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Kenyans’ expectations of new Safaricom boss Ndegwa

By Gathu Kaara
Monday, April 6th, 2020
A view of the Safaricom headquarters in Westlands, Nairobi. Photo/PD/FILE

It was definitely not the welcome home that new Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa, had expected. For him, the gods have conspired to give him a fiery entry into his new job.

Ndegwa takes over the top job at Safaricom at a time of great turmoil both in Kenya and the world, as the coronavirus wreaks havoc. There will be no honeymoon period for him.

He has simply been flung headlong into the deep end. His leadership skills are going to be sorely tested from day one.

His first imperative is navigating Safaricom through the battle of sheer survival and viability during the Covid-19 crisis.

It must be gut-wrenching to take over a business and the first decisions that you are confronted with are whether you have to reduce staff or slash salaries.

CEOs are having to make very tough decisions to ensure their companies survive the storm.

The second decision he must make is how Safaricom will assist its customers during this time.

Being a heavily customer-centric business Safaricom customers have rewarded it beyond imaginations. The customers are now looking for a leg-up to cope with this crisis.

Banks have already given a three-month loan holiday to borrowers, a much welcome relief that enables the borrowers to emerge post the corona crisis as viable entities.  Captain Ndegwa, the ship is looking up to you for leadership.

Thirdly, Safaricom is known as a caring company that has spent millions on corporate social responsibility.

This image of a caring, nurturing firm is one that the company has spent huge amounts of resources to cultivate.

The coronavirus crisis is the big stage for companies that Kenyans have supported  for a long time to demonstrate their care for the country and the people.

Devki Steel Mills was first off the blocks by giving a Sh100 million donation of oxygen for distribution to all hospitals.

This probably takes care of all the oxygen hospitals will need for Covid-19 patients who will require support to breathe, a big burden lifted off their shoulders.

It will be inconceivable that Safaricom can be left behind.

However, the coronavirus will in time be contained, and it is then that Ndegwa will face the second wave of demands—nursing the injured company back to full health, and back to its growth trajectory.

Safaricom’s fortunes are very important to Kenya. This is a company whose DNA has become interwoven with that of Kenyans. For instance, M-Pesa is now as ubiquitous to Kenya as nyama choma.

An M-Pesa outage usually causes an outcry across the country. Consequently, this is a company that must always stay ahead of the curve in all aspects- financially, technologically, customer service and reliability. It has zero room for error. 

That is the standard to which Ndegwa is going to be held, and on which he will be judged. And Kenyans can be very unforgiving.

But also, they can be very embracing of those who do good by them. The choice is stark!

However, whatever he does, he needs to be cognisant of one fundamental fact—he is the first Kenyan CEO of Safaricom.  That comes with a lot of pressure.

He is donning the shoes worn by two very illustrious predecessors, both of foreign extraction, who came from the strategic investor in Safaricom, Vodafone of the United Kingdom.

The first, Michael Joseph, built Safaricom from scratch into Kenya’s biggest company and a corporate titan.

The second, the late Bob Collymore, transformed Safaricom into a number-crunching behemoth that is now East and Central Africa’s largest and most profitable company. 

So, which new frontiers will Ndegwa lead Safaricom into? What will be his legacy at Safaricom? 

Lastly, there are many skeptics about a Kenyan taking over the reins at Safaricom, from which the government has only partially divested. Kenya’s corporate landscape is littered with the wreckages of just such companies that were handed to supposedly educated, corporate mandarins from the private sector with international exposure, who then laid them to waste. 

Some will never arise again. The list includes such hitherto illustrious companies as Kenya Airways, Mumias Sugar Company, and Uchumi Supermarkets. So, Ndegwa is carrying a whole nation’s image and reputation on his shoulders. He must redeem it. [email protected]