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Telkom CEO Tries to Inject Life Into His 'Graveyard Assignment' 

Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

Branding for 8ta, Telkom South Africa Ltd.'s mobile service, is seen on the Hillbrow telecommunications tower, above residential homes on the city skyline in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Aug. 16, 2012. Close

Branding for 8ta, Telkom South Africa Ltd.'s mobile service, is seen on the Hillbrow... Read More

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Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

Branding for 8ta, Telkom South Africa Ltd.'s mobile service, is seen on the Hillbrow telecommunications tower, above residential homes on the city skyline in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Aug. 16, 2012.

When Sipho Maseko first took on the role of CEO of South Africa's largest fixed-line operator last April Fool's Day, he told me it was a "graveyard assignment."

He wasn't kidding. His company, Telkom Group, reported a 11.6 billion rand ($1.2 billion) net loss last week, the second-biggest loss ever for a company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Maseko also faces strikes by workers.

Now he's trying to inject life into the mostly state-owned company, telling investors he's "raising the metabolic rate" of his managers, and getting "the right bums on the right seats." He also wants a network "built on steroids" to deliver high-speed broadband and other services into South African homes.

He has to now turn those words into money. Maseko, who came from Vodacom Group Ltd., South Africa's No. 1 phone company, doesn't want to join the CEO graveyard. Telkom has had four chief executives in three years.

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