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Michael Joseph takes over as Safaricom mourns Collymore

Michael Joseph cropped.jpg

Mobile money pioneer Michael Joseph has returned as interim CEO of Kenya’s Safaricom following the death yesterday of Bob Collymore.

Joseph (pictured), currently chairman of Kenya Airways, was CEO of Safaricom until 2010, and led the company’s innovation of m-Pesa, its mobile money service which revolutionised the Kenyan economy and became a model for mobile operators worldwide.

After leaving Safaricom in 2010 he joined Vodafone as director of mobile money, remaining until the end of 2017.

Guyanese-born, UK-educated Collymore contributed to a 500% increase in Safaricom’s valuation on the Nairobi stock exchange. Safaricom is now valued at $11 billion, more than any other company in east Africa.

Vodafone and its South African subsidiary Vodacom are the biggest shareholders in Safaricom, and the Kenyan state owns 35%. “We’ve lost a distinguished corporate leader whose contribution to our national wellbeing will be missed,” said Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta.

The board of Safaricom will move quickly to appoint a long-term successor. The government has said that the next CEO should be a Kenyan citizen, and the government has repeatedly tried to split the telecoms arm of the company from the M-Pesa financial services side.

Commentators this morning in Nairobi were tipping Sylvia Mulinge, chief customers services officer, as a potential successor. Last year she nearly became CEO of Vodacom Tanzania. 

Collymore joined BT in 1978, moving to Cellnet, now O2, in 1994 as handset strategy manager, He went into retail as purchasing director of Dixons Stores, and then moved to Vodafone in 1998 as handset purchasing director. He spent 12 years with Vodafone and Vodacom before moving to Safaricom. According to Kenyan reports he died of acute myeloid leukemia.