Nizar Juma: Towering figure in Jubilee boardroom who took no salary

Nizar Juma- Founder, The Blue Company Initiative during the interview at his office in Nairobi on Monday, November 8, 2021.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

An African proverb goes: “It is when the ovation is loudest that one ought to quit the dance floor.” However, for Nizar Juma, judging when the applause is the loudest has not been easy.

He joined Jubilee Holdings on July 11, 2004, as the board chairman and has undoubtedly been a towering figure in the financial services firm’s boardroom for the last 20 years.

Mr Juma believes it is time for his last dance at Jubilee, even if shareholders’ applause gets louder than it has always been.

Mr Juma joined Jubilee when the net profit was Sh242.7 million, then paying shareholders Sh81 million, but he will, on June 25, take the floor, one final time as the chairman to declare a record Sh1.036 billion dividend on a net profit of Sh4.42 billion the insurer posted in the financial year ended December 2023.

“There comes a time when you have to stop...We have to give others a chance,” Mr Juma told the Business Daily in an interview.

“From 2004, when I joined, I knew nothing about insurance but passion for the sector. I have been very fortunate to have seen Jubilee prosper from that time on.”

Mr Juma’s deputy, Zul Abdul, who joined the Jubilee board in 2014 and became vice-chairman in March 2020 will be the next chairman, subject to approval by shareholders at the annual general meeting.

He celebrated his 80th birthday last month. While Mr Juma believes he still has the energy to go on, he says he now wants to spend his time differently. This marks another surprise for the executive who in 1992 closed all his businesses, including the Adidas franchise and Orbit Sports and opted to start working for free.

“I believe we have done a service to make more people think about insurance as a necessity. I am glad that I did all these as a volunteer. We do nearly everything for money and it is good when we can do some things for reasons beyond money,” said Mr Juma.

He has influenced nearly all other board members including Sultan Allana, Shabir Abji, John Metcalf and Ashif Kassam to work without pay, something he believes makes them truly independent and reliable.

Mr Juma was also instrumental in setting up the Jubilee Children’s Fund.

Jubilee staff give their one day’s salary in a year, which the company matches and adds one day’s profit to run the endowment fund.
The fund has helped in alleviating hardships underprivileged children face in education, health, social and cultural issues. The staff participate in identifying the needy children.

Mr Juma said he collaborated a lot with the Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI), the lobby for underwriters, and the Insurance Regulatory Authority in growing the sector.

His contribution to the industry saw AKI award him the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.

“The whole industry has now changed and I am glad that I had a part in that in terms of what we do as insurers. The penetration was practically under 0.5 percent. We are now almost at three percent in Kenya and more needs to be done,” said Mr Juma.

“Jubilee was not dynamic in those days. It did not have a good rapport with brokers and agents. It was a small company. The insurance world in those days was also quite small and nobody advertised insurance products. We started promotions and teaching people about insurance.”

Mr Juma will be exiting the Jubilee board alongside Shabir Abji, who is also retiring and Jane Mwangi as well as Ashif Kassam—both of who will not be offering themselves for re-election in the next annual general meeting.

Mr Abji joined the Jubilee board in 2013 while Ms Mwangi and Mr Kassam joined in 2016 and 2019. The exit of the three, together with Mr Juma, means the board will welcome new faces, including Rosemin Bhanji and Amyn Lalji who joined last week Wednesday.

“We have to give others a chance as well because people may be looking at me and saying, ‘Same guy again!’ I know my shareholders love me because I have made money for them. They have even told me in AGMs that I should share in the money,” said Mr Juma.

He is challenging industry players to target the informal sector more to change the narrative that insurance is a flimsy expense and a preserve for the rich.

Mr Juma is a boardroom figure, having sat on boards of over 80 companies in different sectors, including banking, insurance, real estate and health but has been scaling down over the years to about 12 in 2022. However, he now says he will give up “practically all of them” and only remain with initiatives, which are purely for social good and not for generating profits.

One of the initiatives he says is dearest to his heart is the Future of Power initiative, which has taken him to over 70 cities across the world, to teach about managing through soft power. He says he will carry on with this initiative.

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