I’d like to die in Kenya, says Michael Joseph

Michael Joseph
Vodafone, Michael Joseph, Managing Director, Mobile Money Credit: Ed Robinson/OneRedEye

Former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph has come out revealing intricate details of his personal and professional life in a tell-all interview with Vodafone.

Michael Joseph, who was at the helm of the communication juggernaut that is Safaricom before handing over to Bob Collymore, is famous for leading the M-Pesa innovation, among various other technological milestones.

In the interview with Vodafone’s Communications Manager, Paula Nasser, Joseph reveals the connection between Kenya and his biggest achievements.

He reveals that he relocated to Kenya when he was 55 and was lucky enough to be picked to head Safaricom despite the retirement age at Vodafone by then being 55 years.

The 71-year-old may have retired but that did not mean he was going to take it easy and enjoy his old age. He is the chairman of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Chairman of Kenya Airways and M-Pesa advisor to Vodacom and Safaricom. He recently stepped down from his role as Vodafone’s Global M-Pesa director.

Here are ten things MJ revealed about his life.

  1. He has been married four times
    He has been married four times and divorced three times but says he learnt from all his previous marriages, and does not consider any of them as mistakes. “Divorce is always a difficult, sad and tragic thing to do but if I look back, I think I had an extraordinary life,” he says as he recounts how one of his ex-wives died recently and it affected him. He is now married to his fourth wife, Sian, whom he met in Kenya.
  1. He lost his younger brother in a road accident
    Joseph gets emotional as he reveals details surrounding his younger brother’s demise. He talks of how his life was brought to a grinding halt through a road accident when he was only 20. “These are the kind of tragedies that come around, that everybody goes through, but that is what makes you who you are, it determines your character going forward.”
  2. He wants to set a marathon record
    At 71, Joseph says he wants to be the oldest person to ever finish the Lewa marathon. While admitting at how tough the marathon is, he says that is one thing he needs to tick off his bucket list.
    “It’s a tough race, because it’s up and down hills and it’s very hot. I’ve done the half-marathon a number of times and I’m training for it again. I want to be the oldest guy to finish the marathon!”
  1. He is a shy person
    Michael Joseph declares his dislike for social functions and formal dinners saying that is probably because he is a shy person.
    He says, “I like the simple life, am pretty much a boring guy.”
  2. He got into the mobile industry by accident
    MJ, a Telecom engineer, did not know anything about the mobile industry when he applied for the job.
    “I saw this job ad on the newspaper for an international project manager. Even though I was a Telecom engineer I’ve never worked in the mobile industry and didn’t know anything about it. I went to the library to get books and magazines to read and went for the interview. The guy who interviewed me had just come back from a trip in South Africa so all he talked about was his safari in South Africa and then he gave me the job (laughs). And that’s how I started in the mobile industry.”
  3. He has survived a helicopter crash
    The soft-spoken man was involved in a chopper crash during his early years in Kenya. Joseph recalls the helicopter they were crashing, the pilot and the other passengers fleeing the scene and leaving him behind because his safety belt was stuck.
    “The only person who came to help… a local old woman approached with a flask of tea and stared pouring it to stop the engine catching fire. Amazing courage!”
  1. He launched Safaricom with just 5 employees, in a three-bedroom flat
    The billion dollar company started out in humble beginnings; with only five employees in a three-bedroom rented flat. They would gradually grow to employ over 4500 employees, and become one of the biggest telecommunication companies in the region.
  1. He spearheaded the M-Pesa innovation
    Joseph says the idea of M-Pesa was pitched to him by former Vodafone Head of Global Payments, Nick Hughes, and put together an innovation team to work on the idea. The platform brought in a staggering one million customers in its first year.
  1. President Kenyatta asked him to take over the Kenya Airways chairmanship
    Michael Joseph jokes that when he left Safaricom, the only thing he knew about airlines was that he wanted to fly one. He, however, says that he could not turn down the Kenya Airways chairmanship position as it was offered to him by the Head of State.
    “I think it’s your duty when your president asks you to do something, it’s not for you to question it.” Kenya Airways was by then a struggling airline, swimming in a multitude of debts.
  1. He would like to die in Kenya.
    Asked what he would do if it were his last day on earth, Michael Joseph says he would “go home, listen to some music, call my kids.” He further adds that if he were to die, he would prefer to die here in Kenya, in his home in Lewa.

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Story By Ian Omondi
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