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CITY GIRL: We all can learn from Collymore’s resilience, grit

“It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed … the habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues,” — Abigail Adams (mother of John Quincy Adams, in a letter to her son during the American Revolution)

Only a man of Bob Collymore’s fortitude and peerless resilience could say that his cancer diagnosis was ‘not a big deal’.

Of all the things that have been said and written about the fallen corporate chieftain, what stands out for me — and what has not been accorded its deserved prominence — was Bob’s grit, perseverance and resilience.

Resilience — the capacity to maintain ambition in the face of difficulties — was one of Bob Collymore’s most subtle yet most admirable traits, and the greatest lesson that we can learn from him.

Every stage of his life is punctuated by moments when Bob would be compelled to summon his resilience such that the story of his life is a tapestry of testimonies of the power of determination and resolve.

Whether as a 17-year-old when he was disappointed to realise he could not attend Warwick University because of lack of funding, or when he started his first job at age 12, his story is about strength, grit and courage.

Difficult times summon their leaders. When Bob took over Safaricom in 2012, the company was at a crossroads of sorts; it was a moment of uncertainty and he was confronted with the dilemma of filling the shoes of a great predecessor, Michael Joseph.

Guided by a strong sense of vision and powered by a clear moral purpose, Bob steeled himself for the journey ahead. He did not try to be like his predecessor, nor did he attempt to fit into anyone’s shoes.


Instead, he made his own shoes and now, it is up to Michael Joseph to fill Bob’s shoes. Talk about turnaround leadership!

With his supreme capacity to articulate the vision to those he led and inspired, Bob understood the mechanics of the human condition.

He took his time to know, befriend and relate with people at all levels, including those seemingly not within his social standing, a class act from a man who was in a class of his own.

But what Bob will be remembered for is not so much his corporate talents and capabilities, but in how he dealt with the most difficult moments in his life. We remember Bob not for his highest, most glorious moments, but for the man he was in his lowest moments.

To understand the true character of a man, you do not consider his moments of splendour and grandeur, but the man he is when giving up is the easiest way out. After all, difficulties and struggles are the crucible of character.

So we must remember who Bob was and what he espoused in those tough, excruciating moments as he underwent cancer treatment. We must consider the courage he exhibited when he came face-to-face with death. We must appreciate his attitude of gratitude when it was clear that he had ‘run out of options’.

It takes a man of valour to lead one of Africa’s most valuable companies, but it takes a man of great fortitude to bring himself to the realisation of the reality of death and prepare himself and his friends for the inevitable.

When it was clear that there was no escaping from the cancer, Bob said he had to ‘make friends with cancer’, in essence, accept the depth and breadth of the ugly truth and adjust his life to deal with the challenge. What a powerful, poignant lesson.

Even in those tough moments, he showed up for work, put up a brave face for his friends and family and kept the faith, living a day at a time.

I hope that when all is said and done, when the last rose is swept away from the church, when the headlines go mum, we will remember Bob not as the chief executive officer of Safaricom, but as the Guyanese boy who went to Britain first and then to rest of the globe and conquered the world.

Cancer might have conquered Bob, but the real hero is Bob, the man who taught me — and I hope you too — that resilience is truly the soul of life.