How Kenyans will remember Bob Collymore, the man who opened up and showed the face of East Africa’s most profitable company, Safaricom

Bob Collymore
  • Until his untimely death, Mr. Collymore was the CEO of Safaricom, Kenya’s most profitable company.
  • President Uhuru Kenyatta termed him as an accomplished corporate leader who steered Safaricom to a position of great admiration as East Africa’s most profitable company.
  • Mr. Colloymore, who joined Safaricom in September 2010, had been sick for some time and last year in October he went on medical leave to seek treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

On July 1st, Kenyans woke up to the sad news of the demise of one of the most popular, visionary, smart and easy-going CEOs with a huge sense of humor, Bob Collymore.

Until his untimely death, Mr. Collymore was the CEO of Safaricom, Kenya’s most profitable company. He died at his home in Nairobi after a long battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

As soon as the company announced his death than Kenyans of all walks of lives tool to social media to eulogized him as one of Kenya’s most successful and visionary CEOs who would be deeply missed.

President Uhuru Kenyatta termed him as an accomplished corporate leader who steered Safaricom to a position of great admiration as East Africa’s most profitable company.

It is with a deep sense of loss that I have received the sad news of the death of Safaricom CEO Robert (Bob) William Collymore this morning. In this moment of great sorrow, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, relatives, friends and the staff of Safaricom,” Kenyatta said in a statement.

Jeff Koinange, Citizen’s TV news anchor and a personal friend to Mr. Collymore while eulogizing him said Bob knew he was dying and he prepared his close friends.

On Saturday I was having lunch with my mother and sister and I told them listen give me an hour I have to go and see Bob so about five of us we had known this was coming, Bob had informed us so we knew that he wasn’t gonna last very long, he had been told by his doctors not to make any long-term plans. In fact, he was told if he made it past July he would be lucky,” Jeff said.

Mr. Colloymore, who joined Safaricom in September 2010, had been sick for some time and last year in October he went on medical leave to seek treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

He was away from work for nine months undergoing cancer treatment at a London hospital leaving Sateesh Kamath, Safaricom’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to cover for him.  

However, despite his illness, Mr Collymore never showed any signs of slowing down and was active on Twitter where he occasionally posted tweets about random things such as books he was reading to sharing his music playlist. 

Upon returning to the helm of Safaricom, Mr. Collymore announced that while he was psyched to be back and ready to get the ball rolling, he wouldn’t be attending social functions nor freely handing out handshakes for that matter and for a good reason.

I think I will try and use this handshake excuse for the next five years or so when it comes to politicians, I have said to politicians I can’t shake your hands,” Mr Collymore said during a media briefing meeting at Villa Rosa Kempinski.

It’s not that Mr Collymore was a snob, far from it, He was simply following doctors’ advice to stay in isolation and reduce his social activities as a result of his low immunity.

"I need to stay away from social gatherings, parties, buffets because my immunity is at zero so I am susceptible. All the immunity I built in my 60 years is gone. I also need to stay away from young children. My doctor also told me that I cannot go to Mombasa,” he said.

While in London undergoing treatment, he spent most of his time in isolation inside a negative pressure room staring at white hospital ceilings, thinking a lot and reading.

So, how would Kenyans remember Mr. Collymore, who was set to leave the firm later this year but got his contract extended by one year.

Until the entry of Mr. Collymore Safaricom was ‘largely’ close up to the public and much of Media. His predecessor Michael Joseph who is currently the chairman of Kenya Airways was not a big fan for media interviews and as result kept away from the glare of media lens.

However, all that changed as soon as Bob took the reins and he embarked on an ambitious project to open up the firm to the public and allowed more media scrutiny.

The end result was Kenyans started to appreciate the firm even more in the face of fierce competition from other brands and as of 2018 the firm had a market share of 71.9 per cent in mobile subscriptions according to Communications Authority of Kenya.

It is no wonder then rival firms like Airtel and Telkom Kenya made little inroads even after dropping their charges to almost Zero and launched one product after another aimed at wooing Kenyans from Safaricom.

Under the stewardship of Mr. Collymore, Safaricom’s hold of the Kenyan economy grew and grew. According to the company’s latest annual sustainability report, Safaricom grew its value chain by Sh57 billion to Sh543 billion ($5.43 billion) in the year ended March 2018.

At Sh543 billion, Safaricom’s contribution to the Kenyan economy is equivalent to 6.5 per cent of GDP and sustained nearly 897,372 jobs.

Mr. Collymore also saw to it that the firm becomes more inclusive and hires more staff living with disabilities. In 2018, Safaricom announced that it will increase the number of staff living with disabilities to five per cent by March 2021, up from the current 1.7 per cent, as part of its strategic business objectives.

Under Bob, women too weren’t forgotten and in fact become the biggest beneficiaries of several Safaricom recruitment exercise.

In 2017, recruited a total of 63 university students, of which 40 of them will be women for their technology internship program.

It is no doubt that Mr. Collymore also had a big heart too and Kenyans will remember the countless times he come out to rally Kenyans to once cause or another. Early this year, Safaricom launched an initiative that aims at positively transforming lives of communities across Kenya dubbed Ndoto Zetu.

Mr. Collymore launched the initiative as a result of a new year’s challenge by Moesha Kibibi, a professional dancer, to support the Divas Power, an Initiative that seeks to reach and empower kids from slums across the country.

“Ndoto Zetu is about supporting Kenyans who are doing extraordinary things for their communities. We will select 500 of such projects to support, enhancing their communities in the process. Because when we say Twaweza, we really do mean that when we come together, great things happen,” said Bob Collymore, Safaricom CEO.

Consequently, Mr Collymore pledged to educate 18 girls from Divas Power for a period of 5 years. 

And who would forget the countless award-winning international artists including Salif Keïta "Golden Voice of Africa" and Manu Dibango to mentioned but just a few who trooped to Kenya to perform at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival.

Since its launch in 2014, Safaricom International Jazz Festival which was founded by Bob has raised over Sh37 million ($370,000) from proceeds of the event, funds that are being used to transform the lives of over 1400 young boy and girls through music, education and much more.

Such was the rich life Bob Collymore lived and it is no doubt that indeed he will surely be missed and remembered for a very long time. He came, he saw and he conquered.

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