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Intrigues in Safaricom succession game plan

Fred Aminga @faminga

Safaricom board has shortlisted likely candidates for the position of chief executive officer at the integrated communications company, though none of the current top managers qualifies.

While the clamour for a Kenyan to take the position continues, this revelation turns on its head indications that some of top telco’s executives were likely to replace Bob Collymore.

In a candid interview with K24, Interim Safaricom Chief Executive officer Michael Joseph (pictured) said officials currently serving in various senior capacities in the telecommunications company were not ready to fill the late Collymore’s shoes at the moment.

“At this point, we (board) thought none of the ex-com (executive committee) were ready for this role, today,” Joseph who is a board member said, adding that Safaricom is a “special company” and the C-suite can not be handed to just anyone.

“You don’t just put somebody there, because they are there,” he said during the interview on Tuesday night. It is for this reason that the Safaricom board, which he has been a member of since his retirement in 2010, settled on him rather than choosing from its Executive Committee members, he added.

Safaricom’s executive committee entails members of senior management and are responsible for the daily running of the company and made up of directors responsible for different divisions.

Out of the 10 members of top management, four names floated for the caretaker role included Chief Customer Officer Sylvia Mulinge, Chief Financial Officer Sateesh Kamath, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Stephen Chege, and Chief Special Projects Officer, Joseph Ogutu.

Search for CEO

Joseph said the search of a new CEO to succeed Collymore started 18 months ago before the expiry of his contract in August 2018 and the board had even come to a decision.

The board had short-listed candidates following a worldwide search, but mounting pressure from those pushing for a Kenyan candidate soared forcing them to delay the announcement.

“Eventually, we came to a decision, and had a short-list, but we never executed the decision because there was concern as to whether the successor to Bob should be a Kenyan or not,” said Joseph.

This development, he added, informed the decision to have Bob extend his contract for another year as the board tried to figure out how they would go about the emerging issues.

Joseph who had served as Safaricom first Chief Executive from 1999 to November 2010 before Collymore succeeded him comes in to guide the company he helped form remain afloat before appointment of a substantive replacement.

When Collymore travelled to London in 2017 for cancer-related treatment, it was Kamath who was appointed acting chief executive sharing some roles with Ogutu.

When Collymore came back, and with everyone hoping he had made a quick recovery, the company decided to extend his contract for a year to give the board enough time to pick a successor amid pressure for a Kenyan replacement. Bob’s death precipitated the call to Michael Joseph to sit in as interim chief executive. “We were caught by suprise,” said Joseph.

The shortlist

With Joseph settled in as the interim Chief Executive Officer, focus now shifts back to the shortlist and who between the forces on the board pushing for a Kenyan chief executive and Vodafone Group, through Vodacom, its sub-Saharan African subsidiary, will have its way.

This is what will determine how long Michael Joseph will call shots from the corner office. How long will that be? “It is a temporary role… Could be one day, one month, it could be longer,” he told K24.

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