Collymore: Man with magic hands makes his last call

What you need to know:

  • The profit figure has grown fourfold in the nearly one decade that Mr Collymore was the Safaricom chief executive.
  • The then 52-year-old telco expert found Kenya a good ground to flex his experience.

When Bob Collymore joined Safaricom in November 2010, the company had just under 16 million subscribers; about eight million customers used M-Pesa and the firm was making Sh15 billion in net profit.

The profit figure has grown fourfold in the nearly one decade that Mr Collymore was the Safaricom chief executive. The most profitable firm in the region, which now generates annual revenue of about Sh240 billion, has fast become an essential aspect of its customers’ lives.


Driven by a busy innovation machine that Bob found already roaring when he joined the corner office at Safaricom house, the firm has never looked back with innovations such as Fuliza, the call-back service and the launch of Okoa Jahazi in 2010.

Collymore was not new to Safaricom; he had been at the firm’s board for five years and had the experience of being the Vodafone governance director for Africa besides spending 15 years at British Telecommunications. Vodafone had also sent him to Japan as consumer marketing director (Asia).

READ: Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore dies aged 61

The then 52-year-old telco expert found Kenya a good ground to flex his experience. He plunged straight into it.

Innovation after another entrenched the Safaricom brand deep into the daily business over time; from payments to money transfer and internet access. The country’s huge opportunity for a cashless system even worked to the telco’s favour with person-to-person payment by sending M-Pesa for anything not exceeding Sh100 now acceptable even on matatus.


With over 10,000 agents across the country, it is not hard to spot the little green shops where 1,200 transactions can happen every second, according to the firm after it upgraded its systems last year.

The little green Sim Card that was meant to enable people call and text have now become little banks from where you can save, borrow, send money and buy goods from wherever you are.

Local and international business partnership stretching to more than 130,000 firms, including Western Union and PayPal, has made the telco’s network and its payment platforms part of business in Kenya today.

READ: Kenyans mourn Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore

Under Collymore’s watch, Safaricom’s journey into livelihoods and homes was even deeper with more than 6,700km of fibre connecting 3,000 homes in the country. The role of the region’s telco giant just got bigger.

With more people staying closer to their phones, the firm has ensured that most of what people would want to do is possible on the handset, making the phone a significant gadget that occupies every facet of the lives of its growing subscribers, which recently hit 31.8 million.


With the population, the technology and more than Sh500 billion flowing on its M-Pesa platform every month, Treasury in January 2017 raised concerns of a possible crisis should the money transfer service halt.

The worries were justified since Treasury’s yearly collection target is what goes through M-Pesa in three months. So big and significant is the Safaricom business that the firm’s annual revenue can still fund this financial year’s budgets for national security and agriculture and still spare some change.

READ: Bob Collymore: Life lessons from my hospital bed

Its profits, which hit Sh63.4 billion in the year to March 2019, is just Sh30 billion shy of financing the country’s health budget.

The growth has, however, not been easy for Safaricom. It has taken years of heavy capital investments amid price wars and competition, which has always pushed for the telco to be declared dominant, something Collymore disliked.


“Of course we are a large player and it is obvious why we have become a large player. We have invested heavily with 35 per cent of the funds coming from the Kenyan taxpayers. What we have always fought against is to automatically declare us dominant because we control more than 50 per of the market and then automatically give us what we consider as penalties; requiring us to submit our promotional stuff for public consultations before we roll them out and the regulator never agreed with that,” Collymore told the Nation in 2017.

His demise marks the end of an era, one that was full of progress and success for the firm whose shareholders have enjoyed enormous payouts that cumulatively hit Sh301.2 billion since the Initial Public Offering in 2008.

He passed on barely a month into his one year extended tenure which he was very upbeat about and many will be watching how the mantle is carried forward as Bob is laid to rest today.