Safaricom taps former EABL finance director as new CEO

Thursday October 24 2019

Safaricom's new CEO Peter Ndegwa. PHOTO | COURTESY | SAFARICOM


Kenya telco Safaricom has appointed former East African Breweries Limited (EABL) finance director Peter Ndegwa as its new chief executive.

“Safaricom Plc board of directors has resolved to appoint Mr Peter Ndegwa as the company’s chief executive effective April 1, 2020,” said Safaricom chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a in statement on Thursday.

Mr Ndegwa becomes the first Kenyan to head the largest telco operator in the region.

The country's ICT Secretary Joe Mucheru had earlier said that the government’s wish was to have a Kenyan at the helm of the country’s most profitable company, fuelling fears that it may influence the choice of the next CEO.

“My wish is that a Kenyan gets [sic] the position, but we don’t control the business. We have appointed directors to run the business, it doesn’t mean that what the government wants is what it gets,” the CS said in June.



Mr Ng'ang'a said Safaricom is banking on Mr Ndegwa’s “wealth of experience” gained from being at the helm of regional and local corporates for “over 25 years.”

He is expected to over Michael Joseph who was appointed in July as the CEO on an interim basis following the death Bob Collymore.

Mr Collymore helped to build Safaricom into East Africa’s most profitable company, thanks to the popular mobile money transfer service M-Pesa and a growing customer base.

During Mr Collymore's tenure, Safaricom’s share price increased by more than 400 percent to Ksh28.00 ($0.28).

He also led the charge against regulatory efforts to clip the company’s wings due to its dominant size.

“We are confident that Peter will carry on our vision of transforming lives while keeping us focused on meeting our customers’ needs and holding us to being simple, transparent and honest,” said Mr Ng'ang'a.

Mr Ndegwa was the first African to head beer giant Diageo’s business operations in continental Europe and Russia.

Ndegwa, who was previously chief executive of Guinness Nigeria Breweries Plc, also a Diageo unit, took over as general manager in continental Europe from July 2018.

He joined East African Breweries Limited in January 2004 as a director and head of strategy.

Previously, he worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers. He was sales director between 2006 and 2008, the year he was appointed the group finance director.

Between 2011 and 2015, he was managing director of Guinness Ghana Breweries.

Turnaround artiste

He distinguished himself as a corporate turnaround artiste in both the Ghana and Nigeria businesses.

When he moved to Nigeria in 2015, Mr Ndegwa found Guinness Nigeria Breweries Plc in decline at a time when the country was also experiencing economic challenges with growth in the gross domestic product at only 2.7 per cent.

Nigeria was a victim of declining oil prices and an economy that was too reliant on the commodity. Diversification was limited, thereby exposing the largest economy in Africa to commodity price shocks.

The economy went into negative growth in 2016 and only recovered to a paltry 0.8 per cent GDP growth last year.

Mr Ndegwa grew sales by double digits by diversifying products and also raising cash through a rights issue to drive growth. The growth happened in 2017 and 2018.

“I was charged with the role of transforming a declining business back to growth. It was a time of great volatility because the oil prices shocks had pushed the economy into a near collapse,” said Mr Ndegwa in an interview with Business Daily last year.

By the time he left Nigeria in June 2018, the company’s share price had risen by up to 50 per cent.

When heading the Ghana operation, the company saw its sales revenues rise by double digits.

Safaricom, which is 35 percent owned by South Africa’s Vodacom, controls about 62 per cent of Kenya’s mobile market, with 30 million subscribers.

Britain’s Vodafone has a 5 percent stake and the Kenyan government 35 per cent.

Private investors also own shares via the Nairobi bourse.