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Ng’ang’a: Soft-spoken Safaricom chair who wielded soft power

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Ng’ang’a: Soft-spoken Safaricom chair who wielded soft power

Safaricom outgoing chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a
Safaricom outgoing chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

Whenever up and about in public places, Nicholas Ng’ang’a on many occasions goes unnoticed. And he loves it that way; a quiet and simplistic lifestyle.

As such his face may not be the most easily recognisable to many despite his rich legacy both in government and corporate Kenya.

From a long-running career in government as Permanent Secretary (PS) in various dockets including Finance, Foreign Affairs and Health, as well as chairing several corporates including the giant telco, Safaricom #ticker:SCOM, the 75-year-old’s work history is impressive.

During his stint as Treasury PS, retired President Mwai Kibaki was his minister while the current Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua was the Financial Secretary.

Affectionately referred to as “Nick” by peers, he is also a past chairman of the National Bank of Kenya and currently chairs the management boards of G4S Security, Car & General Kenya besides being a member of the Board of Kakuzi Limited.

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But even with these achievements, Ng’ang’a believes in service delivery and not fame or power—a trait his peers attribute to his imposing performance over the years.

“I think Nick is one of the most gentle top government officials we ever had…as Treasury Principal Secretary he demystified the long held notion of power,” said a top business executive who interacted with Ng’ang’a in the 1980s.

On Wednesday, the soft-spoken Ng’ang’a turned over yet another leaf in his career when he stepped down as chairman of Safaricom after 13 years at the helm during which he helped to steer the company into East Africa’s most profitable firm.

“He has steered the company through various milestones over the period. During his tenure as chairman, Nganga has been instrumental for the monumental growth that the telco has experienced,” said Safaricom chief executive officer Peter Ndegwa in a statement on Thursday.

And a look into the giant telco’s history corroborates Ndegwa’s equally giant claim.

Ng’ang’a has been the chairman of the Safaricom board since January 2007, having joined the board in May 2004 as a non-executive director.

He has overseen the tenures of three CEOs including the company’s founding chief executive Michael Joseph, Bob Collymore, a Guyanan-born British citizen, who took charge of Safaricom in 2010 until he succumbed to illness in July 2019 and now Ndegwa.

Ndegwa was picked to replace Collymore from April 1 this year.

The Safaricom CEO fell short of describing Ng’ang’a as the iron fist in Safaricom’s velvet glove, crediting him with steering the telecom through various milestones among them the rapid network development in the country, diversity and inclusion at the telco, and growing the company’s fortunes.

“Mr Ng’ang’a took up the leadership reins at a time when the government was starting the process of offering 25 percent of its shares to the public through the Nairobi Securities Exchange in 2008. He has managed to grow shareholder value by 607 percent since listing,” said Ndegwa.

“At the time of his appointment as chairman, Safaricom had slightly over six million customers, 1,000 employees and only eight Safaricom shops across the country. Mr Ng’ang’a retires from the telco that now serves over 35.6 million customers, across 50 shops and hundreds of service desks across the country, with a staff force of over 6,500 employees,” he added.

Starting out as a traditional telecoms provider of voice and text services, Safaricom under Ng’anga’s rein aggressively expanded into data, broadband, infrastructure and financial services, the latter under M-Pesa.

Of all the innovations that helped Safaricom run ahead of the pack, none has proven more spectacularly successful than M-Pesa.

Introduced in 2007, what began as a simple financial transactions service was nurtured under Ng’anga’s rein into an ecosystem offering loans, international transfers and other services. Today, M-Pesa is a critical engine of Safaricom’s growth, driving the company forward as the importance of traditional telecoms services wanes.

Safaricom’s net profit for the full year ended March 19.54 percent to Sh74.7 billion on strong M-Pesa and mobile data revenue growth that offset a decline in voice and messaging (SMS) revenues.

During period, Safaricom’s M-Pesa revenue grew by 12.6 percent to Sh84.44 billion as mobile data revenue increased by 12.1 percent to Sh40.67 billion.

As traditional revenue streams have plateaued, Safaricom has said it will continue to “redefine its focus in a proactive manner, both tapping into new opportunities and delivering greater value for its customers, shareholders, partners and local communities.”

Safaricom appointed Michael Joseph as the firm’s chairman following the retirement of Ng’ang’a. Joseph is also the Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ chairman. In a statement on Thursday, Ndegwa said the appointment takes effect on August 1.

Nganga’s replacement will inherit a company of a size and influence equal to the task, and that it must rigorously defend territory already conquered.

The changes mark a return to the fold of Safaricom’s top management for Michael Joseph who has served as a non-executive board member since September 2008.

Joseph also served as the telco’s CEO in an acting capacity following the death of Bob Collymore in July 2019.

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