Bubbly Bob Collymore leaves rich legacy at Safaricom

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore has left a rich legacy. He died on July 1, 2019 after a long battle with cancer: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Mr Bob Collymore took off at his own pace to build a new Safaricom.
  • He would later apply for Kenyan citizenship, to affirm his love for a country that became his second home.

When he took over Safaricom nine years ago, many had written him off. His predecessor had left shoes too big it was impossible to imagine how anyone without a university degree would fill. His critics said no one could be like Mr Michael Joseph, his predecessor. And he was not.

Mr Bob Collymore took off at his own pace to build a new Safaricom. He fiercely fought competition, regulation and political risks and made Safaricom into a profit-making juggernaut, competing only against itself.


He found love in Kenya. The British national learnt a little Kiswahili, enough to warm himself into the hearts of the youth who he easily interacted with.

He would later apply for Kenyan citizenship, to affirm his love for a country that became his second home.

There were scandals too. Some which he successfully manoeuvred. But there were others that he failed to deal with, a result of which saw several executives fired to save face.

It was during his time at the helm of Safaricom when the government contracted the telco to install a Sh15 billion security surveillance system, whose cost and sourcing was dogged in controversy, nearly costing the firm its reputation.

Mr Collymore also navigated another scandal after a forensic audit by KPMG on its procurement process established that some members of his staff had colluded to award 23 questionable tenders between September 2013 and August 2015.


More than 100 employees would be fired quietly over this scandal. But there has not been a bigger battle that the British national fought as bravely as he did with cancer.

“He fought this cancer with great courage, with everything he had, and he continued to give leadership to the company, for which we are truly grateful,” Safaricom chairman Nicholas Nganga said Monday.

Mr Nganga said Bob was aware what was happening. He was at peace, he was ready, and he was at home with those he loved.

Mr Collymore loved to make jokes. He often joked that he did not know whether he came to Kenya by a stroke of luck or by design. At some time he made a joke about how he never loved Kenyan food, a joke that was misinterpreted by social media and he had to explain himself to get off.

Despite being in charge of the most successful company, that has been minting billions of shillings in profits for its shareholders, he was still one of the most approachable CEOs.


In his most recent interview with this writer, a Bubbly Bob said how he did not plan to go anywhere just yet and had accepted a one-year extension of his contract to compensate the company for the nine months he was away on sick leave.

He leaves behind a rich legacy, having steered the firm to its best performance ever.

Central Bank of Kenya said Mr Collymore helped make M-Pesa and its associated products a core part of Kenya’s payment infrastructure.

“Through his leadership of the company at a crucial time, Bob helped position Kenya as a global leader in financial inclusion. His legacy will live on through all the people in Kenya and throughout the world whose lives have been changed by Safaricom’s innovations,” CBK Governor Patrick Njoroge said.