The recent appointment of former EABL boss Gerald Mahinda as managing director of a New York Stock Exchange-listed cereal maker has added the number of Kenyan executives rising to top positions of global conglomerates.
Mr Mahinda’s appointment as sub-Sahara African MD for US foods manufacturer Kellogg’s came just two months after Standard Chartered Bank promoted Richard Etemesi, who was CEO for the Kenyan unit, to head the global lender’s South African unit and four other countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mauritius.
The appointments to positions in which they control multi-billion dollar balance sheets underscore the pedigree associated with Kenyan executives’ management acumen.
Other recent high profile appointments include Tony Mwai’s recruitment as business leader at IBM’s South Africa office and promotion of Louis Otieno to spearhead Microsoft’s 4Afrika programme, which has set a target to supply millions of African school children with customised laptops.
Global payment services company firms MasterCard tapped James Wainaina to be vice president and area business head for East Africa while IBM picked Nicholas Nesbitt as general manager for East Africa in charge of 10 countries.
Another Kenyan, James Mwangi, is the global managing partner at New York-based consulting firm Dalberg— in charge of 11 markets. He operates from the company’s Johannesburg office. He previously worked at consulting giant Mckinsey in New York.
Management experts attribute the rise of Kenyans to top positions in global conglomerates to the country’s liberal market which has shaped business leaders to navigate through highly competitive environments.
“Due to liberalisation of the Kenyan market, local CEOs have learnt to compete with established players both for market share and talent and the world is noticing this,” said Dr X. N Iraki, the MBA co-ordinator at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.
Another Kenyan Ory Okolloh is the director of investments at Omidyar Network, an investment firm established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
The list also includes Google’s sub-Saharan Africa spokesman and East Africa lead Joe Mucheru and Robert Ngeru who is Samsung East Africa chief operating officer.
“Kenya’s business leaders have come of age as they have the experience, acumen and exposure to modern business practices,” said Dr Iraki.
Most of these Kenyans started off their careers in local firms, rising through the ranks to capture the eyes of multinationals.
Mr Mahinda, 55, served as CEO and group managing director at EABL for five years from January 2004 to June 2009.
He is now driving the African agenda at Kellogg’s, a New York Stock Exchange-listed firm which reported a net profit of $1.8 billion (Sh154.8 billion) last year, from sales of $14.8 billion (Sh1.3 trillion)— ranking as the second biggest cereal maker after rival General Mills.
The Michigan-based food manufacturing company has an asset base of $15.5 billion (Sh1.33 trillion) and markets its products such as cornflakes, Mueslix, Pringles potato chips and Eggo waffles in 180 countries across the world.
Mr Etemesi, 51, is now one of Kenya’s highest ranking executives in a multi-national bank. He was the first Kenyan to head StanChart’s local operations when he was appointed CEO in November 2006.
Mr Wainaina was director of retail banking at NIC Bank for four years before he was hired in 2012 as vice president of global credit card company MasterCard.
He is based at MasterCard’s regional hub in Nairobi overseeing operations and crafting strategies to penetrate the electronic payments market in East Africa including Mauritius, Ethiopia.
IBM’s Mr Nesbitt is the founder and CEO of KenCall, one of Kenya’s pioneer business process outsourcing (BPO) firms.
Prior to Mr Otieno’s appointment to head Microsoft 4Afrika programme in 2012, he was the general manager responsible for the East and Southern Africa (ESA) business at Microsoft.
Ms Okolloh, a techie, was previously Google’s policy manager for sub-Saharan Africa and is also co-founder of crowdsourcing disaster-response app Ushahidi.
Other Kenyans who have held senior positions in the recent past include Mr Adan Mohamed who was hired as Barclays’ chief administrative officer for Africa in February last year before he was tapped by President Uhuru Kenyatta to be Cabinet Secretary for Industrialisation and Enterprise Development.
John Gachora, appointed chief executive of NIC Bank in September last year was previously Barclays Africa’ managing director and head of corporate banking.