Kenya's Biggest Company CEO Takes Indefinite Medical Leave

(Bloomberg) -- Safaricom Ltd., Kenya’s biggest company, said Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore will take medical leave from the wireless carrier “for a number of months” to be treated for an unspecified illness.

Collymore, 59, will be replaced on an interim basis by Joseph Ogutu, director of strategy and innovation, the Nairobi-based wireless carrier said in a statement on Monday. Chief Financial Officer Sateesh Kamath, Collymore’s alternate on the board of directors, will also take “a primary role,” it said. The CEO had been due to step down in 2019, after his contract was extended for two years in May.

The Guyana-born British businessman has overseen a 420 percent rise in Safaricom’s share price since he took the helm seven years ago, driven largely by the rapid growth of mobile-money platform M-Pesa. Customers use the service to pay for everything from utility bills to haircuts, and it’s proven hugely popular in countries where traditional banking is scarce. Safaricom’s market capitalization of more than 1 trillion shillings ($9.6 billion) is more than five times the size of Kenya’s second-largest company, East African Breweries Ltd.

Safaricom is 35 percent owned by Johannesburg-based Vodacom Group Ltd., which bought the stake from U.K. parent Vodafone Group Plc earlier this year. The Kenyan government holds about the same amount.

Too Dominant?

Collymore has spent more than two years fighting claims that Safaricom is too dominant, and a draft report on behalf of the Communications Authority released in March said that steps need to be taken to improve competition or the company should be broken up. For his part, Collymore has said the Nairobi-based company may resort to legal action if the latter option is pursued. Safaricom had a market share of about 73 percent at the end of June, according to the Communications Authority of Kenya.

Safaricom shares fell as much as 1 percent in earlier trade on Tuesday to 25 shillings. The stock has gained 32 percent this year, compared with a 20 percent rise on the Nairobi Securities Exchange All Share Index.

“I wish Bob quick recovery and look forward to him resuming his duties as soon as doctors allow him to do so,” Chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a said in the statement.

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