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The man behind Kenya’s top mobile provider dies at 61 after driving the company’s growth

Bob Collymore, the man behind Kenya’s top mobile provider, Safaricom Plc died on Monday at the age of 61 after battling with cancer for nearly two years. This was made known by Safaricom on Monday. 

“In recent weeks, his condition worsened and he succumbed to cancer at his home in the early hours of Monday,” the firm said.

The death of the CEO who planned to step down in August due to health reasons comes a few months after he agreed to serve the company for another year, after the Kenyan government’s insistence to be succeeded by a Kenyan complicated the hiring process. Kenyans were opposed to the idea of having the giant telco company to be led by a native, citing that it will open a floodgate of massive corruption.  

Following the death of the corporate titan of no mean repute, the opened 2.7 percent lower at 27.35 shillings ($0.2672) on Monday morning before paring the losses to trade 1.4 Monday down in mid-morning.

“We’ve lost a distinguished corporate leader whose contribution to our national wellbeing will be missed,” the president said in a statement here

Collymore’s rise to Success

He started his career at BT  the largest provider of consumer fixed-line voice and broadband services in the UK in 1978 where he undertook Various Management Roles. He moved to work with Cellnet and Dixons Group Plc between 1994 and 1998 where he worked as Handset Strategy Manager and  Purchasing Director respectively. From there he moved to Vodacom group where he started the career that pivoted him. He worked as Handset Purchasing Director, Global Handset Purchasing Director, Marketing Director, Asia, Governance Director, Africa. Before leaving in the  Chief Officer Corporate Affairs of the company in 2010 for Safaricom.

While at Vodafone he  Led the re-modelling of the Vodafone UK Pre-paid handset business,   Led a major organisation re-design to integrate the handset supply chain activities across the Vodafone group of subsidiaries and affiliates.  He initiated the Vodafone 3G terminals convergence programme for Europe and Japan. He established and led a 60 strong Group team in Japan to successfully launch a range of new handsets and mobile content to the Japanese market. He led and coordinated the governance-related strategies and activities for Vodafone’s holding in Africa.  He also led the company through a pricing war sparked by rival operator Airtel Kenya shortly before he joined Safaricom.

After taking over from Michael Joseph as CEO in 2019 his appointment was not received with so much joy as some people expected nothing less from him but surprisingly he proved them wrong. He was able to outperform Michael. He grew the company exponentially by turning the company o East Africa’s most profitable company with $11 billion. This growth was attributed to the good performance of MPESA, text, and data.

M-PESA was launched in 2007 in order to help diasporans send money back home to Kenyans across the 47 counties in the country.  This platform has so far evolved from a basic SIM card-based money transfer application into a fully-fledged financial service. 

 Safaricom now has 46.6 million active mobile subscriptions as at December 2018 as opposed to 13.5 million when Collymore took over. The company boasts of owning 64.2 percent of the Kenyan market. The company was ranked as the top employer in the telecommunications industry in Kenya and the world.

Thanks to Collymore, Safaricom has greatly transitioned into one of the greatest companies in Kenya. 

Although Collymore has turned around Safaricom his successor will face the threat of regulatory intervention. It is worthy to note that in recent years, Collymore has opposed attempts by Kenya’s telecoms regulator to split Safaricom into a financial services business and a telecoms business, due to its dominant size.