[dropcap]S[/dropcap]afaricom CEO Bob Collymore’s contract has been extended by two years, board Chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a announced, saying they had full confidence in Collymore’s performance during his seven-year tenure.
“Sustaining this growth is key to the board. This is why I am very pleased to announce that the board has decided to extend the contract of our CEO, Bob Collymore, for an additional two years,” Ng’ang’a said when the company announced its Full Year Results on 10th May.
“Bob has successfully navigated our company through some of its most difficult years, even as he explored new areas of business that will shape this company’s future in decades to come. He has our full confidence and support,” said the Chairman.
Collymore said that he was pleased to work with a board that gives him full confidence.
“I’m grateful to work with a board that not only looks at numbers but supports me fully,” added Collymore.
Sometime towards the end of 2010, the art-loving Collymore stared at a figurative blank canvas, wondering what strokes he was going to make; what painting about his life he would create.
To that point, his life had been far from the picturesque oil on canvas landscapes he had created in his formative years. And here he was, newly tapped to become the CEO of Kenya’s most profitable firm.
He sat back, brush in hand and went over every piece of advice he had received from his close friends in the business world.
Peter Matlare, at the time CEO of Tiger Brands, told him to be himself and not to pretend to be anybody else because, Matlare said, if he were to start acting, he’d get tired very quickly.
The next piece of advice Collymore mulled over was from Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, who at the time was the CEO of ArcelorMittal South Africa. Nonkululeko was a young black woman running a global steel company in a country holding on its colourful differences, while still battling through an identity crisis.
Her advice was straight forward. She told Collymore to deal with people issues and not to let them drag on.
Finally, he was to get a word from the man he was replacing at Safaricom.
“Make decisions,” Michael Joseph told him. “Even if you make wrong decisions, just make the decision”.
With that, the then 52-year-old started another phase of his life in a career that he had almost accidentally stumbled upon, but has excelled in. ‘Safaricom 2.0’ was well and truly under way and over the next seven years, he, just like his predecessor, was to live his mark on a company that had defied the odds and redefined life for Kenyans from all walks of life.
Although Safaricom has significantly changed how business is done impacted on lives, Collymore never set out to be a revolutionary.
Collymore was raised by his grandparents in Guyana for 12 years and when he was 16, his mother, who had moved to the UK, brought him to join her in London. In an interview with the Financial Times, he revealed that he was to forego a place at Warwick University because he was ineligible for funding.
Unable to pursue a degree, Collymore spent his time filling forms as a junior underwriter and working as a train announcer while pursuing his passion for art. Unknown to him, it was already written that he would abandon his passion and follow another, telecommunications, thousands of miles away.
But not before learning the basics, from the bottom up.
In 25 years, he had moved from an entry level job at British Telkom to being the manager of integration of J-Phone into the Vodafone group. After that, there could be only one way up. A few years later he sat on the boards of various Vodafone affiliated companies, including Safaricom, the company to which he was appointed CEO in November of 2010.
He has developed a thick skin
Seven years later, he remains at the helm of the company. His tenure though has not been easy. Kenya, to paraphrase his predecessor, can be a peculiar place. And the success of the company, which Collymore attributes to assembling the right team that can deliver the company’s vision, comes with its own distractions, top of which is being an easy target for critics whenever things go wrong. Or right.
From customer complaints to regulatory scrutiny, as the CEO of Kenya’s biggest company in terms of profitability, one needs a thick skin in the era of 4G and social media. And he has never shied away from taking on those who question his or the company’s intentions.
For him, his loyalty to the brand is almost at par with his loyalty to self. And the possibilities remain as endless as the skies he frequently takes on when things get too mainstream on ground level. The helicopter pilot loves his jazz too. Some Banner. Some Masakela. Some Sanborn. He’s not always mellow, though. It is not uncommon to find him shaking his head to the big bass off of a Juliani song. Or the fluttering melody of a Jimmy Gait chorus.
All this in a day in the life of the CEO of a company that contributes six per cent of Kenya’s GDP.
Although the palette and the brush might still be calling out his name since he abandoned them all those years ago before trying out a job at British Telkom, it looks like Collymore will continue to give them the side eye, and dedicate his near future to the almost effortless innovation and adventure that Safaricom offers.