Meet the man at helm of smart city

Standard Bank Africa director of investment banking coverage, East Africa John Ngumi at a past function. The banker chairs the Konza Technopolis Development Authority. FILE
Standard Bank Africa director of investment banking coverage, East Africa John Ngumi at a past function. The banker chairs the Konza Tecnopolis Development Authority. FILE 

When President Kibaki appointed the first chairperson of Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KTDA) in December, the appointee would only learn about it when an SMS flashed on his phone: “Congrats JDN for the appointment”.

JDN is a common reference to John Donald Ngumi, the light-skinned investment banker who was transiting at the Johannesburg International Airport when the message came through.

The father of three says he had no inkling the appointment was coming but the fact that he is increasingly sounding much like Information PS Bitange Ndemo when talking about Konza could be a dead giveaway of the company he has been keeping.

Talking to him you get the impression he is no less of a dreamer than the visionary PS.

“The bond programme which I helped Central Bank establish is doing better than that of Nigeria,” he says of the instrument that has helped fund State development projects.

“I am visualising an impact similar to that of ICT for Konza. We have been brought up on incremental growth which we have to change through ICT.”

Since April 2000 when he resigned from the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the jet-set investment banker has spent much of his time on the road. He is the man many corporates have turned to when they needed to issue structured debt.

Perhaps by a twist of fate, most of the firms that have needed cash are telcos, a fact Mr Ngumi says informed his quitting the regulator in anticipation that it was only a matter time before his new employer, Citi, went knocking on the doors of the firms he was supposed to watch.

His involvement with the sector though started earlier despite the fact that serious investment here would only start in May 2000, when UK Vodafone bought 40 per Safaricom (latter it would emerge 10 per cent of this — later sold Vodafone — was owned by the legendarily shadowy Mobitelea) from Telkom which had registered the subsidiary in 1997.

He worked in a consortium which established CCK and its operating framework.

Clearly Citi NA had done its homework when it appointed the founder executive director of Loita Capital Partner Group vice president and assistant general manager, public sector and corporate, at its Nairobi branch.

In between Citi and Standard Bank Africa (where he was appointed after the CFC Stanbic merger) he has raised billions in a raft of deals that have made him one of the most sought-after corporate finance arranger.

The man who is also a member of the Prime Minister’s task force on developing green energy currently holds the position of director investment bank coverage, East Africa, at the Johannesburg-based bank.

In Kenya, he raised billions for Safaricom, Nakumatt, Kenya Pipeline Company, Essar Telecoms, CFC Stanbic, Mabati Rolling Mills, Celtel Kenya, Telkom Kenya, Athi River Mining, Faulu Kenya, Shelter Afrique and Caltex.

He had earlier raised $26 million for the government in 1989 through medium term certificates at the New York Stock Exchange before helping Central Bank of Kenya establish the showcase bond programme in 1997 while working at Loita.

He was also the force behind the recent $600 million State syndicated loan.

Outside Kenya he has raised funds for Tanzania Electricity Supply Company, MTN Uganda, PTA Bank, Stanbic Uganda, Hima Cement and Kinyara Sugar.

Konza City obviously presents massive opportunity for corporate financiers and of cause a fertile ground for conflict of interest for Mr Ngumi, I pointed out to him.

“I resigned from CCK when I sensed there would a conflict of interest. Trust me I would resign if it happens at Konza,” he says.

He is proud that he did so when he looks back at what Safaricom has become in its 13 years of existence. In all, he has raised Sh23.5 billion for the firm whose globally acclaimed M-Pesa he sees as a good indicator of what would be not only what technology can achieve, but what Kenyans are capable of.

Mr Ngumi, who was born in 1955, believes his being a non-technical person is no drawback for him at Konza as it only gives him a bird’s eye view of the project.

“Our idea is to do it as a world-class integrated city not just an ICT park,” said the man who attributes his success in deal-making to aversion for shortcuts and favouritism.

The man brought up in London and Karen, Nairobi, promises those out to try shortcuts with him fruitless times.