In a year when the country raised the debt ceiling to a record Ksh9 trillion, witnessed the launch of a 120-kilometre railroad ‘to nowhere’, and massive layoffs across industries, one might be tempted to give up on the Kenyan dream.
However, the resilience that Kenyans are known for, much to the awe of our East African neighbours, continues to manifest in some of the most successful business ventures in the country that continue to create jobs, and even more, keeping the hope of a self-sustaining future alive.
The few captains of these companies have consistently held their status as the pacesetters of their industries spurring innovation, contributing considerable amounts of tax and continuing to expand the Kenyan footprint in the continent and beyond.
Kenyans.co.ke recognises that sustained effort, celebrates their thought leadership and seeks to highlight their contributions in the hope that it will inspire more Kenyans into unlocking their innate industriousness.
From the many Kenyans who have significantly impacted wealth creation in the country, we narrowed down on eight business leaders who have left an indelible mark in their industries this year.
1. Wachira Waruru
For exactly two decades now, Royal Media Services (RMS) has been setting the agenda in the country and for that duration, the broadcaster’s Managing Director Wachira Waruru has been firmly in control.
Since launching in 1999, the station under the stewardship of the MD, described by many as a no-nonsense result-oriented executive, has set the agenda for national conversations with award-winning journalism and innovative programming.
In September 2019, under his supervision, the station’s elite investigative reporters Asha Mwilu and Waihiga Mwaura exposed brazen corruption that reportedly cost Maasai Mara University approximately Ksh190 million.
Vice Chancellor Mary Walingo was sent on compulsory leave on Wednesday, September 11, soon after the damning exposé on Citizen TV.
The broadcaster has also braved the media hiatus which has seen competitors declare hundreds of their staff redundant in an effort to cut costs. With the generally dwindling advertising revenue occasioned by the exit of giant betting firms and the withdrawal of government adverts from commercial media, RMS leaves 2019 generally unscathed, thanks to the stewardship of Wachira Waruru.
2. Joshua Oigara
There are a few ways to know if you have truly made your mark in the Kenyan business scene. One is undeniably heading a group of companies that consistently delivers after-tax profits to the tune of tens of billions every quarter.
Joshua Oigara made history with his appointment as the chief executive of KCB Bank Group in November 2012. He became the youngest CEO of a publicly listed bank in the region.
Under his stewardship, KCB has ran numerous youth-centered programmes including KCB 2jiajiri which provides entrepreneurial youth with much-needed funding.
On December 6, 2018, the lender announced a Ksh50 billion commitment through its social investment arm, KCB Foundation, for 2jiajiri after a year of impacting thousands of SMEs and Micro SMEs.
By leading the lender to register a 21.8 per cent growth in profits (Ksh24 billion) the previous year, the highest ever registered by a Kenyan bank. His success reinforces the year-long conversation of faith in youthful leadership.
In 2019, the bank also renewed its revolutionary programme, KCB Lions Den, with the lions pledging a total of Ksh372.1 million in the three seasons leading up to April 2019.
“One must be willing to put in more effort than everyone else to be better. For me, it has been a journey of relentless determination, discipline, consistency and believing in myself. Inside me, I knew I wanted to become a CEO of a blue chip company by the time I hit 40,” Oigara told Daily Nation in 2016.
3. Chris Kirubi
Kirubi has a vast portfolio of investments in Kenya spanning a number of industries from media to manufacturing.
Some of the businesses he holds interest in include Centum Investment (28.94%), Haco Industries (100%), Capital FM and DHL Kenya.
Early 2019, Kirubi made headlines after closing one of the biggest business deals of the year with French firm Société BIC.
Kirubi sold Haco Industries’ exclusive franchise for BIC products in East Africa, that it had held for four decades, back to the French company for a mouthwatering Ksh1.1 billion, pocketing Ksh700 million in one go.
Every Thursday, Kirubi dedicates three hours on social media to respond to questions posed by Kenyan youth under the hashtag #AskKirubi on business and making sound decisions.
"Whatever opportunity you decide to take should be in line with your vision. When I look at the opportunities that come my way, I ask myself, will it add value to a business or individual? If I cannot add value or contribute to some sort of growth then I won't take it," he advises.
4. Sylvia Mulinge
Safaricom PLC has for years been ranked way ahead of its peers for excellence in customer service. At the helm of that department, is the indomitable Sylvia Mulinge.
During her tenure, the company has introduced numerous projects to support underserved members of society including the MPesa Foundation, Safaricom Foundation, Ghetto Classics and Blaze Be Your Own Boss project for the youth.
On October 23, the telco announced a new strategy aimed at bolstering the customer experience, most notable being the introduction of non-expiring data and call bundles, a first for the country. Safaricom also promised to serve its 33 million customers in under five minutes, both at its Safaricom shops and from its call centre.
In June 2019, Mulinge was inducted as the fourth member of the UN Women initiative, Unstereotype Alliance, chaired by Phumzile Mlambo – Ngcuka, the UN Women executive director.
She joined Unilever CEO Alan Jope, AT&T Chief Brand Officer Fiona Carter, and IPG CEO Michael Roth.
Under her leadership, Safaricom became the first African organisation invited to the leadership council of the Unstereotype Alliance, joining global brands such as Facebook, Alibaba Group, Johnsons & Johnsons, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Diageo among others
5. James Mwangi
In the 35 years of its existence, Equity bank stands tall as the financial services provider that came to the aid of a large population of Kenyans systematically excluded from accessing formal banking services.
CEO James Mwangi’s dream has helped many gifted underprivileged Kenyans land opportunities of a lifetime through the Wings to Fly programme. The Equity Group Foundation has enabled over 16,000 students access to and transition through secondary and tertiary education.
In May 2019, the company was ranked as the overall best bank in Kenya at the annual Think Business Banking Awards. Mwangi, the group executive, scooped the CEO of the Year Award.
In October 2019, the lender marked it’s 35th anniversary by rebranding as it enters into a new phase of expansion across Africa. Mwangi asserted that the rebranding was necessary to reflect its new youthful, educated and digital customer base.
“In 10 years, if the bank continues to grow at the same pace, I trust the bank will be in 15 to 18 countries and home to more than 100 million customers in line with its strategic plan,” Mwangi envisaged in an interview with The East African.
6. James Mworia
Centum Investment, the company that boasts the largest mall in Sub-Saharan Africa outside of South Africa, Two Rivers, made a 200 per cent profit jump (Ksh6.8 billion from Ksh2.08 billion) in the six months ended September 30, over the same period in 2018.
41-year-old, James Mworia, is the managing director and chief executive of the largest publicly-traded private capital firm in Eastern Africa.
The company’s CSR arm, Centum Foundation, set up the Vipingo Development Vocational Training Program at Mkwajuni Youth Polytechnic in Kilifi County, committing to upgrading learning facilities in the area as well.
The programme is aimed at equipping youth from the local community with technical skills that would enable them to competitively engage in gainful employment within and beyond Vipingo Development.
“If you don’t have talent, you can’t execute strategy. It is a big portion of a CEO’s job. I can delegate operations, but you must own strategy, you must own talent,” he believes.
7. Peter Ndegwa
Before October 2019, Peter Ndegwa, the man who brought you Senator Keg, was largely unknown outside the high-brow business circles, but his appointment to take over the reins at Safaricom brought national attention to his achievements spanning over two decades.
His appointment is symbolic of the ability of Kenyan professionals to run multi-billion shilling businesses.
Currently, Ndegwa oversees the operations of Diageo PLC, a British multinational alcoholic beverages company, in 50 countries in Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Middle East and North Africa regions.
Previously, Ndegwa served for seven years as the CEO of Guinness Nigeria PLC and Guinness Ghana Breweries PLC, where he transformed the two firms to deliver double-digit growth by investing in people, introducing new brands and reorganising the businesses.
Ndegwa is an alumnus of Starehe Boys Centre, and pursued a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Nairobi, before proceeding to the London Business School for his MBA.
Ndegwa takes over as Safaricom CEO from the acting Chief Executive Michael Joseph.
8. Ken Njoroge
Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge has proved to be the most resilient CEO of the year, considering that his company, which has firmly planted its roots across the continent, emerged from the dark shadows of the Riverside attack that claimed 21 lives.
The company lost six of its managerial staff during the mid-January attack.
Njoroge would manage to pick up the pieces to scoop the 2019 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award in September.
The award recognizes the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.
His company, Cellulant, operates mobile commerce networks and offers services such as mobile banking, merchant payments, web payments, digital content, and agency banking services.
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