Extended Thoughts on Reflections with Michael Joseph of Safaricom

This Mashujaa Day was a lazy one for me – some kind of forced day of rest to nurse a sore throat I had. On this day I got a coveted opportunity to form part of some 60pax audience at the iHubNairobi listening in to reflections from Mr. Michael Joseph. Michael or MJ as we call him is the out going CEO of Safaricom LTD – East Africa’s largest firm by corporate earnings. It was a lazy day so I really did not want to tweet through the session. Nevertheless I yielded to the temptation – as usual, and had some 32 tweets with the hash tag #mjreflections.

I was seated next to @UjenziBora who shared his intentions to blog his own tweet stream from the event. I liked the idea so here is my over-elaborated execution of the copied idea. I shall simply try and give my underlying thoughts on my ‘live-session’ tweets. I shall also number them so that when you get tired, you could go and come back to resume where you will have left.

  1. (tweet) Peculiar site to see MJ of Safaricom in blue jeans -> (the underlying thought) I was honestly shocked to see Michael Joseph in blue jeans, away from his corporate suit and tie signature look.
  2. (tweet) Per minute billing would have made more business sense but Safaricom could not afford the system then -> (the underlying thought) Michael had to make the best of what he did not have. He settled for the lesser revenue option of per second billing and invested in marketing to consumers the truth that per second billing was better for them than Kencell’s per minute billing
  3. One more lesson – please don\’t surprise your customers – not even for free things -> Personally I don’t mind pleasant surprises like some free KES 800 airtime. As a businessman, I still won’t mind but would execute surprises with guarded caution.
  4. MJ admits M-PESA, okoa jahazi, Sambaza etc were not invented in Kenya -> My regular readers might already know that the origin and ownership of the MPESA innovation is one of the topics I get a little over-patriotic about.
  5. 2m pounds went into the initial MPESA software by Vodafone – after some DfID competition -> These appeared to be MJ’s distractionary way of pre-empting the emotive debate of why Safaricom does not own the patent for M-PESA. In my mind he is not off the hook yet. But its too late, Kenyans have already made M-PESA indispensable, under the impression it was their (Safaricom’s) intellectual property.
  6. Success of #MPESA is not the technology, it is the distribution network -> This I agreed with partially. However I shall continue to insist on marketing blitz and a sense of nationalism around the product being additional ingredients
  7. IT guys have learnt the art of giving excuses when things go down -> At that point MJ appeared silently agitated about some technical hitch – I felt him. IT guys have an annoying way of assuming that embarrassing situations are acceptable to blame on technology.
  8. There is no redundancy for the TEAMS cable – where it lands in mombasa – Plans to arrange for redundancy in Dar es Saalam -> With the technical hitch in tweet 7, MJ was distracted away from M-PESA to data services. I did not like his way of justifying sustained high data prices – redundancy of to Optic fiber cable at the landing points, onward connectivity to the internet beyond under sea cables, etc. We need another big connectivity provider to dislodge Safaricom from an exploitative dominance position which they are gettin to.
  9. MJ thinks Safaricom will win the \’War\’ with Airtel Bharti – prefers not to call it \’Price War\’ -> May the best value proposition to Kenyans win!
  10. Best advice MJ got was \’You have to make decisions yourself\’ even if once in a while you go wrong -> That obviously worked for him, problem might be how much further this style had got into Safaricom’s corporate blood. Can Safaricom survive a different kind of leadership?
  11. MJ of Safaricom has never read more than 5 pages of any business book -> I was forced to read many such pages for my MBA. I think experience is an expensive teacher. No further comments
  12. MJ is not a great fun of social media. He thinks his successor is though -> We can only wait and see how @ , the new man at the helm fairs as he sounds like a completely different kind of guy. Hoping though he wont start off with RFP’s for change management consultants. I am told Bob Collymore will be the guest at Aly Khan Satchu\’s Mindspeak event on 4th December 2010.
  13. MJ appeals to bloggers and others to use social media sensibly – not to spread falsehoods etc -> I agree. I always try my best and hope my best is good enough
  14. MJ would not consider outsourcing customer care – it is so tempting yet so critical as far as he is concerned -> That was so clever of him. I agree with the principle, but when he gave the purported reason of creating local jobs near JKIA I was not convinced.
  15. For BPO we cant just rely on the fact that we speak english, or are in a good time zone. We have to deliver quality -> This I really liked and I really hope the Vision 2030 implementation secretariat is listening in
  16. To MJ, this BPO thing is overrated in Kenya\’s vision 2030 – I also agree -> See Tweet 15
  17. Safaricom expects payback from their base stations within one year, most of them pay back within 6 months -> I don’t know enough to comment but @mwolooto thought Safaricom was not being fair to someone – I can\’t tell how
  18. Solar energy for BTS makes sense only when air cooling is not required – I didnt know that -> Going green should make economic sense a lot of times. It appears this its not all the time though
  19. MJ would indulge in local capacity building only because it makes financial sense – sort of CSR view I dont like -> At the time of tweeting this I had got me incensed with MJ sounding like financial sense was all about being seen to undertake Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – hence increased revenue. I don’t understand why many multinational(ish) companies do not recognize the need to build local capacity as strategic inputs for their own local business processes. Creating jobs as CSR will always appear as though one is after sanitize their acts of exploitation!
  20. MJ is seriously not convincing on local capacity building reasons – methinks it should be more about economic synergies -> My instant rant on tweet 19 above – wont comment more
  21. MJ of Safaricom never believed in the idea of changing ringback tones. Now regrets ceding more revenue share than would have allowed -> Was great to see that even the mighty in Kenya can wink and get out-witted
  22. MJ of Safaricom now asserts that MKESHO is his (personal) idea – interesting < Great revelation. I need a followup on my ealier post on MKESHO as a hint to more intrigues to come. I pray the exclusivity ends soon
  23. Safaricom\’s deal with Equity on MKESHO ends next year – that should be good riddance to some -> See tweet 22, no
  24. Safaricom CEO @iHubNairobi,we will be launching M-PESA buy goods on Friday,u can pay for shopping @Uchumi with M-PESA -> I was re-tweeting an interesting announcement through Safaricom’s official twitter account. Too much to talk about there – wont start
  25. 700,000 M-KESHO accounts in three months other banks want to cash in also -> See tweet 22
  26. Safaricom will make it possible to pay for items via MPesa from Friday at Uchumi branches See tweet 24 – so shall the MPESA queue stall when there are delayed SMS notifications?
  27. Safaricom needs the banks – will address the exclusivity issue. They probably will not do it with Stanchart or Stanbic -> I could read Michaels bad blood with Stanchart from his lips as he said this. Could it be because they gave banking partnership to Zain for ZAP-the would be rival to MPESA?
  28. I like MJ\’s passion around #MPESA, gets carried away by the topic -> Great passion this man has, I can’t help but think he might be secretly sharing a stake with Vodafone on the MPESA patent.
  29. Really what\’s business enabling about paying a license to a regulator? -> It’s hard to tell when the regulator is genuinely seeking funds to protect consumers
  30. Consistency of management contributed to safaricom\’s market share staying at 80% over a couple of years  -> Now Safaricom must face the inevitable moment of changing guard. Good luck after some really strong/autocratic leadership
  31. RT @tonymuny: I hope there is no fee involved when paying 4 goods in uchumi via mpesa -> I had to retweet the concern raised therein – someone I met at Uchumi indicates that there should be no extra transaction charge to the customer in the planned arrangement. See tweet 24 also
  32. MJ of Safaricom thinks he is one person that does not admit defeat at all –> I shall not rule out the possibility of someone else admitting defeat at Safaricom – many months after MJ has left

With all that said, may the best value proposition to Kenyans win!
I most probably missed some big insights while I was tweeting away the session with Michael. I recommend you also check out @UjenziBora\’s post for a different if not complementary post-event-analysis based on his live tweets.



  1. Anonymous says:

    The best summary yet on Reflections with MJ


  2. mrsmwiti says:

    Clearly you have 'left no stone unturned.' Nice summary. Love the satire too


  3. Mark Jones says:

    Love the work. I heard about its rival Airtel in a Bollywood movie (or did I hear it right?) and give jobs to work at home agent or call center agents that accept calls at home.


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