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S.Africa's Naspers to reinvent itself, again, for mobile

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's Naspers aims to transform itself into a "predominantly mobile" company, its new chief executive said on Wednesday, as it looks to bring its stable of e-commerce and auction sites to tablets and smartphones.

Naspers, one of the world's largest internet companies by market value, will continue to target e-commerce firms for acquisitions, Bob van Dijk told Reuters in an interview, seeking to add to operations that reach 120 countries.

Naspers has already reinvented itself at least once, going from an apartheid-era newspaper publisher to a media and online giant focused on technology and emerging markets.

"We will be more of an operator in the Internet than we have been ... the most exciting part is adjusting ourselves to be predominantly a mobile company," van Dijk said at Naspers' Cape Town headquarters.

"It's really hard to comment on future M&A, but I think focus-wise, e-commerce will be very important for us."

While he gave no details of the mobile strategy, Naspers' recent acquisitions - and van Dijk's background at eBay Inc - suggest the $52 billion company could increase the mobile presence of its online classifieds and retailing businesses.

"It's a direction where we see a lot of traction and it works well in markets we operate in," he said of e-commerce.

This year the group consolidated its online classified services in southeast Asia and eastern Europe into the OLX brand. Last year it bought an 80 percent stake in redBus.com, India's largest bus ticket portal.

Van Dijk took over Naspers in April, succeeding Koos Bekker who stepped down after 17 years of explosive growth that started with a push into pay television and later, an investment in China's Tencent Holdings.

RARE PROMOTION

Naspers owns nearly a third of Tencent, China's largest internet company. It also has a stake in Russia's Mail.Ru.

Van Dijk's appointment marked a rare promotion of an outsider to the top job of a company that has traditionally drawn its leadership from South Africa's close-knit community of Afrikaner elite.

The former McKinsey consultant joined Naspers last year to head its east European online marketplace business. Before that, he led eBay's German unit.

Founded in 1915 as Nasionale Pers, or "National Press", Naspers was widely seen as the mouthpiece for the white minority government of the time. It began its overseas push following the end of apartheid in 1994.

Naspers also has a highly lucrative pay-television business across South Africa and much of Africa, and stakes in newspapers and magazines in South Africa and other emerging markets.

Its share price has increased more than 60-fold since 1994. Naspers is the sixth-most valuable global internet services company, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Its shares finished down 2.3 percent at 1,300 rand on Wednesday, hit by a bout of profit-taking after touching a record high last week.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf, editing by David Dolan and David Evans)

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