State steps back in the hunt for next Safaricom CEO amid lobbying

Monday, October 28th, 2019 00:00 |
A view of the Safaricom headquarters in Westlands, Nairobi. Photo/PD/FILE

The board of telecommunications firm Safaricom has failed to agree on a new chief executive extending the reign of Michael Joseph in an acting capacity.

A critical board meeting held on Tuesday night is said to have hit a deadlock after members differed on the choice of a new boss.

The post fell vacant following the death of  Bob Collymore, more than three months ago, leading to the appointment of Joseph in an acting capacity.

Several sources confided to People Daily that the delay in naming a new CEO was due to competing interests within the giant cellular services provider which has seen them fail to reach a consensus.

“The meeting went on late into Tuesday night. Things were not as they were expected by many; the senior management was of the opinion that the company should have a substantive guide in charge, but this was not the case,” said a senior official who attended the meeting.

It is understood that Nicholas Ng’ang’a, the long-serving chairman of the board, is among those who have tried unsuccessfully to convince members to settle on a Kenyan for the corner office.

As a representative of the Kenya government on the board, he has held several meetings with the government and representatives of Britain’s Vodafone, the majority stakeholder, over the replacement.

However, Safaricom yesterday dismissed any assumptions that the Kenyan government was pushing for a local to take over the running of the firm.

“The government owns 35 per cent of the company and has the right to offer its comments. It has not interfered with the process so far,” said Joseph.

Another senior official said Safaricom is a highly structured company that was unlikely to make a crucial announcement outside its timetable of events. “They don’t do anything outside their calendar,” the official said.

News of the stalemate emerged as that privy to the running of the company argued that the government had taken a step back on the Safaricom succession issue.

According to the sources, the government has now opted to leave the appointment of the CEO to the local board and Vodafone.

Number of customers

The firm which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), has more than 30 million customers and generates over Sh200 billion in revenue a year.

The company decided to retain Joseph considering him the safest pair of hands moving into the final quarter of the financial year.

A senior government official who attended the Tuesday meeting acknowledged that the decision to retain the founding CEO  was the only strategy that was going to work in order to avoid apprehension that has been building up within its ranks.

“It took more than two years to have Collymore take over from Joseph. We have to ensure that the right person is brought in at the right time to ensure continuity and without any kind of disruption.

The appointment can wait for the time being,” said the official who is not authorised to talk on behalf of the company.

Those who have been linked with the job include Joseph Ogutu, a long-serving technical director, who is approaching retirement, Sylvia Mulinge, one of the senior officials at the company as well as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s chief of staff Nzioka Waita. Waita is a former senior Safaricom executive. 

It also emerged that a Greek national currently based at one of the Vodafone outlets in the Middle East and Europe has been shortlisted for the job.

These developments go against ICT CS Joe Mucheru’s statement that there is “nothing special about running telecoms which a Kenyan cannot manage”, a statement that has fuelled the speculation that the government wants to push for a local.

Yesterday, the telco celebrated its 19th anniversary where Joseph announced the scrapping of “expiry dates” on data bundles, talk time and SMSs in a bid to appease customers. 

More on National