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Kenya:From big dreamers to millionaire teenagers, the notable faces of 2013

seremThese are some of the women and men Business Beat felt left an imprint on the Kenyan business scene this year. The list is not conclusive, though it draws from a cross section of people who stood out for what they did and said or what they did not say or do.

We have investors and government officials. Bankers and brewers. Those who made the right moves and those who did not. Those who placed innovation at the forefront of the companies they run and showed big corporates that can also learn to be nimble and move fast.

Finally, we have the entrepreneur, the heartbeat of the Kenyan nation. Entrepreneurs beat so many odds to create jobs and products that one way or another affect us. And for most of them, the rewards have been well worth the struggle.

We bring you the faces of 2013.

Profiles by Julie Masiga, Macharia Kamau, Kagure Gacheche, Emmanuel Were and Jevans Nyabiage

Joshua Oigara: Return of the roar

In 2012, KCB had this great vision that the mobile phone would become a bank branch. But its senior management dilly-dallied. Until another bank — CBA — caught a whiff of the vision, and moved very fast. CBA, together with Safaricom, last year rolled out M-Shwari, a product that helps mobile phone users save and access loans through their phone. From just 30,000 bank accounts in 2011, CBA had five million accounts by October this year. When Mr Oigara, the youngest and possibly most tech-savvy CEO of a listed bank, took the leadership at KCB this year, he had to do something to get a piece of CBA’s pie. He pushed and pushed and in record time, in October, KCB launched M-Benki, which allows customers to open an account through their phones, doing away with the need to visit a bank branch. KCB hopes the platform will help it get to three million accounts by the end of next year, up from the current 2.4 million it has.

Alfred Mutua: Talk is not cheap, after all

When his production company, Golden Dreams, debuted Cobra Squad – the action series we loved to hate — he revolutionised local content generation. And product placement on TV. He was also behind the drama Beba Beba, Passion magazine and authored the book How to be Rich in Africa. He did all this while navigating being Kenya’s first official Government Spokesman, awkward moments and all. He stepped back from his myriad duties to run for Machakos governor this year, a seat he won with 71 per cent of the vote. And then we were exposed to the reality of just how large Dr Mutua’s dreams are. He made his acceptance speech from a customised governor’s podium, just hours after being declared winner. He quickly set up a Machakos County website and ran newspaper adverts with artists’ impressions of “the place to be” — with the dusty trails and barren land transformed into overpasses and skyscrapers. At the time, most of his compatriots were haggling over office space and pornography awareness. He plans to create 500,000 jobs in the next six years, and just recently broke rank with his fellow governors by promising striking health workers better perks in Machakos. Mutua does not seem to be blowing hot air on this one. He has certainly got Machakos voters on his side, internalising the dream. And fans on social media who believe he should be president and take his visions of grandeur national.

James Mworia:  Buy! Buy! Buy!

James Mworia has always preached to investors that Centum’s shares were undervalued at the NSE for quite some time.

“Run and buy Centum shares as soon as the markets open,” he told investors during early morning briefings. Great wealth has come to those who listened and acted on Mworia’s sermons .Centum’s stock is up two and a half times since the beginning of the year to trade at Sh32.

The firm has been on an expansion frenzy this year to keep the good run going. It bought fund manager Genesis Kenya, got into geothermal power, and waded into the bidding war for sisal producer Rea Vipingo. How long will the good times last? Only time will tell.

Sheila Mwanyigah: Sex sells … or does it?

Some women have legs that go on for days — Ms Mwanyigah has acres and acres of brown skin that just won’t quit. And the body to match. Which is probably why Vaseline thought it was a good idea to put her on a billboard in the nude. Okay, semi-nude. But really, who cares? Naked or not, all eyes were on her. They certainly got us sold on the picture, but whether a sexy image translated into actual sales, only Vaseline knows. Knowing Kenyans, unless the company Photoshops its bottom line, that’s highly unlikely.

Vimal Shah: Africa’s latest billionaire

Kenyan mogul and East Africa’s richest man Vimal Shah this year made it onto Forbes Africa’s “50 Richest in Africa” list. He come in 18th, with a $1.6 billion (Sh136 billion) fortune. Mr Shah is CEO of family-owned Bidco Oil Refineries, which manufactures edible oils, detergents, baking powder and canola.

The Sh136 billion fortune is split between Shah, his father and younger brother.

Bidco holds 49 per cent of the  edible oils market in East and Central Africa, with its products distributed in 14 countries across the continent. The company has an annual turnover exceeding Sh42.5 billion.

Victor Wanyama: Big money follows Big Vic

Big Vic, as Victor Wanyama is affectionately called, set a Scottish record transfer when he moved from Celtic to Southampton in July this year. His move cost Sh1.6 billion. It valued him the same as NSE-listed Rea Vipingo, at the time its shares were suspended in November.  Wanyama’s move is expected to open up the Kenyan football pool to international scouts. If the football federation, FKF, can get rid of wheeler-dealers within its organisation.

Already, players from the region find the Kenyan league more attractive in terms of pay, with companies falling over themselves to sponsor local teams. And with the benchmark Big Vic has set, we’re likely to see many more footballers valued as much as firms at the NSE.

Fred “Bonds” Mweni: The king is gone

Fred Mweni lived a fast, furious and flashy lifestyle as managing director of investment advisory firm Tsavo Securities. He, after all, was the king of bond trading at the Nairobi Securities Exchange. When the bond market was vibrant in 2010, as interest rates dropped, Mweni and many others took in money hand over fist. In the years following, Mweni and many of his disciples hustled to find ways to profit from the market. Sadly, the boys got too greedy. Some of the billions bond traders made were illegally acquired, as regulatory authorities have claimed. Mweni was accused of allegedly creating and selling an undisclosed amount of fake Treasury bonds. He received a lengthy 15-year ban from trading in the debt securities, which he continues to contest. The king is gone.

Sarah Serem: Of battles fought and lost

Oh, Sarah, you started off so well. All that earnestness was admirable. But perhaps a little naïve, given who and what you were dealing with. First, was the vicious war MPs started with you. You soon acquiesced to their demands and raised their salaries to almost a million bob. When press reports emerged that you were perhaps the worst paid of all commission chairpersons, we did feel a little sorry for you. What with having to award more than quadruple your salary to folks who are so obviously undeserving. It must have grated on your last nerve. And then the members of county assemblies also took issue with their Sh79,000 salary. You stood by your salary computations for a while, but soon threw the formula out the window and gave in by increasing their allowances.

Perhaps sensing an easy target, county speakers came after you next, with demands for a 127 per cent salary increase. It is a relief that legislators cannot increase their salaries with wild abandon like in the past, but perhaps the country’s coffers will benefit from having a Salaries and Remuneration Commission that takes a tougher stand in future negotiations.

Kamal Budhabhatti: The value in a pay cut

Kamal Budhabhatti won the admiration of Kenyans early this month when he agreed to cut his seven-figure salary to Sh1.

The Craft Silicon founder and chief executive, however, anticipates that what he will earn from a performance-based bonus could easily eclipse his annual salary.

It is not that Craft Silicon, which provides financial software solutions, is struggling. In fact, the firm is worth more than $50 million (Sh4.3 billion).

Stella Kilonzo: Out but not down

The boss lady left the Capital Markets Authority under a cloud. Had she stepped on too many toes? Or was she stepped on too many times? Those were the questions one and a half years ago. Fast forward to this year and Stella is in demand, she is a hot cake. Listed companies are chasing after her to sit on their boards. They are looking to pick her brains on corporate governance and regulatory issues, not only in Kenya but also in the region. She was recently appointed a manager at African Development Bank. Every month, Stella is in the air, heading for a conference or to give a talk on investing in Africa. She might be out of the CMA, but she is far from down.

Munir Ahmed: There is value in ambition

When Munir Ahmed reported to work as managing director of National Bank of Kenya in June last year, he was not alone.

He brought along new staff — some from his previous employer Standard Chartered — and a new model that has seen NBK shift from its heavy reliance on retail customers to corporate customers, a move similar to his former employer’s model.

And with a restructured bank, and revamped branding, Ahmed is now focused on rewriting the bank’s history.

NBK has had a legacy of a large non-performing loans portfolio and not paying dividends to its shareholders, with the dry spell running between 1997 and 2010.

The lender has been through more than a rough patch — while is peers were posting double-digit annual growth and expanding into the region, it was fighting to stay afloat.

Ahmed is on a mission to right the wrongs of the past. He has put the State-owned bank back on the path to growth, with its pre-tax profits rising 119 per cent in the nine months to September, attributed to growth in interest from loans and cost cutting.

Paul Muthaura: When will the acting stop?

Paul Muthaura was to warm the post of CEO of the Capital Markets Authority for at most three months as a successor to Stella Kilonzo was identified. But the powers that be have ensured that Muthaura stayed in the seat for close to a year and a half now. And for the better part of this year, there has been a lot of friction as investment bankers have felt the CMA has become “unapproachable”. It does not help that CMA Chairman Kung’u Gatabaki has been at his combative best, ruffling feathers with ease. For Muthaura, the question is this: When will the acting stop and the real thing begin?

Joel Mwale: The teenage millionaire

This is the teenager who changed lives the lives of more than 5,000 people in a community in Kitale at 16 by helping them access clean drinking water.

And he did not just stop there. When forced to drop out of school for lack of school fees that year, he started a rainwater harvesting and purification project. He bottled the water and sold it across western Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan. Three years later, he banked Sh42 million after selling his 60 per cent share in SkyDrop Enterprises to an Israeli-owned firm.

Aside from the hefty addition to his account, Mr Mwale, now 20, also earned global recognition for his social enterprise.

Paul Kinuthia: The making of a billionaire

This is the year we got to learn a lot more about the billionaire behind the Nice & Lovely product line, Mr Paul Kinuthia, after he closed a deal with the world’s largest beauty company that. He sold InterConsumer Products’ health and beauty arm to French cosmetics multinational L’Oreal.

Mr Kinuthia founded InterConsumer in 1995, with a capital input of Sh3,000 and started making shampoos and conditioners for sale to beauty salons. From manual production machines in a small, dusty room along Nairobi’s Kirinyaga Road, he slowly built a firm that has become a household name in the beauty business.

The standard

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