Kenya’s most Powerful business Leaders

October 28, 2012

Kenya is home to East Africa’s top business leaders who control a huge chunk of the region’s economy. They form the inner circle of economic strategy formulation in Kenya and are the drivers of the private sector. In terms of personal wealth, they are some of the wealthiest individuals not only in Kenya but also in Africa.

Kenya’s political future might be uncertain, but its growth prospects hinged on Africa being the next economic development frontier in the world cannot be in doubt. These are some of the Kenyan men and women who I personally feel will inform how much growth there’s going to be:
1. Dr. Manu Chandaria, chairman of the Comcraft Group of companies
The 83 year- old is referred to as East Africa’s most venerable business leader by Forbes. He is at the pinnacle of one of Kenya’s most affluent family dynasties. The octogenarian’s family business establishment has its presence in over 40 countries globally. Dr. Chandaria has established his personal brand as one of the most successful – and richest – Kenyan entrepreneurs.
Dr. Chandaria, unknown to many, runs big philanthropic projects ranging from education to health and business policy formulation to cultural issues. His Chandaria Foundation is active in over seven countries, and has given away millions to causes in education, health and the arts making him Kenya’s biggest philanthropist.
Comcraft Group of companies is a $2 billion worth conglomerate that produces steel, plastics, and aluminum products from manufacturing facilities in 45 countries – 16 of which are in Africa. The group of companies is responsible for over 40,000 staff in the countries it operates in.
Chandaria holds the title of the Elder of the Burning Spear, one of Kenya’s highest civilian honors.
2. Chris Kirubi
71 year- old Chris Kirubi is a Kenyan entrepreneur who has built a very successful business portfolio consisting of real estate, manufacturing and media. Kirubi is worth over $300 million that ranks him as one of the wealthiest people in Africa.
Most Kenyans will know him as DJ CK, a code name he uses when he turns into a disc jockey at his radio station, Capital FM.
In 1998, Kirubi assumed ownership of Haco Industries which he expanded from a distributor of American and British brands to a leading indigenous manufacturer of consumer products, including TCB and Palmers, two of the leading hair and skin care product brands in the country.
Today, revenues from Haco run into millions of dollars. Apart from employing hundreds of people in Kenya, the company also makes everyday items such as pens, razors, lighters, baby food, stationery and bleach.
Kirubi holds the largest individual stake in Centum Investments, a private equity firm listed both on the Nairobi and Uganda stock exchanges. He is also reported to be the largest individual shareholder in UAP Insurance, East Africa’s third largest insurance company.
Turbulence hit his career in 2008 where as chairman of the board of Uchumi Supermarkets, a publicly owned chain of retail stores, he was accused of using his influence to sell a piece of its property without independent valuation or an open competitive process.
Although Kirubi admitted no wrongdoing, the case was finally dismissed in May 2011 on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to implicate him in the case of defrauding the retailer. Despite media reports channeling all the attention to the story prompting massive public interest, he managed to wade off the potential crisis with a lot of composure.
3. Vimal Shah, CEO, Bidco industries
He has built a behemoth business from the ground up. Vimal Shah is a name that is very synonymous with Bidco industries.
According to ventures Africa, the Bidco Group under the leadership of Shah has established itself as a leading manufacturer, marketer and distributor of edible oils, fats and hygienic products in East Africa. Some of its flagship products here in Kenya include edible oil brands like Elianto and Golden Fry, cooking fats including Kimbo, laundry soaps, margarine, baking powder, and hygiene products.
Shah is credited as the brains behind the resurgence of Bidco from a small unknown company to one of East Africa’s most successful stories ever told. Its products have penetrated beyond the Kenyan market to over 16 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Shah is also among the leading lights in the Mkenya Daima initiative which brings together various stakeholders from all over the country to agitate for a peaceful and prosperous country in the wake of Kenya’s 2007/ 2008 post electoral violence.
On 23rd August 2012, he was honored by the East African entrepreneur of the year award during the annual All African Business Leaders Awards (AABLA) organised by ABN Productions in partnership with CNBC Africa here in Nairobi.
He has received numerous awards in the past including President Mwai Kibaki’s ‘First Class: Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear (CBS)’ for exceptional effort and contribution to national development. Shah is also the immediate former chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) where he lobbied for a favorable environment for manufactures and other business stakeholders.
Because of his distinguished achievements, he has given talks at various places including the prestigious Harvard Business School. As a result, Harvard Business School carried out a case study on Bidco Group with an objective of creating a success model for other enterprises to emulate.
4. Tabitha Karanja, CEO, Keroche Breweries
Karanja founded Keroche Breweries, the inaugural beer manufacturing plant in the world to be owned by a Kenyan. The beer manufacturing industry was previously left to multinationals with East African Breweries having a monopoly in the local market.
She is said to have weathered a lot of resistance in setting up shop including high taxation and meddling from high powered government officials. Her determination to succeed where others had failed to start led her in forming the multibillion shilling empire.
After investing Ksh.1 billion to start the company and following its subsequent success, she went on to invest a further Ksh. 500 million in May this year to increase production. The plant based in Naivasha employs more than 100 people and Ms. Karanja projects her business to grow further to have 25- 40% of the market share. With its flagship brands, Summit Lager and Summit Malt, the brewery has proved resilient in the market.
5. Naushad Merali, Chairman, Sameer Group
Mr. Merali is the chairman of Sameer Group, a 15-company Kenyan conglomerate with activities in financial services, construction, agriculture, energy and information technology. In 2000, he partnered with a French company, Vivendi to found Kencell, a mobile phone service provider in Kenya, which he then sold off to Celtel and Bharti Airtel.
Sameer group is approximately valued at over $ 2 billion in terms of annual turnover which makes Mr. Merali the proud owner of one of the biggest personal business properties. The companies under Sameer Group are specialized in industries such as construction, agriculture, energy and ICT sectors. One of the companies he is famed for is tire maker, Yana. His son, Sameer Merali is reportedly heir apparent.
Three of his companies are listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange. Forbes estimates Merali’s net worth at roughly over $210 million, using Nov. 2, 2011 stock prices.
In March this year, through the Zarina & Naushad Merali Foundation, the mogul donated Ksh.100 Million to aid the construction of a Ksh.278 million fully fledged day care medical centre in Kenya. The centre, once completed, will help relieve the Kenyatta International Hospital from the current congestion particularly from general hospital patients who do not require specialized management.
6. Dr. Titus Naikuni, Managing Director and CEO, Kenya Airways
He is the man at the helm of Africa’s leading airline, Kenya Airways. Under Naikuni’s leadership, Kenya airways has kept growing and stamping it’s authority as the king of the African skies.
Kenya Airways flies to 56 global destinations out of which 45 are within Africa. The Airline is targeting to fly to all African capitals before the end of the year 2013. In fact, KQ is the first airline in Africa to have been awarded the IATA operational Safety Audit (IOSA) programme.
Mr. Naikuni was recently appointed to the Internatinal Air Travel Association (IATA) Board of Governors. IATA is the aviation industry’s top most decision making body, which represents more than 230 airlines- 93% of scheduled international traffic.
Because of positive growth, the airline has now ordered nine 787 Dreamliners with an option of taking on four more in its expansion strategy that includes maintaining one of the most modern fleets in Africa. Recent workers’ strikes and retrenchments at the airline have understated his rather illustrious tenure as the CEO of Kenya Airways but his record speaks for itself.
Mr. Naikuni, holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nairobi. He is also a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Management Development Programme (PMD71) and was awarded a Doctor of Science Engineering by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, an honorary award in recognition of his contribution to development.
Between August 1999 and March 2001, Mr. Naikuni was a member of a team of World Bank sponsored Kenyan technocrats, known as the “Dream Team” who were engaged by the President Moi to turn around the Kenyan economy.
In this capacity, Mr. Naikuni served as permanent secretary to the Ministry of Information, Transport and Communications.
7. Prof. Olive Mugenda, Vice Chancellor, Kenyatta University
Ms. Mugenda is one tough act to follow considering her outstanding record as the Vice Chancellor of one of Kenya’s oldest and most acclaimed universities, Kenyatta University. During her tenure as the highest ranking manager in the institution, she embarked on borrowing money to develop the University’s infrastructure which was one of the most significant decisions she has ever made as a leader there.
In line with nurturing creativity and in a bid to meet international standards, Kenyatta University has unveiled infrastructure projects such as a modern library, referral hospital and a students’ Centre. These projects are expected to see the university raise the standard of training in Kenya’s higher education sector.
Prof. Mugenda has been an employee of Kenyatta University for her entire working life, rising from the position of a graduate assistant over the years to reach the top in a male dominated space. She mentors thousands of students in her role as an academic figurehead and has reinforced the case for women leadership in the country.
8. James Mwangi, Managing director, Equity Group
Equity bank limited is a Kenyan bank which started as a building society back in 1984. Since then the bank has grown bigger to become the largest financial institution by customer base in East and Central Africa and the largest African majority owned company in the region. All of this under the watchful eye of Mr. Mwangi.
In June, Mr. Mwangi was named the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 at an awards ceremony held in Monte Carlo, beating 59 country finalists vying for the same title. Equity Bank operates in several East African Countries including Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania.
It currently boasts of an asset base of over $1.7 billion and has been credited for bringing in millions of people who previously did not own bank accounts. Its customers also have access to some of the industry’s most affordable loan facilities.
Mr. Mwangi reportedly owns 7.32% of the Bank’s shares after it went public at the Nairobi Securities Exchange.
9. Martin Oduor-Otieno, Group CEO, Kenya Commercial Bank
He is regarded as one of the country’s richest bankers in terms of personal wealth and experience in the industry. KCB’s Chief Executive Officer, Martin Oduor is the main brain behind the leading commercial bank in East and Central Africa by Asset base and branch network. He was appointed KCB Group CEO in May of 2007.
This year, the bank recorded an after tax profit of Ksh. 9.3 billion, an increase of Ksh.2.9 billion from a similar nine- month period last year.
With assets of over $2.65 billion and a branch network of over 168 branches in Kenya alone KCB is undoubtedly one of the biggest brands in Kenya. It is the only local bank with branches in six East African countries- Including Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan. In total, there are over 225 branches under the bank’s control.
Mr. Oduor allegedly acquired shares to the value of Ksh.12 million last year adding to his investment credentials. He is a fellow of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), Kenya Institute of Bankers (KIB) as well as a member of the Certified Public Secretaries (CPSK).
He has been awarded the Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear (C.B.S) for his distinguished service to the nation by His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Kenya. He is the past Chairman of the Kenya Bankers Association, and in this capacity represented the industry on the boards of Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE).
By Bryan Tumwa [OpenBook Blog]

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