Will Ndegwa fill Collymore, Michael Joseph giant shoes?

Friday, October 25th, 2019 00:00 | By
Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa

 By Derek Otieno and Fred Aminga 

When Bob Collymore, now deceased, took over from Michael Joseph as Safaricom’s chief executive, a lingering thought among most Kenyans especially Safaricom shareholders, was if his toe would pinch the shoe that he was about to wear.

However, he went on to establish himself, steering the company to higher heights.

Could history be repeating itself once again, as the local telecommunication giant yesterday settled on Peter Ndegwa to take over as the new chief executive officer?

In a statement to newsrooms yesterday, the telecommunication market leader announced the appointment of the Kenyan finance and business expert currently serving as managing director of Diageo Continental Europe.

Ndegwa’s appointment takes effect on April 1, next year, having been considered and endorsed by the board as “a safe pair of hands” to steer the company to greater heights.

Ndegwa brings with him a wealth of experience in general management, commercial and business strategy, sales and finance operation, having spent 25 years in various roles within the financial services and fast-moving consumer goods sectors in Africa and Europe.

“In his current role, Peter oversees the operations of Diageo PLC in 50 countries in Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Middle East and North Africa region. He had previously served for seven years as CEO in Guinness Nigeria PLC and Guinness Ghana Breweries PLC, where he transformed the two operations to deliver double-digit growth by investing in people, introducing new brands and reorganising the business,” the board statement said.

Ndegwa’s appointment brings to an end an intense lobbying that has been going on for the last two years since Collymore announced plans to leave the company in September 2017, a goal which was interrupted by illness that saw him spend close to a year in a London hospital.

Ceded ground

Several insiders and business leaders had shown interest in the high-profile job that brings with it huge demands from the corporate giant, East Africa’s most profitable company.

On Wednesday, the company’s founding chief executive Michael Joseph, who is serving in the same position in an acting capacity since the death of Collymore three months ago, announced his extended stay until a new appointment was made, quashing rumours about those said to be lined up for the lucrative position.

On the same day, it emerged that the Kenya government had ceded ground on appointment of a new Safaricom CEO, leaving it to the local board and foreign shareholders to make the decision.

Yesterday, Joseph said Ndegwa’s choice was not an easy process but he was the most qualified.

“This was the board’s choice and I will guide him for one year,” he said, adding, “Safaricom is ready for a Kenyan chief executive.”

Joseph said that while Ndegwa does not have a  telecommunications person like himself and Collymore, his international exposure at leading multinationals, makes him the right choice.

“It was the right move politically and professionally to have a Kenyan in that position,” he said.

Joseph will now take over as chairman of the Safaricom board from long-serving Nicholas Nga’ng’a.

Apparently, several front runners, including head of business development Sylvia Mulinge and technical director Joseph Ogutu, were knocked out of the equation earlier on. 

No reasons were given by the appointment panel, though it later emerged that the board was looking for a ‘DNA’ that Ndegwa demonstrated, including international business experience, among other qualifications.

“He was the best candidate. Interviews were done, but we cannot disclose the other candidates because the board did not give a shortlist,” a source familiar with the appointment said yesterday.

Another Safaricom insider said yesterday they received an email informing them of the impending appointment of a new CEO before November 1, when the company is scheduled to release its half-year results.

However, in the afternoon Ndegwa’s surprise appointment was announced.

 “Ndegwa will have time to learn the Safaricom culture of doing things. I wish him the best in his next journey in the management career,” said a director in the Safaricom board.

Ndegwa’s road has, however, been charted for him with the founding chief executive around to show him the way.

He has to ensure he matches or improves long serving chief executive Collymore’s performance.

Collymore shaped Kenya’s telecommunication sector, growing Safaricom faster than the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), which stands at 6.3 per cent.

Greatest achievement

He leveraged on uptake of M-Pesa and use of data with customers increasingly migrating to the internet.

Amid pressure from regulators and politicians to split award winning M-Pesa, the product remains his greatest achievement, leading to the introduction of Fuliza which has becomes the world’s first overdraft facility on mobile phone. The platform has since garnered over 8.8 million users who have borrowed more than Sh45 billion.

Collymore had a way with the local corporate world and the government, a call which came to bear making the firm East and Central Africa’s most profitable telco.

Ndegwa wife Jemimah congratulated him, saying the appointment was a reward for his hard-work, commitment and integrity.

“I have experienced first-hand the long hours and your commitment to self and others to achieve great things. You have taken risks, going to challenging markets but the experience you have gained sets you apart,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

The couple has one child.

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