Personal Finance

Evolving face of the C-suite in the era of fast-track CEOs

Centum CEO James Mworia. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Centum CEO James Mworia. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

When Joel Gay, a 38-year-old black African American became CEO of a publicly listed company, Energy Recovery, in April 2016, his sister Prof Roxane Gay, a vocal novelist and essayist who has a devoted following on Twitter, called it “appalling.”

An article in the Yahoo! news goes on to say: “She did not mean it was appalling that her brother, only 38 years old, had attained the top spot at a publicly traded company, but that, by most accounts, he was only the 10th black businessperson to do so.”

This among other things not only shows the changing expectation of who gets to the C-Suite but also the advent of an era where there is a generation that is daring to dream.

Of course, this made news in the US because, before that, the average age of a CEOs even in such a developed country was 56.

In Kenya, when the current CEO at Centum #ticker:ICDC James Mworia made it to the C-Suite, the media both locally and international was awash with the news. It was clearly unprecedented.


According to Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Roselinde Torres, in 2014, “boards are increasingly bypassing C-level executives and appointing less-seasoned leaders as CEOs.”

While they are still looking for chiefs with the traditional attributes of intelligence, integrity, and stamina — traits that have defined great executives for decades, they also now are increasingly seeking CEOs who understand signals in today’s unpredictable environment and are comfortable acting on them — abilities that directors hope will more than offset candidates’ relative inexperience.

Fast-track CEO succession appears to be most prominent in the retail, technology, media, and telecoms sectors — all of which are affected by disruptive business models and new competitors. Many of these CEOs were hired in their 30s and 40s, but accelerated promotion, not age, is what defines a leapfrog leader.

A survey done by the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) in 2012/2013, put the average age of CEOs at 57 and more than 50 per cent of them with a finance background and only 14 per cent representation of women.

Five years later, more current data from an updated yet to be released survey by KIM puts that age at 52 with women at 21 per cent and representation from at least eight backgrounds with finance background reducing to 38 per cent.

The current era of fast-paced technological changes and global economic shifts requires resilient and energetic CEOs with a new way of thinking and operating.