Resilient, Resolute, Resourceful
For more than 20 years, MultiChoice Zambia and its hero product, DStv, have been at the center of Zambian entertainment. DStv is a staple in scores of Zambian homes and fixtures on many household budgets. It brings together the best in entertainment, sports, movies, and news in tailor-made packages that customers can choose from.
However, as consumer preferences evolve with the emergence of streaming services powered by lower data prices, MultiChoice Zambia faces its biggest challenge yet – how to stay on top of consumers’ minds and remain the number one choice in entertainment.
Leah Kooma, a vibrant and charismatic managing director determined to win in the competitive market, leads the business through this transitory phase. I met with Leah at Le Elementos Boutique Hotel in Lusaka’s Rhodes Park area for an inspiring conversation about life and business.
Le Elementos Boutique Hotel offers luxury and exclusivity in a beautiful architectural finish. Guests can enjoy contemporary fusion cuisine with organic ingredients sourced directly from a local farm. Various room options suit business, leisure, and family stays. The hotel is located 1.3 kilometers from the iconic Manda Hill Mall, offering essentials that a guest might need. Our chat with Leah included delicious meals from the hotel’s signature restaurant, dubbed Le Restaurant.
Leah Kooma was raised on the Copperbelt. Her parents were teachers who placed a high value on education for Leah and her three brothers. “My parents were civil servants who started as teachers, lecturers, and, eventually, administrators. Education was key in our household, which I have carried over into my household. We were a family of six, but we always accommodated cousins and uncles. That was a solid foundation for me; through that, I learned how to be accommodating of people, which has transferred into my work,” she comments on her upbringing.
Leah would go on to attend Fatima Girls Secondary School and later earned an economics and development studies degree at the University of Zambia. Upon completion, Leah started her career as a cashier at Barclays Bank (now Absa Bank) in Ndola. After a two-year stint, she moved to Celtel (now Airtel) as a personal assistant with the plan to advance once she got her foot in the door. Later, Leah transferred to sales and marketing, and this is where her story kicked off.
For 11 years, Leah was on the cutting edge of Zambia’s telecoms disruption. At Celtel, she helped pioneer the model of selling SIM cards and affordable phones, increasing the mobile penetration rate among the underserved. On her first day in the field, 4,000 phones and sim cards were sold; later that year, her efforts helped to sell 300,000 low-cost handsets.
She was also part of the emergence of mobile money in Zambia, one of the most significant innovations of the last ten years. With the emergence of mobile money, marginalized groups now have access to financial services through their mobile phones. This has contributed to overall socio-economic development across the country, a point of pride for Leah. She also worked in Kenya for a year on secondment and during that time she also took on opportunities to work in Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Zambia.
Today, Leah is leading a team on a mission to fulfill the MultiChoice brand promise of ‘Enriching Lives’. While the production and distribution of content are the tangible outputs of this mission, the background is where the real work takes place. Content delivery involves partnerships with over 700 touchpoints across the value chain. Furthermore, there are also over 300 direct sales agents and around 250 installers that are core to the delivery of content to the customer’s screens.
MultiChoice has been at the center of transforming Zambia’s budding local TV and film industry through Zambezi Magic on DStv and GOtv. The channel is viewed within the Southern African region, and Zambians produce over 90% of its content in Zambia. The production of popular shows such as Mpali, Zuba, and many more bring together various resources such as catering, design, tailoring, camera work, and makeup, to name a few, all of which contribute to the country’s economic development.
Furthermore, the company is enriching lives through the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF), which has its hub in Zambia. MTF brings together youth from across Southern Africa to Zambia and provides a platform for the creative industries to develop their talent and engage with one another through their shared passions. 7 out of the 20 participants from each cohort are Zambians trained in production aspects such as cinematography, video production, editing, and script writing. MTF graduates are integrated into the economy and become valuable contributors to economic development. MTF graduates have set up their own production companies, becoming employers and taxpayers who contribute to the country’s GDP.
Leah describes herself as an empathetic leader that aims to build open relationships with her team. Reflecting on her leadership style, she says, “what is important is to ensure that people understand the goal and objective we strive to achieve. It is important to give them the tools they need to get the job done and let them get on with it. My door is always open and they should still be able to come to me with ideas and challenges.”
This was put to the test when Leah became managing director after the onset of COVID-19. She steered her team through the disruption caused by the pandemic and today is leading through the challenge posed by streaming services in Zambia. MultiChoice has introduced ShowMax (an online video-on-demand subscription service) as a challenger, increasing its uptake among Zambians. “We had to adapt and ensure that we provide tools for our people to deliver at home. We never thought we would run a call center from home, but we did that for over a year, and we managed to keep the product relevant by improving the app for people to make payments from home and enjoy uninterrupted service,” Leah says on the impact of COVID-19.
Leah Kooma’s story is incomplete without explaining a pivotal health scare she suffered in 2010, which gave her a fresh perspective and renewed determination. She was diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal congenital heart condition which was successfully treated in South Africa. Reflecting on this battle, Leah says, “I said to myself that if I can survive this, I can survive anything that life throws at me. Whenever a challenge arises, I tackle it to the best of my ability. When you look at my career, my aim has always been to do things exceptionally well, and I am very proud of that. I share this story with people to teach the importance of determination in life.”
Leah is a wife and mother of three and sees the support of her family as central to her success. She ensures she spends time with her family despite her busy schedule. “I make sure that I do a school run every single day; I use that time to bond with my son and check in with him. Over the weekends, I rejuvenate and spend time with my family. It would help if you decided to start and stop deliberately. Family is very important to me. My husband, my children, my parents, and my brothers are a big part of my journey. Every decision I make involves thinking about how it will impact them. I always consider the bigger picture.”
Leah also cultivates a love for interior design and has completed a diploma in the craft. Looking forward, Leah is excited to continue leading her team at MultiChoice Zambia and building on its legacy of enriching lives. She is also enthusiastic about the future of Zambia in the next five years and the opportunities that lie ahead. “I see a lot of opportunities in this country and sometimes we don’t see it or appreciate it. We have the potential to be a bigger and leading African country. We have all the resources and talents. If each of us can work and ensure that we positively impact the next person, we will have a better country.”
Le Elementos Boutique Hotel
Le Elementos has two world-class restaurants – Le Restaurant and Le Deck Bar. Le Restaurant offers contemporary fusion cuisine. This elegant venue is perfect for exclusive events and dinners and serves, arguably the best cheesecake in Lusaka. The Le Deck menu offers a more casual menu with meal options ranging from signature sandwiches to burgers made with their special patty. It has a selection of light meals to more filling main dishes.