Jadiah Mwarania bows out after dramatic tenure as Kenya Re boss


Former Kenya Re managing director, Jadiah Mwarania. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The exit of Jadiah Mwarania from Kenya Reinsurance Corporation where he was the chief executive for 12 years has brought down the curtains on an eventful tenure that was characterised by gruelling boardroom and court battles and claims of State interference.

Mr Mwarania had been on compulsory leave since December last year as the insurer sought his successor.

On Wednesday, Kenya Re announced the appointment of Dr Hillary Maina Wachinga, the risk and compliance operations manager, as its new managing director.

During a court hearing in 2018, Justice Byram Ongaya appealed to Mr Mwarania and his employer to ‘‘reason together’’ in a dispute that followed his sacking for alleged underperformance.

The University of Nairobi finance graduate had sued the State corporation for unfair dismissal, for which he had sought Sh82.4 million in compensation.

The judge of the Employment and Labour Relations court would note that Mr Mwarania had given his ‘‘best years’’ to the company and that Kenya Re had given him work for all his professional life.

The two parties, therefore, had an important relationship to preserve, he argued. Mr Mwarania's LinkedIn profile lists Kenya Re as his only ever employer.

The State is the majority shareholder in Kenya Re while 40 percent of the corporation’s stake is owned by private individuals.

It has three fully-owned subsidiaries, including Kenya Reinsurance Corporation Côte d`Ivoire, Kenya Reinsurance Corporation Zambia, and Kenya Reinsurance Corporation Uganda Limited.

The long employer-employee relationship started in 1990 when fresh from university, Mr Mwarania joined the corporation as a management trainee.

He would rise through its ranks to become general manager for reinsurance operations by 2007.

If his desire had always been to sit at the pinnacle of the organisation one day, this box was ticked when he was appointed managing director in 2011.

The challenge that comes with the corner office was not lost on him having been there during President Daniel Moi’s autocratic rule when State interference with the affairs of State corporations was common.

In the 1990s, for instance, removal from a State body meant that the office holder would pack and leave quietly.

With orders for removal often coming from the highest places in government at the time, it was almost always futile to protest.

For Mr Mwarania, trouble began to stoke him in June 2017, when the Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua wrote him a letter directing him to cause changes on the company board.

In the confidential letter, State House wanted Mr Mwarania to pick Michael Monari, Hilda Muchunku and Julius Koros for election as board members during that year’s annual general meeting.

This would in effect see then board chairperson David Kemei and two directors, Maina Mukoma and Chiboli Shakaba, kicked out.

In the ensuing drama, the trio would hatch a plan to oust Mr Mwarania before their own fall, a fact acknowledged by the labour court.

Ironically, Mr Mwarania would be shown the door before the trio. During the suit, it emerged that the corporation had been downgraded from B+ to B in the February of 2018, effectively moving it from a stable business to a vulnerable one.

The Kenya Re-board alleged negligence on the part of Mwarania for the skid.

Whereas the board had axed its MD on the basis of poor performance, the company’s balance sheet told a different story.

Under his stewardship, Kenya Re had posted a 10.7 per cent compound annual growth rate with its gross premiums rising to Sh20.3 billion in 2017 from only Sh6.6 billion in 2011.

During the same period, the reinsurer’s net income had grown at an annual compounded rate of 4.07 per cent to Sh2.9 billion.

In the year preceding his attempted ouster, Kenya Re had made a net profit of Sh832 million up from Sh533 million the previous year, while collecting Sh11 billion in premiums in just six months.

Justice Ongaya in his decision ordering the reinstatement of Mr Mwarania as MD and the payment of his dues in full said: “Thus the court holds that an employer who cannot establish gross misconduct or poor performance as at the time of termination cannot be said to fairly terminate an employee’s contract of service by simply invoking and alleging an empty assertion of loss of trust and confidence as was done in the present case.”

In addition, the judge warned the board against interfering with his job.

The corporation, though, had an alternative to pay him Sh22.3 million as his gross salary for a year.

The court, however, acknowledged that it would be unfair, and even awkward, for the employer to pay such a large sum to someone who was willing to resume work.

Even as Kenya Re appealed the ruling, Mr Mwarania was back at the helm at Reinsurance Plaza where he would continue to serve for the next five years.

His predecessor, Eunice Mbogo, had served as MD at the corporation for only three years since 2007 before she was let go.

Twice, Ms Mbogo had asked the board to renew her contract, failing on both occasions before she went to court. She lost her bid when Kenya Re replaced her.

Mr Mwarania obviously did not want to go down the same road. He would throw everything at the battle to defend his job. In the end, he prevailed.

Mr Mwarania is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Nairobi, which he is due to complete in 2025. 

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