CEO WPP Scangroup, 1990 - 2021
Former WPP Scangroup CEO Bharat Thakrar left the firm in a storm. The London-based multinational, which he brought on board to grow the company, later cleared him of any wrongdoing. Months after exit, Mr Thakrar says he is living his best life.
“I had the option to retire, play golf and chill. Or to continue working and making a difference in the industry. I chose the latter.
"Advertising for me had gone beyond being a passion — it’s what I lived and breathed. My daughter, Shyamolae Kalsi (Shy), was running a digital marketing agency Ideologie. I thought it would be a better allocation of my time to pass on my experience to her, so I joined her business as a consultant.
"This shift allowed me to look at the world differently. The consumer today is channel agnostic and therefore needs to be consistently engaged, inspired and understood to invoke consideration. The days of silos when one appointed a creative agency, digital agency and media agency, among others, are over – what you need is one agency who can deliver one idea that makes sense, across all channels.
"The big 60 second TV commercials with over-the-top cinematography and a cast of happy, smiling people just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Today’s consumers want to be understood, they want brands to connect with them. They want authenticity.
"My intent is to help Ideologie become the one-stop shop for engaging content and help build Shy’s legacy. We already have clients on board to whom we offer a fully integrated communications solution. Our model focuses on four phases — reach, act, convert and engage. Once you understand your consumer, the communication becomes simple.
"What’s been equally interesting for me is a recent business segment that we have branched into ‘New Age Thought Leadership’ for corporate leaders. Traditionally, thought leadership was (and still often is) delivered through opinion pieces, speaker engagements, panel discussions, events and such. In an increasingly digital world with a global audience, the barriers in accessing these need to be broken down.
"When you think of the top leaders in Kenyan and African corporates, many of them are renown in their circles, but remain inaccessible to their customers, clients, and networks. Social media breaks down those barriers — and some have discovered and utilised this well.
"We’ve rolled out a programme whereby we collaborate closely with the executive and we create a content programme that allows their audience to learn, interact and give feedback to them. Through content carefully crafted to bring out their personality and leadership skills, we can deliver a personal brand that elevates their business or corporate brand.
"Executives can not only talk about their work but showcase their authentic self beyond the ‘corporate’ brand through their passions and activities and delivery of their expertise in various subject matter areas.
"My new role still remains corporate, and I have no plans of retiring. I still have a lot to offer the business and the industry. The quality of my days, however, are better. I spend my days with my children, working with them to grow their legacy is very fulfilling for my soul. I have the same routine as I did before except now, I am fully involved in the strategic and creative process for our clients.
"As CEO of Scangroup I had to spend more of my time number crunching and firefighting. Right now, I am doing more of what I love – helping clients find solutions, my WHY, my PURPOSE. It reminds me of the days I started Scanad and often brings a smile to my face.”
What is your advice to corporate executives?
“Some may not agree with me but, as long as your health and age allow it, do not retire. Continue to work for as long as you can in whatever capacity.”
“I believe an active mind keeps you young.”
CEO Nation Media Group, 2006 - 2015
As the CEO of the largest media house in East Africa, Mr Gitahi oversaw operations of NMG across East Africa. Now Linus is chairman of the multibillion-dollar consumer products company Tropikal Africa Brands. At NMG, he grew the profit four-fold during his two terms and left in July 2015.
"I am actually retired and my key role is to mentor those that come after me. I pop into Tropikal Brands and spend some time or hang out with folks at Oxygene or on the farm where we are now processing cheese, yogurt, and honey, among others. It’s about doing the things that I love doing.
I also monitor kids I support through the foundation I started when at Nation. Baraka Foundation educates bright needy kids from poor backgrounds. I also spend some time on board work like KAM, chair DTB, Jubilee Allianz, Simba Group etc.
My advice to other executives is to save for retirement. Sacrifice when you are on top because you retire when you are still young and it’s important that you do the things you have always wanted to do.
Martin Oduor Otieno
CEO KCB Bank, 2005 - 2012
Mr Oduor-Otieno is widely known for his successful tenure at the bank, which he steered to a dominant position in terms of size and absolute profits. He is the chairman and CEO of Leadership Group Limited, a Nairobi-based consultancy, which he started after leaving KCB Group 10 years ago.
"It was a season in my life. I was in banking for 13 years, but I’ve been in other interesting places as well, including where I am now,” said Mr Oduor-Otieno in an earlier interview.
“Banking was exciting, it was transformative, most people remember me because of it, especially because of KCB. Because we were able to transform an institution that people did not think much of at the time, into something that remains a giant to this day."
The former KCB boss says he now enjoys his coaching role besides his board roles.
“In coaching, one of the things that has come up is that one needs to understand their stakeholders quite well. One needs to find ways of interacting or relating to them. That your good work alone or your competencies alone may not necessarily yield the kind of results that you’re looking for,” he says.
CEO, Kenya Association of Manufacturers, 2015 - 2022
Ms Wakiaga, the ex-captain of the lobby group, trains her sights on a bigger regional role after championing the indusrialists' cause for nearly a decade.
"I am a big believer in industrialisation’s capability to sustainably transform not just Kenya but all of Africa. I am very excited to be able to continue to advance this vision, building on my previous work at a broader regional level in my new role as a senior private sector development adviser in TBI’s industrialisation practice.
"I am confident that we can build the Africa we want and deliver the transformative power of Industry. I am thrilled to join TBI and look forward to work with my new colleagues towards this goal."
CEO CIC, 2015 - 2019
Mr Gitogo was in charge of the group in Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Malawi.
"I have taken up a couple of board positions including as the chairman, Mayfair CIB Bank. Life after corporate world is very fulfilling. I now have time to take up advisory role for several startups (including insuretechs) - as a way of giving back to society by helping and guiding promising young people. For some of them I have been an "angel investor".
"I sleep eight hours and play golf three days a week. I am now able to pick my last born son from school, something I was unable to do for my older kids. My advice to CEOs is that there is plenty of good to do out here such as mentoring etc. So don't cling to your job for longer than you need to."
CEO Britam, 1984 - 2021
Mr Wairegi retired as the longest-serving CEO of a listed firm. During his stint at the helm, he transformed the company from a small home service insurer into a major financial services group.
"After working for 40 years, I didn’t see any urgency to take any new role. I am however chairman of Endeavor Kenya whose main mandate help mentor Kenyan business people. I am also a board member of HF. It’s a good life in retirement. I had life on the fast lane. It was very busy. I now have a life of slow pace. It is different from the past life. It’s almost 18 months since I retired.
"Life now is slow and quiet. But that I was hoping to do it. I have been sitting back and reflecting. Instead of waking at 5:30 I now wake up seven a.m. I passed the button at Britam so I don’t follow Britam. I worked there for 40 years and I’m now retired so that is why.
"My advice to executives who are retired is that they look for a new passion. An idle mind as they say is a devil’s workshop. Empower your subordinates. And when the time comes to leave, leave. Those who are not yet retired must look for opportunities to help upcoming executives and young people. You have a responsibility to continue executing the vision."