “I am working with some of the people I worked with when I was here more than 15 years ago. So it’s good to be back,” he says reflecting on his journey.
Mark was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia. He completed his primary education at Lake Road School in Lusaka before leaving for boarding school in the small town of Marondera in Zimbabwe. He describes himself as an outgoing child, which motivated him to leave home at a young age. His goal was to become a farmer and he studied farming while in Zimbabwe.
However, upon completing high school, Mark began to think that his dream of becoming a farmer was perhaps too big to pursue. He felt he might not have the financial capacity to sustain life as a farmer. After some moments of deep introspection, Mark decided to go to the UK for a period of self-reflection and self-discovery. While in the UK, he explored his various interests and rugby took centre stage. Not one to think small, Mark decided to pursue rugby as a full time career but fate had other plans. He decided to return home to Zambia, and the rest is history.
Even though his rugby dream did not work out, something else happened in the UK that changed Mark’s career path forever. While living abroad, he was exposed to a technology boom that he had not yet experienced in Africa. He returned home with a desire to see technology transform Zambia as it had done the UK.
The dream to bring technology back to Africa is the driving force behind Mark’s career. Today, he is leading Liquid Intelligent Technologies which he re-joined shortly after the acquisition of Hai. Over the past year and a half, he has steered the business through a merger and acquisition which is a challenge for any CEO. “It is two different companies becoming one, meaning we had to overcome initial teething problems, like establishing one mission and vision that would seamlessly integrate the two businesses. Today, we have a clear strategy and objectives in sight,” Mark says regarding the merger.
People are attracted to leaders who set a tone and set a very clear path to success for them.
Apart from the acquisition, earlier in the year, the organisation rebranded to Liquid Intelligent Technologies, after an extensive business transformation from being a telecommunications and digital services provider to a full one-stop-shop technology group. As Liquid Telecom, the business focused on the delivery of fibre optic and 4G LTE data services to households and corporates. The rebrand reflects the expansion of its cloud business, cyber security services, and other technologies added to its existing telecoms and connectivity capabilities.
However, consumers’ needs are always changing and successful businesses have to anticipate these changes and adjust. Today’s consumer, both home and corporate, is looking for more than just internet connectivity but also seeking value addition. The new brand aims to deliver the value that today’s consumer seeks.
Liquid is transitioning from a supplier into a digital service provider that can deliver value across the entire business value chain. The business is doing this by increasing its service offering and including other services beyond strong internet connectivity. Services such as CCTV, biometric solutions, cloud-computing and data storage now form part of the Liquid product offer.
Mark believes this is how Liquid will win in the ever growing technology space in Zambia. The walls of the industry have come down as mobile network operators are now a big part of the competitor set, offering a wide range of services and products. Liquid’s unique selling proposition in this space is to increase the value that they deliver and derive from the customer.
“We want to have the most share of wallet and we want to give customers increasing value. We are taking a consultative approach to our business and we want to understand what our customers want and what their pain points are. We are not just selling a product; we want to sell a complete solution,” Mark says.
Mark is not on this journey alone. He is leading a strong and skilled team that relies on his leadership daily. His leadership journey has been shaped by the various leaders he has worked under. From these leaders, Mark has gathered knowledge that he applies today. On his leadership Mark says, “You have to be close to the customers and your staff, you need to put down clear actions, trust the team and always do it with a smile. As a leader you have to be focused on the big picture all the time and just trust that your team will deliver what they need to deliver.”
Like most other businesses, Liquid has had to contend with the challenges of COVID-19. Consumers, especially corporate ones have downsized their internet needs or cut off internet completely as they work from home. While household internet consumption has increased, the corporate business is yet to recover.
Unlike many a CEO, Mark sees this downturn as an opportunity for the business to evolve and prepare for the new normal. Liquid is building a strong product suite that keeps improving. Recently, an education bundle was launched, giving more power to parents and students as they learn from home. Other products are in the pipeline that will further strengthen Liquid’s market position.
Mark Townsend continues to grow as an individual and also as a leader. Over his 15-year career, he has achieved many milestones and reached the heights of more than one corporate ladder. It is clear when one speaks to Mark that he is not done yet; he still has a long way to go.
And as he reflects on his career, he credits his success to three elements. The first is to always build good, solid relationships that are based on honesty and mutual respect. He holds honesty and integrity as principles that have protected his relationships. The second is to be positive and have an entrepreneurial thought process in life. Part of this means being ready for change and to take action when necessary. The third element is setting the tone. Elaborating on this point, Mark says, “People are attracted to leaders who set a tone and set a very clear path to success for them. That keeps them motivated and ready to work hard to deliver results.”
Mark has set his tone as a clear, concise and strategic leader that is not afraid of change. He is at the forefront of Zambia’s digital future and if his track record is anything to go by, the future is in good hands.