Bob Collymore was not an average chief executive in corporate Kenya.
Despite being in charge of the most successful company that has been minting billions of shillings in profits for its shareholders, he was one of the most approachable top bosses.
He was bubbly, warm and cared for the Kenyan community, championing programmes on the environment and for the vulnerable in the society even as he fought his own cancer battle privately.
In his most recent interview with this writer, a bubbly Bob said he had no plans of going anywhere and had accepted a one-year extension of his contract at Safaricom to compensate for the nine months he had been away on medical leave. He was scheduled to leave the telco in 2020.
On Monday morning, the company announced his demise at his home in Nairobi.
Bob, a Guyanese-born British citizen, leaves behind a rich legacy, having steered the company to its best performance ever since taking over in November 2010.
The telecom made so much money that it gave its shareholders a bonus dividend, a rare occurrence in the region.
Safaricom in March declared a record Ksh63.4 billion ($616 million) full-year profit, a 14.7 percent jump in the earnings it made the previous year.
It also declared a special dividend of Ksh24.8 billion ($241 million) in addition to the normal dividend of Ksh50 billion ($486 million).
Bob scored highly in promoting women at the workplace and today the ratio of women to men at the company is nearly 50:50.
The telco's childcare programme for working mothers has also been lauded as a best practice that promotes career growth by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
The programme supports employees with children through on-site crèches, ‘bring your child to work’ policy, as well as additional paid maternity leave beyond the duration stipulated in the law.
“Bob Collymore was an astute business leader who led Safaricom, the industry and the nation to great heights. He will be fondly remembered for his commitment to transforming the lives of Kenyans through advocating for purposeful business in courageous areas such as anti-corruption, governance and sustainable business," Nation Media Group CEO Stephen Gitagama said in his condolence message.
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) said Bob helped make M-Pesa, the world’s most developed mobile payment platform, and its associated products a core part of Kenya’s financial infrastructure.
“Through his leadership of the company at a crucial time, Bob helped position Kenya as a global leader in financial inclusion. His legacy will live on through all the people in Kenya and throughout the world whose lives have been changed by Safaricom’s innovations,” CBK Governor, Dr Patrick Njoroge said.
Under his leadership, Safaricom has embraced the slogan of ‘transforming lives,’ which has seen it take on various corporate social responsibility projects from water, schools, and entrepreneurship.
In him, the company saw a CEO that provided both stability and results.
The Kenyan media found him, one of the warmest CEO’s to interview. He interacted freely with journalists and hardly shied away from the difficult questions. He never resorted to underhand, dirty tricks employed by several CEOs whenever they are unhappy with the stories.
He would admit whenever the firm failed to achieve any of its targets. For instance, in the recent results announcements, he said its Masoko, its e-commerce site had not picked up as expected and that the company would go back to the drawing board to re-engineer it.
“I have hundreds of texts with Bob Collymore going back to 2011. He responded to each of the countless interview requests, banter and more recently, health updates. He lived a full, passionate life. So long, my friend,” posted former NTV journalist and current BBC editor Larry Madowo alongside an emoji of a broken heart.
When he returned from cancer treatment abroad, he chose to go public and share his experience, bringing cancer back to the national debate.
This has boosted awareness on the deadly disease that continues to claim more lives in the country.
"Bob was very brave in telling the country what he was going through. It’s not easy to reveal such personal details, but Bob did it," Safaricom chairman Nicholas Ng'ang'a said on Monday.