Michael Joseph: I am not successful because of money but impact

Safaricom Board Chairman Michael Joseph (PHOTO: FILE)

The appointment of Michael Joseph as the chairman of Safaricom dominated news channels for the better part of Thursday.

Michael Joseph, the founding Chief Executive Officer of Safaricom replaced Nicholas Ng'ang'a after over 10 years’ at the helm of Safaricom Board.

But the new chairman is not new to high profile appointments, In 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Joseph the Chancellor of Maseno University after retiring from Safaricom, in 2016 he was appointed the board chairman of Kenya Airways, a position he is holding to date and last year following the death of Bob Collymore, he was appointed the acting chief executive officer of Safaricom.

According to his Linkedin page, he has held various positions including an advisory role to World Bank on mobile money (2011-2012), Vodafone consultant (1998-2000), senior vice president IWC (1996-1998), Director GTE Wireless (1990-1996), Proposal Manager Alta Telecom (1988-1990), Chief Estimator Pirelli Cable (1987-1988), Senior Vice President Davy Communications (1974-1986) and Technician-Engineer at the department of posts and telecommunication Cape Town (1963-1973).

Three years ago, Joseph told KTN in an 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.

In 2017 when the interview was done, he revealed 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 taxpayer 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 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 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,  Vodafone invested $22m  in Safaricom which was not sufficient since one switch at that time was $10m. The biggest challenge in setting up Safaricom was lack of data documenting the economic trend in Kenya, basically how much people earned and spending culture.

“We were not able in the first few months to make a wise decision because of the lack of data,” he says.
Despite not being wealthy as he puts it, Joseph believes that he is successful in having laid a proper foundation for Kenya’s largest telecommunications company. “I'm 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 a 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 the national carrier 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,” he said during the interview.

“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.

But as the chairman of Kenya Airways, Joseph is facing a rough time even made worse by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The airline resumed domestic operations in July after suspending flights to various destinations in March.

It expects to resume international schedules on August 1, this year

During the annual general meeting in June Kenya Airways (KQ) feared it could lose between Sh42.4 billion and Sh53 billion by the end of the year if the coronavirus pandemic persists.

The airline has so far lost more than Sh10 billion because of Covid-19, which has slammed the brakes on the tourism and travel industry.

To sustain the airline business, KQ has embarked on staff downsizing, a move that has faced resistance from the Kenya Airline Pilots Association.

On Tuesday it started laying off its employees in what it terms a right sizing exercise that is expected to conclude on September 30.
In a Thursday statement, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) termed the move as a short-sighted effort that should not be allowed to materialize following the bigger picture to nationalize the carrier. It also noted that the decision to downsize KQ operations will impact the larger economy risking Kenya’s strategic relevance as a regional hub for both passenger traffic and cargo.