Safaricom CEO picks our call

November 2, 2010
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 2 – He struck me as a laid back, easy going and approachable person who goes out of his way to make sure that people around him are comfortable.

Bob Collymore, the 52-year-old new Safaricom boss describes himself as ‘your regular kind of guy’ who cares about people.

“I care about what people’s needs are. When it comes to this job, I care much more about giving the customers what it is they want rather than having the biggest network with 5G, or 7G. It’s not about that; it’s about making sure that I understand the customer and that he or she gets their lives enriched by whatever products I sell to them,” he told Capital Business in a one-on-one interview.

Mr Collymore who has been serving on the Safaricom board for four years but moved to Kenya in the last two months has in the past worked as the Chief Officer of Corporate Affairs at Vodacom Group in South Africa where he honed his people-management skills.

He is convinced that this is the ability that the Safaricom board noticed and decided to hire him as the successor to the outspoken Chief Executive Officer Michael Joseph.

“They (board) weren’t looking for someone who had an in-depth technical knowledge but they wanted someone who would be able to handle the diversity of the relationships that we have to manage here in Kenya,” he said citing the relations with government, industry regulators, media and shareholders.

His people-centric nature is also amplified in his management style which he once again describes as ‘consultative’. He’s not the kind to quickly settle on a solution before exploring the various facets of a problem, he explains.

But don’t be too taken away. This does not by any means mean that he will be ‘diplomatic’ about the problem or that he will take a long time to decide on what action to take. 

For him to be able to effectively understand people’s needs, it means that he also has to be in constant touch and interact with them. He therefore has no qualms eating at the company’s cafeteria where he gets to learn a lot about people and how they feel about their company.

“I eat at the canteen for a number of reasons; one is that the food is cheap; two the food is good and three I get free advice. So if I eat at the canteen, I just sit with whoever happens to be sitting there and I chat with them about the company and that’s my style,” he discloses.
 
Besides having an open-door policy, the man who reveals that he loves flying helicopters and sky-diving says he is keen on details.

“Flying helicopters means that you can get a very clear view of the landscape from the altitude. Sky diving means that I can delve deep down into details which will surprise my team as weeks go by as to how much detail I’m prepared to go into,” he says of his style adding that it however does not mean that he will micromanage them.

Unlike other CEOs, he does not check into the office very early and shows up at 8am after a work-out at the gym and leaves after 7pm.

While his predecessor described Kenyans as having peculiar calling habits, the Guyanese who laughs easily is amazed at Kenyans’ fascination with motor cars despite the heavy traffics experienced here.
 
And while he loathes the traffic jams, he says he enjoys driving around the country over the weekends and ‘doing that kind of bump-a-car thing that Kenyans’ do.

 He thinks highly of Kenyans and just like his predecessor, Mr Collymore, whose contract spans for the next three years sees himself easily setting in the country.

In the meantime, however, he is concentrating on settling in and moving his wife and two children to Nairobi.

His parting shot: “Being the CEO of Safaricom has other stuff attached to it which we will probably have to get used to and also Kenya will have to get used to me because I’m a little more of a private guy but also an ordinary guy who wants to do ordinary things.”

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