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Michael Joseph reveals that he started Safaricom at Norfolk apartment

By Fredrick Obura | October 2nd 2017

NAIROBI, KENYA: Michael Joseph, the former Chief Executive Officer of Safaricom on Monday told Kenya Television Network (KTN) that he is not wealthy as many people would imagine.

Despite building the largest telecommunication in the region, Michael Joseph is also credited with building the first mobile network in Argentina and also has worked for several Telecom projects in Europe, Asia, America and Middle East in senior capacities.

In 2016, the government appointed him to chair Kenya Airways Board, at a time when the airline is facing financial crisis.

Joseph told KTN in early morning show that despite his successful career spread over 55 years, he has not made enough money to qualify him as wealthy but neither is he poor.

He says that he owns a car, and two homes.

“People think that I am wealthy, I am not, and I have been an employee for the rest of my life. Materially I am not,’ he said revealing that he has one car, a home in London and another one in Kenya’s Lewa conservancy area.

He said that he was at one time very much upset when Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) said he was tax payer of the year twice in a row. This he said created a notion that he is a rich man but he objects saying that it only means that he pays his taxes to KRA.

Joseph together with five of his colleagues seconded by Vodafone started Safaricom in the year 2000 starting the company at an apartment in Norfolk towers. They took over the assets from Telkom Kenya which included 11 base stations in Nairobi. At the time he was starting the company people registered a lot of complaints in regards to services.

“We did not know that Safaricom would grow to what it is at the moment, making billions of shillings in profit and changing lives through products such as the M-pesa,” he said. “It has not been a smooth ride for Safaricom because when we started we had no data about Kenyans, what we had was a business plan developed by Vodafone guys saying that we might or might not be successful in five years’ time giving us a projection of four or five hundred thousand customers within that period and plan also said chances of failure was also high.”

According to Joseph, investment that Vodafone made into Safaricom at that time was 22 million dollars which was not sufficient since one switch at that time was 10 million dollars. The biggest challenge in setting up Safaricom was lack of data documenting economic trend in Kenya, basically how much people earned and spending culture.

“We were not able in the first few months to make wise decision because of the lack of data,” he says.

Despite not being wealthy as he puts it, Joseph believes that he is successful having laid proper foundation for Kenya’s largest telecommunications company. “Im successful not because of money but because of lives I have impacted in Kenya.”

“There is no substitute for hard work. Behave properly and fairly, not all of us are born with silver spoon,” he advises.

In 2016, Joseph was appointed the Chairman of Kenya Airways at a time when the national carrier is experiencing financial challenges.

His biggest challenge at KQ is creating the culture and people similar to what he built at Safaricom.

“The ingredients I used to make Safaricom are not the same as those needed to make Kenya Airways a success.”

“To be successful in a company you need people. System and hardware you can buy. People and culture is the hardest thing to change if you did not create it in the first place. My challenge at KQ is how to change a culture that is 40 years old,” he says.

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