5 Important Business Lessons from the Late Bob Collymore


As the world celebrates the life of a great and visionary leader, we can never forget his contribution to the world of business. The former Safaricom CEO made an immense impact on the Kenyan economy growing the company’s profits nearly 10-fold since he took charge, and not forgetting the many lives he touched through various programs initiated during his tenure. As a businessman, Bob never ran short of lessons for already established and upcoming entrepreneurs to emulate. Here are some lessons we can learn from Bob’s achievements.

To begin with, one is never too young to venture into business and learn how to do it. Bob started making art using plasticine and ventured into selling the pieces when he was only 12 years old. In the long run, the experience he gained over the years definitely played a part in molding him into the world-class CEO that he was.

The only thing standing between you and your success is you. There has been a lot of chatter about how Bob was a CEO with no degree. The fact that Bob could not gain admission to Warwick University due to his ineligibility for funding did not stop him from getting the basic skill to do what he loved. He enrolled at Selhurst High School for a diploma which saw him diligently hold key executive positions in telephone companies around the globe. His razor-sharp focus, “can do” attitude and overall dedication to doing what he loved saw him break boundaries far and beyond.

Humility is key. As many would tell you, Bob was the people’s CEO. Despite his many achievements, he never looked down on anyone and gave as many people as he could a listening ear. This not only endeared him to his employees but the general public at large. One thing employers tend to forget is, the customer does not always come first, sometimes your employees come first. Treat your employees right and they shall, in turn, treat your customers right. He was always ready to offer mentorship where he could and it’s safe to say his legacy will live on.

Study what the market needs.  As an entrepreneur, you have to become familiar with the challenges that the world is facing and the opportunities that are there. The biggest mistake upcoming entrepreneurs make is having a kiosk mentality. Being a jack of all trades and master of none. You can’t sell everything that everyone else is selling because it is working for them. Find out what your market needs you can fulfill and stick to that. For the longest time, people have always complained about the price of Safaricom services yet they’re still stuck on the network. Have you ever asked yourself why? Because at the end of the day, Safaricom figured out that the problem is access to fast and reliable internet, and is charging a fair price for it.

Read. Read. Read. In a candid interview with Jeff Koinange in August last year, Bob mentioned how often he read in his hospital isolation space back in London. In as much as he had gone there to undergo treatment for a life-threatening disease, he found the time to increase his vast sea of knowledge. Reading not only opens up your mind to new ideas, but it also opens you up to new solutions to problems you encounter in your business ventures. Bob stated that he’d read up to three books at a go so that when he got bored with one, he’d open the other. In another interview with the Standard, he recommended two books, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle.

In summary, we should cherish the lessons and learn to avoid the mistakes of the entrepreneurs that walked ahead of us. Stick around for more interesting lessons in doing business in Africa.

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