James Mworia: Law intern who rose to best paid CEO in Kenya

What you need to know:

  • Now Mr Mworia is credited with the much-hailed turnaround of Centum, the investment company with interests in a variety of sectors including energy, real estate, financial services and fast-moving consumer goods.

He recently emerged as Kenya’s best-paid chief executive officer with an annual compensation of Sh201.1 million or Sh16.7 million per month, when bonuses and salary are included.

Yet at only 39 the soft-spoken executive has outdone many corporate executives on multiple fronts.
Deemed as the new kid on the block who swiftly mastered the art of making money when he was given half of a chance, James Mworia’s rise to fame and money makes for interesting debate just as is his annual compensation.

While he has now become a common fixture on the Kenyan corporate scene, the trained lawyer rose gradually from an intern to being the current high-flying chief executive.
His journey began when he joined Centum in 2001 as a 23-year-old intern whose role was to file documents. Seven years later he was appointed CEO.
He would later explain how, despite having what were deemed to be higher-than-required qualifications for the position, he readily accepted it.

In various interviews he says he always had “a CEO’s mind” and knew the lower position was a stepping stone to greater fortunes.
“When opportunity comes knocking on your door it does not come written ‘my big break’. It might come as a small job or a small introduction,” he told an entrepreneurship boot camp in Nairobi organised by talent management company Africa Talent Bank last year.

He explained that many people fail because “they don’t give themselves permission to succeed.”

What is the opportunity here
“My approach to life is that anything I have today, that is the best I have and that is the opportunity I take. When I was an intern, the first job I had was in the filing room. I could have looked at that filing job and said it is below my capability; that I am a graduate and I should not be doing filing. But when I went into that room I said, ‘what is the opportunity here?’ And the opportunity for me was to learn about the business.

‘‘I really took time to study the files. Two months down the road and we were raising capital and the CEO decided to administer a quiz about the company. I scored the highest marks because I had been reading. And that is how I was identified and got a job,” he said in a media interview last year.

At the time he had a law degree from the University of Nairobi, was a Certified Public Accountant, a Chartered Financial Analyst and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya.
He argued that young people are often too hard on themselves, allowing success to elude them.
“We think success is for other people. We think we were put in this world to be strugglers,” said Mr Mworia.

He also noted that nothing stands in the way of success for young people of all walks of life.
“It is very easy to make excuses and say the reason I am not succeeding is because I am poor, or I do not have this or that. In theory the most successful people should never have succeeded if you look at what they did not have. You have to say, given what I have today, what am I willing to do with it?” he said.

Now Mr Mworia is credited with the much-hailed turnaround of Centum, the investment company with interests in a variety of sectors including energy, real estate, financial services and fast-moving consumer goods.

During his tenure he has led Centum through a significant growth phase with assets under management increasing from $67 million to more than $1. 8 billion and generating a total return to shareholders of over 600 per cent. His pay, which incorporates a performance bonus, places Mr Mworia ahead of his peer who lead Kenya’s five largest companies by market capitalisation at the Nairobi Securities Exchange; including telecoms operator Safaricom and East African Breweries Limited (EABL).

Acres of reports show Mr Mworia is a stickler for plans and follows through what he sets out to do.
He has since become a recipient of many regional and international  awards in recognition of his outstanding business leadership.

Feted globally
The most recent was the East Africa Business Leader of the Year 2015 award by the Corporate Council on Africa in Washington DC.
He was also selected as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader for 2016 and ranked as one of the Choiseul 100 African Leaders of Tomorrow 2015.
He is a Fellow of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu African Leadership Institute.
Mr Mworia also serves as chairman of Sidian Bank and Almasi Beverages Limited. He is also a non-executive director of the Lewa Conservancy and the Nairobi Securities Exchange.

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