In Summary
  • Mr Peter Ndegwa said the best leaders are known in times of crisis.
  • Mr Ndegwa is married to Jemimah Ndegwa and they have a 10-year-old son.
  • Mr Ndegwa has a Master of Business Administration degree from the London Business School, where he specialised in finance and strategy.

Mr Peter Ndegwa reports to work at the helm of Safaricom today, becoming the first Kenyan to run East Africa’s most profitable company.

The 51-year-old takes over at a time when the economy is starting to feel the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, which will affect all sectors and may impact his first year in office.

He takes over a company that makes more than Sh60 billion in profits a year, with revenues of over Sh250 billion at a time when its key profit segments are reaching maturity and plateau stages.

In an exclusive interview with the Nation on Tuesday, Mr Ndegwa said the best leaders are known in times of crisis. He added that he is keen to steer Safaricom through this period and help chart its future given the decline in the traditional sources of revenues such as voice.

INTEGRITY

“It is time to serve my country. There are two things that I value most — humility and integrity. Integrity is about doing what you say and humility is knowing that there is always something more you can do,” he said.

He spoke about his strategy, what he plans to do differently as well as what excites him about the new job. He also addressed pricing issues and how Safaricom will navigate the Covid-19 disruption.

“I like getting things done. The best strategy is about solving the problems faced by our customers and this is part of my DNA. I also like things simple,” he said.

He does not expect to find it easy given the role that Safaricom plays in the lives of Kenyans. He takes over when the National Treasury has classified M-Pesa as a national security threat and when the noises of nationalisation as well as splitting are getting louder by the day.

Mr Ndegwa, an economist and accountant by profession, has just returned from climbing Mt Kilimanjaro as he prepares to take over from Michael Joseph, who was put in charge as a caretaker following the death of Bob Collymore last year.

Mr Ndegwa is married to Jemimah Ndegwa and they have a 10-year-old son.

He said Kenyans should expect him to help Safaricom define its next phase of growth, noting that there are still great opportunities in data, M-Pesa and geographical expansion to Ethiopia.

He further said the Covid-19 outbreak will change the way Kenyans interact with one another for a long time and this will create opportunities in agriculture, health and education. “Learning from home has created opportunities in education through e-learning. We are also looking at how innovation can help us deliver services in healthcare and agriculture,” he said.

He, however, said he cannot promise anything on pricing at this time until he gets in and gets a brief on what factors play in the process.

PRESSURE
Safaricom has come under increasing pressure from consumers to make price cuts on its services, among them M-Pesa, data and Fuliza, given the economies of scale it enjoys.

“We shall listen to our customers. No business survives without providing services that their customers can afford,” he said but added that the company has been investing heavily in infrastructure and this is a key determinant in pricing of its services.

By June, the company plans to have 4G network in all parts of the country. He also said the company will look at the possibilities of segmenting its products to better serve the needs of various customers.

“Safaricom is more than just a telecommunications company. Voice is saturated but that is what is happening everywhere in the world. The best companies renew themselves,” he said.

He said everything about his upbringing and life prepared him well for the current assignment, having grown up from humble beginnings and fought his way to the top through hard work.

Mr Ndegwa has a Master of Business Administration degree from the London Business School, where he specialised in finance and strategy.

He also attended the advanced Management Programme at the University of IESE Spain and Strathmore University. He is a certified public accountant and a member of ICPAK.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the University of Nairobi and is an alumnus of Starehe Boys Centre.

Mr Ndegwa draws his inspiration from his primary schoolteachers, the legendary Dr Geoffrey Griffin — the late founder of Starehe Boys Centre — and his parents, especially his mother.

The new Safaricom boss describes himself as a seasoned business and commercial leader with an outstanding track record for transforming organisations and teams, and delivering superior performance.

COMMERCIAL ACUMEN

He says on his Curriculum Vitae that he has exceptional strategic orchestration skills, ability to shape the future and an astute commercial acumen. He is also highly driven, courageous, resilient and has strong people skills, the CV adds.

Mr Ndegwa has an impressive career spanning more than 25 years, starting as a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in the audit firm’s financial services section, before moving to consumer goods with Diageo.

In the past 15 years, he has operated at executive committee and board levels of large publicly listed businesses across Africa as chief executive, senior executive director and board member.

Mr Ndegwa started his career as a graduate trainee at PwC in Nairobi in June 1992. He worked at the firm till June 1996, where he rose through the ranks to an audit assistant, before being promoted to a senior assistant manager.

July 1996 marked the beginning of his global career. PwC put him on its talent development programme that saw him move to London as an audit manager. He was part of PwC’s financial services team in the UK till June 1999. His key clients mainly comprised top 10 global banks, insurance companies and asset managers.

In July 1999, he transitioned from the accountancy practice to the consulting and corporate finance unit after completing his MBA.

Here, he advised on a variety of corporate assignments, providing strategic value advice, shareholder value development, and financial services sector expertise and project management.

His clients ranged from leading European and American banks to insurance businesses. He did this till March 2002.

RELOCATION

In April 2002, he relocated to East Africa after a successful six years with PwC in the London office. Back in Nairobi, he was named the PwC associate director.

He worked on a number of corporate advisory assignments, mostly in the financial services sector, providing advice on strategic transactions, due diligence, valuation, financial planning and modelling as well as project leadership and management.

He left PwC and joined the East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) as a director of strategy from January 2004 to December 2005. It was in this role that he crafted EABL’s five-year vision and strategy.

Part of the strategy was how to enter the ‘affordable beer market’. This is what led to the introduction of the Senator brand, which was to become the fastest and the most successful innovation in Diageo Africa.

He then became a sales director at EABL from January 2006 to June 2008. Mr Ndegwa led a 150-man commercial team, restructuring the sales function to improve customer service and execution.
He also created a customer marketing team that became the engine of commercial planning and execution, besides restructuring the distributor base at EABL.

From sales director, Mr Ndegwa was promoted to become the Group Finance Director and chief finance officer (CFO) at the Ruaraka-based brewer. This elevated him to the de facto second in command at EABL after the group chief executive.

He held this position between July 2008 and October 2011. In this role, he had responsibility for finance, procurement and information systems.

COMPETITION

As CFO, Mr Ndegwa oversaw the finance and strategy function of the brewer across six countries in East Africa. At that time, his job also included managing SABMiller, an equity and brand partner.
He says he operated as CFO in a dynamic three to four-year period managing a significant commercial agenda. EABL grew its regional business and expanded its spirits business.

In 2010, he led a significant business development agenda, including acquisition of a controlling stake in Tanzania’s Serengeti Breweries Limited and the unwinding of the complex shareholding structure with SABMiller, a direct competitor in Kenya and Tanzania. The transaction size was between Sh7 billion and Sh25 billion.

This opened both markets for direct competition between them.

He then moved to Accra, Ghana, to be the managing director and CEO of Guinness Ghana Breweries between November 2011 and June 2015. Here, he was given the full P & L mandate and he was also managing a 20 per cent equity partnership with Heineken.

Guinness Ghana is a listed business (Diageo held 54 per cent at the time) and had a leadership position in beer and soft drinks. But its position was under threat in a highly competitive market.
After three years in Ghana, he moved to be the CEO of Guinness Nigeria Plc, another Diageo company.

Here, he was accountable for the business with 1,300 employees and the third largest Guinness market globally.

MARKET DYNAMICS

As a CEO, in both roles, he inherited two businesses that were 'crown jewels' in Diageo Africa, but faced significant strategic and operational challenges and their competitive position and business model was under threat from disruptive category and competitive dynamics.

He had a turnaround and transform mandate. He said he managed this transformation by reframing the vision, strategy and the operational priorities of the businesses.

Mr Ndegwa noted that he brought the Guinness franchise back into strong top-line and share growth both in Nigeria and Ghana as some of his achievements.

He also broadened the portfolio through innovation and delivered a Sh1 billion productivity savings over a three-year period in Nigeria, with a simplified and more agile organisation.

During this period, he also led the beer industry group in Nigeria and Ghana that lobbied for a major tax policy win in Ghana and avoided a large excise duty increase in Nigeria. He achieved the turnaround targets and returned to top-line growth in two years.

Guinness Nigeria is a high-profile listed business on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, with iconic and established household brands, a majority controlled by Diageo (58 per cent).

The beer market dynamics were being disrupted by the actions of a major competitor who created a new low-priced beer subcategory challenging Guinness Nigeria’s previous premium price positioning, resulting in market share decline.

He achieved a turnaround at pace and double-digit growth by reframing the strategy and the operational priorities.