Today Safaricom is remembering Bob Collymore. On social media particularly twitter, the memory is being done under the hashtag #CelebratingBob where Kenyans and media houses are sharing the good tidings they remember about the great CEO.
We would like to add to the memories what we at KachTech Media loved about the tenure of Bob Collymore by highlighting is 3 biggest transformations at Safaricom. The three transformations are 1. Making MPESA Expensive, 2. Bringing MPESA Home and 3. Strengthening Safaricom’s network infrastructure.
1. Making MPESA Expensive
After Bob Collymore took over from Michael Joseph in 2010, his first move was to implement what he called Safaricom 2.0, a management structure that was aimed streamlining Safaricom operations with the focus on the customer. Part of the changes that came alongside Safaricom was getting rid of unnecessary middle men that made Safaricom lose some of its profits. Bob Collymore took over the helm of Safaricom at a time when Safaricom’s profit margin was already on the decline.
To deal with the declining profits, the first move Bob made was to make some of the Safaricom services expensive, and the service that remains clear on Kenyans’ mind is MPESA. Before Bob Collymore, it sending money to anyone within Safaricom network was a flat rate of shs 30, whereas sending money outside the network was free of charge, such that it was the out of network recipient that had to pay the entire cost of the transaction.
This flat sending rate wasn’t something Bob Collymore liked, so he decided to segment the transactions into sections where each section had its own sending fee. As of today, these sections include bands such as shs 1 to shs 100 that attracts no sending fee, shs 101 to shs 500 all the way to shs 50,0001 to shs 150,000 which attracts shs 105 sending charges. I personally did not and still do not like the segmentations. Actually I am looking forward to a future where sending fees is scrapped.
This hiking of MPESA fees, although it angered many Kenyans, helped Safaricom regain profit growth momentum. For example in May of 2013 Safaricom reported an increase in net profits from shs 12.6 billion to shs 17.5 billion.
2. Safaricom Brought MPESA Home
In October 2011, Kennedy Kachwanya wrote an article that opened by the complain that “yet again the Mpesa was down for the most part of Tuesday. Coincidentally safaricom had a media Workshop about their yet to launched online customer care. And the media personalities had a chance to query Mr. Bob Collymore on the real reasons behind the frequent Mpesa downtime.” That statement clearly captured the MPESA situation that Kenyans had become used to almost every Friday a few years after MPESA was launched in 2007. These downtimes were usually blamed on high traffic that both the network and the MPESA servers in Germany could not handle.
In order to enhance system stability due to reduced points of failure, implement faster resolution of system outages, increase higher transaction processing capability, make it easier to integrate M-PESA for third parties, Safaricom decided that it was time to bring MPESA servers to Kenya, a feat that was achieved in April of 2015.
Bringing MPESA to Kenya didn’t just help almost get rid of the MPESA downtimes (that we hardly worry about nowadays except on the rare occasions that MPESA has to undergo scheduled maintenance – which is usually planned from midnight to around 4 or 5 AM), but also increased the volume of MPESA transactions whereby MPESA could now handle up to 900 transactions per second. Of course it is easier to see how this contributed to increased profitability for for every transaction that goes through, Safaricom has a cut on that.
3. Strengthening Safaricom’s network infrastructure
By the time I bought my first mobile phone hence my first mobile number, a Safaricom number, my village folks who had phones were all in Kencell (Airtel today) network; solely because Kencell was the only network that was available in that rural village. The situation was replicable across Kenya where villages with significant population was served by Kencell, and that’s why at that time Kencell was the leading provider of mobile services.
Safaricom took urban centres by storm, but that doesn’t mean the urbanites didn’t have their share of network problems on Safaricom network. That’s because contrary to Kencell that had opted to install long range and at the same time strong network infrastructure, Safaricom opted for short range towers – and it several places the towers were not able to communicate with each other thereby creating blind spots. I remember for example in my friend’s house in Lower Kabete Nairobi he had to always walk several meters away from the house in order to make a Safaricom call, yet Kencell network worked anywhere within the house.
The network problem continued until in 2013 Safaricom had to criticize CCK when the Communications Commission of Kenya (today Communications Authority of Kenya or CA) had to label Safaricom non-compliant on quality checks. The quality checks that CCK did were on metrics such as dropped calls.
In as much as the criticisms against CCK were public relations stunts, Safaricom worked underground to strengthen its network – with their salvation coming in the form of Yu quitting the local mobile market. To take advantage of the quit, Safaricom moved with speed to acquire Yu network infrastructure that helped it boost its network coverage across the country and at the same time ensure it no longer had the dropped calls that gave it a bad reputation with the Communications Authority.
Today, Safaricom has the strongest network in the country, operating a very strong 4G and already testing 5G, largely thanks to the pragmatic approach Bob Collymore took to strengthen the telcos network infrastructure.
Bob Collymore was not only successful as a CEO for ensuring continued growth in Safaricom’s profitability, but he also connected with Kenyans so well, down to earth, where many viewed him as a simple man. Generally, he was able to interact with high end elites but still able to join a rap video by Juliani. That was also seen through how Safaricom customer care employees used to handle the public especially on Social media. As a manager someone may say he was very pragmatic person, in terms of dealing with hostile situations, like how he handled the NASA boycott and the public which most of the time accused them of stealing from them.
May his spirit live on.