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Collymore left mark on corporate sector, impact on Wanjiku

By Gloria Aradi | December 29th 2019
By Gloria Aradi | December 29th 2019
The late Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.

On the morning of July 1, Kenyans woke up to the news that Bob Collymore, the chief executive of the telco Safaricom, had died.

Mr Collymore’s death from leukemia dominated conversations in streets and homes and taking over both traditional and digital media platforms. It was not for nothing.

During his nine-year reign as Safaricom CEO, he had engineered a trail of transformations. Under his guardianship, Safaricom’s subscribers rose to nearly 32 million.

In turn, the growth of subscribers propelled the firm’s market valuation to over Sh1.1 trillion, the shooting of annual profits to Sh63.4 billion in the year to March 2019 and a surge in share price by more than six times over the decade.

During his tenure, Collymore also steered the growth of M-Pesa, the mobile money transfer system launched during the leadership of his predecessor Michael Joseph.

He also pushed the telco’s innovation and expansion into other spheres, including e-commerce and transport, with Masoko and Little Cab respectively, although with varying success.

With these forays, the CEO ensured Safaricom upheld its long-running dominance over competitors.

But what endeared Collymore most to Safaricom staff and Kenyans in general was his prioritisation of people over profits.

Soon after taking over, he became renowned within the Nairobi art scene for supporting artists and musicians, as well as helping other Kenyans in need through philanthropic endeavours.

At Safaricom, Collymore upheld a leadership style that valued the welfare of employees and ensured gender equity, while those who interacted with him fondly testified of his modest and easygoing nature.

Prior to demise, Kenyans were aware of Collymore’s fight with cancer. In August 2018, during an appearance on Citizen TV show after a nine-month treatment in the United Kingdom, the CEO opened up on his fight with blood cancer.

“Cancer really is not a death sentence. Unfortunately some people die but it is not a death sentence,” he said, optimistic in spite of his difficult struggle to rid himself of leukemia.

In May this year, it was announced that the Safaricom board had extended Collymore’s term by a year, while further reports revealed that the CEO was not willing to extend his contract beyond that due to his health struggles.

Still, Collymore kept the full extent of his failing health away from the prying public, as he did with many details of his personal life.

It was only upon his death that Kenyans learnt of Collymore’s painful last days and the admission by doctors that they could not save his life.

For many, it was not lost on them that Collymore had opted to go out the same way he lived his life, modestly and privately.

His significance became more apparent as, after his death, months whiled away without Safaricom announcing a successor, while Michael Joseph took over as the interim boss, proving that the late CEO was not a man who could just be replaced.

It was only in late October, four months after Collymore’s passing, that Safaricom finally announced Diageo Continental Europe Managing Director Peter Ndegwa as the new Safaricom CEO, effective April 2020.

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