Kenya: Mighty Safaricom Thrived Under Bob's Steady Hands

Bob Collymore.

When Bob Collymore joined Safaricom in November 2010, the company had just under 16 million subscribers, about 8 million customers used M-pesa and the firm was making Sh15 billion in net profit.

The profit figure has grown four-fold in the nearly one decade that Mr Collymore was the Safaricom CEO.

The most profitable firm in the region, which now generates annual revenue of about Sh240 billion, has fast become an essential aspect of its customers' lives.

INNOVATION

Driven by a busy innovation machine that Bob found already roaring when he joined the corner office at Safaricom House, the firm has never looked back with innovations such as Fuliza, the call-back service and Okoa Jahazi, the airtime credit facility launched in 2010.

Mr Collymore was not new to Safaricom, he had been at the firm's Board for five years and had the experience of being the Vodafone Governance Director for Africa besides spending 15 years at British Telecommunications. Vodafone had also sent him to Japan as Consumer Marketing Director (Asia).

The then 52-year-old telco expert found Kenya a good ground to flex his experience. He plunged straight into it.

Innovations after another entrenched the Safaricom brand deep into the daily business over time; from payments to money transfer and internet access.

The country's huge opportunity for a cashless system even worked well to the telco's favour with person-to-person payment by sending M-pesa for anything exceeding Sh100 now acceptable even in matatus.

GREEN SHOPS

With over 10,000 agents across the country, it is not hard to spot the little green shops where 1,200 transactions can happen every second according to the firm after it upgraded systems last year.

The little green Sim Card that was meant to enable people call and text have now become little banks from where you can save, borrow, send money and buy goods from wherever you are.

Local and international business partnership stretching to more than 130,000 including Western Union and Paypal have made the telco's network and its payment platforms part of business in Kenya today.

Under Mr Collymore's watch, Safaricom's journey into livelihoods and homes was even deeper with more than 6,700 kilometres of fibre connecting 3,000 homes in the country, the role of the region's telco giant just got bigger.

With more people becoming more attached to their phones, the firm has ensured that most of what people would want to do is possible on the handset, making the phone a significant gadget that occupies every facet of livelihoods of its growing subscribers which recently hit 31.8 million.

TECHNOLOGY

With the population, the technology and more than Sh500 billion flowing on its M-pesa platform every month, Treasury in January 2017 raised concerns of a possible crisis should the money transfer service collapse.

The worries were justified since Treasury's yearly collection target is what goes through M-pesa in three months.

So big and significant is the Safaricom business that the firm's annual revenue can still fund this financial year's budgets for National Security and agriculture and still spare some change.

It profits, which hit Sh63.4 billion in the year to March 2019, is just Sh30 billion shy of financing the country's health budget.

The growth has, however, not been easy for Safaricom. It has taken years of heavy capital investments amidst price wars and competition which has always pushed for the telco to be declared dominant-something Mr Collymore was adamantly against.

EXTENDED TENURE

"Of course we are large player and it is obvious why we have become a large player. We have invested heavily with 35 per cent of the funds coming from the Kenyan tax payers. What we have always fought against is to automatically declare us dominant because we control more than 50 per of the market and then automatically give us what we consider as penalties, requiring us to submit our promotional stuff for public consultations before we roll them out and the regulator never agreed with that," Mr Collymore told Nation in an interview in 2017.

So, with his demise marks the end of an era, one that was full of progress and success for the firm whose shareholders have enjoyed enormous payouts that cumulatively hit Sh301.2 billion since the Initial Public Offer in 2008.

The CEO passed away barely a month into his one year extended tenure of which he was very upbeat and many will be watching how the mantle is carried forward as Bob is laid to rest today.

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