Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, whose push into mobile payments spurred a five-fold increase in the Kenyan company’s value, died after a battle with cancer. He was 61.
Collymore received treatment for leukemia in the UK in 2017 and 2018. His condition worsened in recent weeks and he died at home in the early hours of Monday, chairman Nicholas Nganga said in an e-mailed statement.
Safaricom’s mobile phone payments platform M-Pesa has allowed millions of Kenyans who were excluded from the banking system to purchase everything from groceries to air tickets and goods on platforms such as Alibaba Group’s AliExpress. Since Collymore took charge in late 2010, Safaricom’s subscriber base has doubled and its profits have quadrupled.
Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, said: “Although Bob Collymore has left us, his inspirational life will remain a great legacy, not just to Kenyans, but also to the whole world.”
Safaricom’s board agreed in May to extend Collymore’s contract by a year to August 2020 because he owed the company the time he took as medical leave. Since then, East Africa’s most profitable company has been searching for a successor.
Chief finance officer Sateesh Kamath may be named acting CEO, according to Tracy Kivunyu, telecommunications analyst at Tellimer, who said: “We don’t expect any significant strategy changes during the transition period.”
Born in Guyana
M-Pesa signed partnership agreements with all of Kenya’s 40 operating commercial banks and is now doing the same with credit unions in an attempt to triple its mobile banking customer base in two years.
Safaricom has come to control around two-thirds of the Kenyan telecommunications market and for a while was at risk of being broken up. That risk subsided in February when Bharti Airtel’s Kenyan unit agreed to combine operations with Telkom Kenya to rival Safaricom as the nation’s second largest operator.
Vodacom Group owns just under 40% of Safaricom, while the Kenyan government holds 35%.
Collymore was previously Vodacom’s chief officer of corporate affairs. He was born in Guyana and lived at first with his grandparents before moving to join his mother in the UK when he was a teenager. He is survived by a wife and four children. — Reported by Eric Ombok and Bella Genga, (c) 2019 Bloomberg LP