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How Focusing on People Turned Orange Around

When Aminata Kane took on the challenge of turning around Orange’s Sierra Leonean subsidiary, the giant French telco was considering a sale of the money-losing unit to its main competitor MTN. That was back in April 2018. Aminata, a former mobile money marketing manager at Orange’s Sonatel unit in Senegal, had never run a company with that kind of P&L. Her only previous experience as a CEO was in fashion, when she founded the Fula&Style social fashion startup the year she graduated from MIT, where she got her MBA in 2012. Fula&Style got off to a great start, around a promise of delivering affordable apparel and accessories to mass market consumers in West Africa. The intent was to employ designers, tailors, seamstresses, and craftsmen from Senegal’s local artisan communities, but two years after launch the venture stalled and Aminata took a more stable corporate job at Orange Sonatel, managing a loyalty program for some of the telco’s customers. Having worked, after obtaining her Master in Science of Management at HEC Paris, at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey in Paris and London before moving to Boston for business school, Aminata had learnt to work her way around big company politics. Once settled in Freetown, she knew that, as soon as she stepped into the CEO role, the only factor in the evaluation grid would be the unit’s bottom line. That is why she focused on HR and morale issues as a way to change the company culture while pushing for new forms of meritocracy across the board. The financial results speak for themselves. In three short years, she was able to increase Orange Sierra Leone’s market share from 39% to 52%, and she recently told HEC Magazine that “she’s even happier to have appointed 50% of her executive committee as women.”