At Safaricom head office in Nairobi, it is business as usual. Yet most people here, including CEO Peter Ndegwa, are closely watching the Safaricom branded calendars hanging in offices and reception areas.
The CEO’s contract lapses end of this month, and there hasn’t been any public communication from the board on whether it will renew Peter Ndegwa’s tenure or replace him with someone else. The silence has left the market to speculate on possible situations, with many pointing to a renewal of Peter Ndegwa’s contract for another four years, or a few years as a substantive replacement is sought.
Mr Peter Ndegwa himself appears unfazed, confident that his work so far will earn him another term at Kenya’s most profitable company. “Contracts are supposed to be an internal thing… I will continue driving this business,” Mr Ndegwa said recently in an interview with Sunday Nation.
Safaricom is a strategic institution for government and its leadership and succession attracts a lot of scrutiny. Safaricom’s two biggest shareholders — the National Treasury and UK multinational, Vodafone — control the board which will decide on renewing Peter Ndegwa’s contract or appointing a new CEO.
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The government, through its shareholding, has lately been reforming Safaricom’s management. It replaced the board chairman John Ngumi, a veteran banker, in January 2023, in what appeared to be ridding the mobile operator of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s allies.
Mr Ngumi, who had been appointed to the Safaricom Board on 29th July 2022, left in January, less than five months on the job. He was replaced with Adil Arshed Khawaja, a veteran lawyer. This raised speculation that it was the beginning of reforms at Safaricom that would even see Ndegwa exit.
Looking at historical trends, where past CEOs served two terms with extras, Mr Peter Ndegwa is likely to be retained.
Social media discussions at the time indicated he is set to exit the telcoms giant following the election of the new board chairman, which came on the back of a new government in place. Speaking then, Mr Ndegwa said he had had cordial working environment since he joined Safaricom from Diageo would continue to perform his role until the board makes a decision.
“When you run a business of the size of Safaricom, just like a football team,” he said, “there will always be views about what is happening to the manager, the captain and so on…But, from where I stand, the decisions about my role are usually for the board, and now that we have a new chairman I’m sure it is a question that can be asked both to the board and the chairman.”
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Peter Ndegwa was appointed Safaricom CEO on 1st April, 2020, under Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency, just as Covid-19 was kicking in. It’s not clear whether his appointment had political influence, but President William Ruto could be scrutinizing Ndegwa’s file with a fine comb to make sure he’s just in for business.
Looking at historical trends, where past CEOs served two terms with extras, Mr Peter Ndegwa is likely to be retained as the company prepares to release financial results for the year ending 30th March 2023.
Mr Peter Ndegwa piloted Safaricom through Covid-19 disruptions, and one of the key achievements would the entry of Safaricom in Ethiopia in October 2022. Also, its flagship fintech service, M-Pesa, continues to grow, and the CEO reveals that during his tenure, M-Pesa expanded from 2,300 transactions per second to 2,600 and and continues to reconfigure it to do more than just transferring money and offering credit.
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