Safaricom CEO Says He’s Recovering, Looks Foward to Return to Helm

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Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore says he is eyeing a quick return to the helm of the telecommunications firm after taking an extended medical leave to receive specialised treatment abroad.

In a five-minute video posted to the company’s intranet and said to be recorded in London where he is receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment, Mr Collymore said he is responding well to treatment as he sought to arrest uncertainty over his health.

“As you can see I have put a little weight on; ten kilogrammes to be precise. My wife’s cooking is clearly doing fantastic work with that,” the telco boss who has been away since October last year quipped.

“The medical team are also doing pretty well…I’m actually in pretty good shape. I’ve got one last procedure to go through which we expect to start in the next few weeks and then comes the monitoring after that.”

He adds that the monitoring can’t be done in Nairobi and that his doctors won’t allow travel by air until they are happy he is good to go.

Regulatory, economic headwinds

Mr Collymore says he had been increasingly engaged with Safaricom’s management team and Board of Directors as well as participating in meetings via video link from London.

While admitting regulatory and economic headwinds could pose stiffer challenges to the market leader this year, he remained bullish on the operators’ prospects.

He also welcomed a reported planned merger of Telkom Kenya with India-based Bharti Airtel’s local unit Airtel Kenya which should it materialise, is expected by some observers to pose a stronger challenger to Safaricom.

“Last year was a very challenging year for Safaricom. We had the prolonged electioneering period which dampened economic activity. We had the resist movement which didn’t help and presented a lot of challenges for our colleagues in the regional sales operations,” he said.

Threat to revenue growth 

Citi analysts have projected that Safaricom’s revenues could face headwinds arising from subdued private sector growth and launch of new mobile payment products amid a proposed regulation of consumer prices in the telecoms sector.

Industry data released by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) Wednesday showed Airtel’s share of voice traffic had swelled to 22 per cent, up from 13.5 per cent in a similar period the previous year, making it the biggest gainer of the market shift.

Market leader Safaricom’s share of voice traffic dropped to 72.5 per cent in the quarter to December 2017 from 80.6 per cent in a similar period a year earlier.

Company chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a in October last year announced My Collymore’s medical leave of absence “for a few months”, but did not disclose the nature of his illness.

“On behalf of the board, management and the entire Safaricom community, I wish Bob quick recovery and look forward to him resuming his duties as soon as the doctors allow him to do so,” Mr Ng’ang’a had said.

In his absence, Safaricom chief financial officer Sateesh Kamath has taken on a primary role to fill the void while supported by Joseph Ogutu – the company’s director of Strategy and Innovation.


Safaricom chief financial officer Sateesh Kamath. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU

Mr Ogutu has taken charge of Safaricom’s day-to-day operations until Mr Collymore’s return.

Prefer stability

The Guyana-born British citizen, 59, took charge of Safaricom in 2010 on a three-year contract after the company’s founding CEO, Michael Joseph, retired.

He had his term renewed for another three years and was expected to end in August 2016, but was renewed for two more years.

The extension was seen as a pointer to the telco’s preference for stability rather than change as it navigated a difficult operating environment characterised by ever changing regulation.

Safaricom announced a 9.5 per cent increase in net profit to Sh26.2 billion for the six months ended September 30.

Safaricom chief financial officer Sateesh Kamath said the results were backed by a strong performance of mobile money platform M-Pesa and data while traditional services like voice remained resilient.


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