"Death is inevitable and I have made the decision not to cling on the thought of it because it will eventually come.”
That was one of the most powerful statements made by former Safaricom boss Bob Collymore as he accepted that death was inevitable. He had defeated cancer twice and when it came back the third time, he knew it was time. And he called it.
“A year ago today, Bob’s light left us. While it was a sad and difficult time for all of us, we take courage that his dream of doing business for good lives in our work, our customers and our vision,” Safaricom says in its one-year tribute. “Bob lived a purposeful life. He touched and transformed many lives within Safaricom, Kenya and beyond,” the telco says.
Not many people have the opportunity to bid goodbye their loved ones and make peace with death.
After realising he had cancer, Bob shared with his close friends how prepared he was for death, almost a year before his demise.
His widow, Wambui Kamiru, told the Nation recently that Bob chose a simple exit. And he did not just say it. He committed to it in writing.
“When you have cancer, the idea of death is near, and so it doesn’t surprise unlike you who is healthy but death could be coming in the next minute or tomorrow morning,” he said. Bob left an indelible mark on the corporate scene. He will be remembered for many things, including his courage as he faced cancer, in a battle that brought a national debate on the deadly disease.
He will also be remembered for his fight against corruption at the helm of East Africa’s most profitable company. Until the time of his death, he was the most popular chief executive of a blue-chip company in Kenya. He became the first CEO to make his salary public, and not just as a requirement in financial reporting but directly in person.
In December 2015, he set tongues wagging when he revealed that he earned an average of Sh9 million a month and that his net assets were worth $2.7 million — in the form of bank deposits and a house in London.
In 2012, Bob’s contribution to the corporate scene was recognised when he was conferred the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) by President Mwai Kibaki.
The award is in recognition of outstanding or distinguished services rendered to the nation in various capacities and responsibilities.
Bob, a Guyanese-born British citizen, lived with his grandmother in Guyana until he was 16-years-old, before he joined his mom in the United Kingdom. The other great lesson about his life is the need for a support system, even among men, who are always seen as strong and expected to appear to have a solution for every problem.
Bob had a boys’ club, which had KCB Group CEO Joshua Oigara, journalist Jeff Koinange, politician Peter Kenneth, stock market trader Aly-Khan Sachu, Scangroup CEO Bharat Thakrar, Standard Chartered Bank’s Lamin Manjang and the then-British High Commissioner Nic Hailey. These men stood by him to the last minute, and have remained a support system for the family that he left behind.
But it was his humility that brought a smile and warmth to the people around him. He said he started making his own money at 12 years. As a pre-teen he would make jewellery and art from shells for sale.
When he moved to the UK, he landed his first job at 16 years and worked in a departmental store as an office boy. From his earnings, he paid his bills.
Bob had great love for books and art. He also loved flying helicopters and seeing the world. If he wasn’t a telco boss, he may have ended up as a painter, or jeweller. His burial was simple. His ashes were deposited into the sea in Diani, which was his favourite beach.
His life also brought new meaning for education. He never went to any university but still managed to rise to lead the biggest company in the region, and was the boss of many graduates from prestigious universities around the world.
After finishing high school at Selhurst High School, he was offered a place at Warwick University but he turned down the offer because he was ineligible for funding.
One of his controversial statements was when he revealed that he never liked Kenyan food despite having lived in the country for over a decade and getting married to a local. He preferred Chinese and Indian cuisine.