Coca-Cola boss with no DNA for opulence

DUNCAN KIMANI, Coca-Cola Manufacturing director. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
DUNCAN KIMANI, Coca-Cola Manufacturing director. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Duncan Kimani is the manufacturing director at Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, technically the second in command. You might have seen him showing President Uhuru Kenyatta around the newly launched Sh7 billion processing line at Embakasi, Nairobi.

He’s the son of a brigadier. You can by tell how he sits and how he speaks in upright sentences that don’t slouch.

He has 20 years in manufacturing of soft beverages and civil engineering in Kenya and the US. He joined Coca-Cola in 2005 and slowly started his climb up the proverbial corporate ladder.

Apart from his Masters in Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, US, he also holds a graduate certificate in urban transportation, planning and highway safety from the same college.

When not doing Coca-Cola business, he chairs the Environment, Water and Natural Resources Sector board at Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

He met JACKSON BIKO for an early morning breakfast at Nairobi Serena that was disrupted by a bee. (Long story).


What’s your favourite smell?

Coffee in the morning. That kind of just sets the day.

You spent some time in the President’s space. I have always thought that presidents smell great.

(Chuckles) Well. (Pause) It was outdoors. But I could definitely feel the power and I guess that’s how power smells like... power and money.

If you were to look back at your career, what’s the one section you’d change or tweak?

After schooling in the US, I should have come back immediately and connected more, and made more investments. I had a lot of opportunities but at that point, I didn’t quite see the potential that this country had. So I focused on the US and didn’t quite connect too much with Kenya.

It’s only until 2003 when I came back for a visit when Mwai Kibaki government had just taken over and there was so much excitement and euphoria that I realised this is where I wanted to be. If I could change that, I think that would have been a big game-changer.

How did growing up with a military father shape you as a man?

I always wanted to be a military guy. I admired my father’s uniform, how he would get saluted. The very regiment of the military. That experience has made me who I am now. My wife complains, my hangers are always facing the same direction.

(Chuckles) But she’s happy I don’t leave my socks and things around. The experience shaped me to be routine and disciplined. Everything I do, there’s some element of discipline. I make my bed when I wake up and I pick after myself. It’s structure. It also reflects in my career as well, in who I am. I make sure my meetings start on time... So I think that bit my dad influenced a lot of being a bit of the tough guy I am now.

Are there downsides to that?

Yes. When he’d come into a room we’d take off. I only came to bond with my dad when we went to the US and at that time I was 18 years old. We bonded very well because we were now out of Kenyan context.

What about fatherhood has most surprised you?

I’m a father of three; 11, 10 and a five-year-old girl. So two boys. In the US, I saw how families related. I would see fathers washing cars with their sons, going shopping as a family, doing things as a family. Well, in Kenya my dad being in the military, he would be away for some time, then come back.

The US changed my approach to parenting. Now I find myself connecting with my children. I don’t think my dad ever changed our nappies, but I change the diapers for my children. So those are some very significant differences between the two parenting styles.

What’s your greatest lesson in leadership?

The art of listening. I’ve had to really harness and learn that as a leader you must listen. Unfortunately, for many leaders, the listening bit becomes tough especially when someone is driving results, driving agendas and implementing strategy. I’m still learning how to listen 20 years on. It’s a journey.

Who is the one person you’d love to meet?

Nelson Mandela. The other person that I would love to meet now is Obama. Barack Obama is an inspiration of what was impossible that is possible. First Black US president is no mean feat. I know the US system and I know how hard it was to overcome the odds.

He didn’t have a strong presence of a father, and he has really come out to be a good leader, a good father, a good symbol to society and has impacted the world in very many different ways.

What have you learnt so far in your 40s?

After some years, time takes a toll on the body. (Chuckles) I can’t push it like I used to. I’ve learnt that because a lot of people look up to you, you must walk the talk. After all these years, it gets to a point in life where it’s not about talking, but it’s about who are you influencing and how are you carrying the stature, the office and yourself as a father.
Your kids are watching, your colleagues are watching, the society is watching.

What are you most insecure about?

Have I worked hard enough to have security for the future? Do I need to continue investing more? How much is enough in regards to financial investments and our security? I’d love to take time off and do things that I enjoy, like travelling, but I can’t now because of career pressure.

When I reach 55 years or thereabouts, I want to have given enough to mentor young people, develop capability and enjoy doing that which I like, which is going around the world.

Recommend a great book.

I’d say ‘The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness’ by Stephen R. Covey.

And what’s your greatest extravagance?

Ah no! I’m a simple guy. As long as I have some good shiny shoes, a nice well tucked shirt, I’m good to go. I don’t have that DNA of opulence.