Kenya’s corporate landscape last week woke up to a sad Monday morning (July 1, 2019) with news of the death of Bob Collymore, the Safaricom boss credited with transforming and touching the lives of many through various innovations and initiatives in the telecommunication’s sector.
The 61-year-old Briton lost the battle to cancer of the bone marrow on July 1 and was cremated the very next day at a private ceremony attended by family members and close friends.
The memorial service was later held in Nairobi’s All Saints Cathedral on Thursday and was graced by President Uhuru Kenyatta and the former British prime minister Tony Blair.
BIG SHOES TO FILL
But as Kenya struggles to come to terms with the loss of one of the world’s most successful business leaders who was not only driven by profit motives but by the impact he made in the lives of people, all eyes are now set on the corporate figure to fill the large shoes he has left behind.
Michael Joseph, the founder and former CEO of Safaricom, the most profitable telco in the East and Central African region has been appointed to hold brief as the board searches for a suitable replacement and allow for a smooth transition.
Before his demise, Mr Collymore had been at the helm of Safaricom for close to a decade after taking over from Mr Joseph in November 2010 and helping push the giant telco to higher levels of profitability.
Indeed, the Safaricom board chaired by Kenyan Nicholas Ng’ang’a has some tough decisions to make to maintain the profitability of the firm whose increased earnings have largely been driven by innovations in the voice, data and mobile money business.
Safaricom’s stock on the Nairobi Securities Exchange remained steady at Ksh28.15 ($0.28) per share after the board announced Mr Joseph as the interim CEO on July 1. But the stock declined 1.4 per cent to Ksh27.75 ($0.27) on Thursday (July 4) during the memorial service from Ksh28.15 per share on Wednesday (July 3).
Succession talk at Safaricom continues to fill the air, with Mr Joseph appearing to dim hopes that a Kenyan would be picked to run the multibillion-dollar telco.
Mr Joseph said a worldwide search for who would replace Mr Collymore who was ailing then was started 18 months ago, a shortlist and a decision made.
“We did not execute the decision because there was a concern whether the successor of Bob should be a Kenyan,” Mr Joseph said during an interview with local TV station, K24 on Monday.
It was then that Collymore’s term was extended by a year on May 23, but he only served for five weeks.
“Safaricom is a Kenyan company and quite rightly it should have a Kenyan CEO. But it’s a special company. The successor to Bob would have to be somebody with special characteristics, who understands the DNA of Safaricom,” said Mr Joseph.
Speculation on who the appointee will be has intensified since TV anchor Jeff Koinange said upon Collymore’s death that he had confided to him that the board would have appointed his successor last week.
An executive within the Vodafone family in Europe is said to be the likely candidate after seeing off competition from, among others, a Kenyan financial sector executive.