Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore died after long battle with cancer

Bob Collymore, chief executive officer of Safaricom, has died after a nearly two-year long battle with cancer.
Safaricom CEO Bob CollymoreCollymore, who took the top job with the Kenyan company in 2010, oversaw an increase of nearly 500 percent in its share value thanks to the popular mobile money transfer service M-Pesa and a growing customer base.

Collymore, who was 61, had agreed in May to serve another year in the role after the Kenyan government, which owns 35 percent of the company, insisted that a local was picked to succeed him, complicating the hiring process, Reuters reported.

The Safaricom board will meet on Monday to discuss his succession, Chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a said.

“The board was aware that sooner or later we needed to organize succession for Bob,” he told a news conference. “We will be giving a way forward hopefully later today or in the next 24 hours.”

Collymore had traveled to Britain in October 2017 and received treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a cancer of the blood. He had been undergoing treatment locally, the company said.

Collymore, previously head of corporate affairs at South Africa’s Vodacom, led the company through a pricing war sparked by rival operator Airtel Kenya shortly before he joined Safaricom, presiding over a decision to maintain tariffs at elevated levels relative to the competition.

In recent years, he has fought off attempts by the telecoms regulator to break up the company into two, the financial services business and the telecoms business, due to its dominant size.

Safaricom, which is 35 percent owned by South Africa’s Vodacom, controls about 62 percent of Kenya’s mobile market, with 30 million subscribers. Britain’s Vodafone has a 5 percent stake.

Collymore’s successor will face the threat of regulatory intervention to seek to increase competition in the sector, analysts said.

“At least in the interim they need someone who will be able to continue the conversation with the government around regulation issues because that is the key risk,” said Mbithe Muema, a financial analyst at Infallible Group in Nairobi.

Collymore, a Briton who was born in Guyana, launched Vodafone’s 3G strategy in the Japanese business market and worked for retailer Dixons, mobile operator O2 and BT in Britain before joining Vodafone.