Top 25 Most Impactful Chairs of Boards Influencing Business in 2023

Spice World has grown to where it now offers three distinct brands with over 50 products within the categories of grains, pulses, lentils, flour, rice and pasta.

#20

Beju Shah

BOARD CHAIR – SPICE WORLD

‘THE HUMBLE ENABLER’

Beju Shah is a strong but humble leader who creates enabling working environments that encourage the development of products, the stimulation of sales, and the growth of people. He is a passionate entrepreneur who has taken his family-owned business Spice World to scale, growing it into a market leader in the food sector.

Beju’s humility has kept him away from the limelight, as he prefers to work behind the scenes while making an impact on the businesses he is a part of, and on the Kenyan food industry more broadly.

His way is to influence others through guidance and empowerment, rather than through the exercise of power and authority. Shah achieves this by engaging in open and candid discussions at both strategic and lower levels, setting him apart as a Board Chairman of unusually great benign influence.

Over the years, Beju Shah has developed unique practical knowledge and experience that covers a wide portfolio of relevant topics, from agriculture to manufacturing, from quality and safety to technological innovation, and of course, leadership and teamwork. This, plus his core values, has moulded him to become the courageous and inspirational leader he is.

Spice World has grown to where it now offers three distinct brands with over 50 products within the categories of grains, pulses, lentils, flour, rice and pasta. Shah’s passion for healthy nutrition, his concern to provide safe, quality products, his enabling leadership style and his business savvy have led to the “Butterfly” brand and its range of products becoming a household name. Beju’s leadership style has enabled the business to flourish even in the current uncertain economic times and their accompanying tough market conditions.

Under Beju’s stewardship, Spice World has grown to employ over 250 people directly. The company supports many thousands more across its value chain, including over 15,000 farmers around the East African Community. Beju has been at the forefront of expanding markets for Kenyan-manufactured products, and he has worked hard to ensure that the outputs of local farmers find good markets for them – including through Spice World’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects.

He has led Spice World for the last 30 years, having succeeded his late father, who founded the company in 1983 and whose mentorship shaped much of his style as a leader.

Beju has shown that a family-owned business can have shareholders who allow the business to operate and grow consistently without interference, and without micro-management by him as Chair.  He has achieved what is rare among family-owned entities, having delegated the day-to-day running of the business to a hand-picked, professional management team – none of whom are his relatives. What allowed for this? A high level of trust and faith in his dedicated team, where he largely questions and provides strategic guidance. Meanwhile, Shah encourages and expects the team to play a leading role in offering inputs into strategy, and to fully own it and its execution.

More recently, Beju has created a formal board of directors comprising himself, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the Chief Operating Officer (COO), the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and two independent directors. The board meets regularly, as it should, and is critical in steering the organisation. Heads of departments are invited to come and present to the directors, and useful conversations follow, providing great value in developing their skills. They are then enabled to cascade the learning to other levels.

Key to the open communication across departments and between levels has been the development of the emotional intelligence of all concerned – as possessed so fully by Beju Shah himself, a role model for dealing respectfully with everyone across all levels.  

Another important aspect of the firm’s professionalisation has been the putting in place of strong and clear governance structures to ensure transparency and accountability, reinforcing Spice World’s long-term sustainability. For a company that prides itself on its ethical approach to business, the challenges of such openness are greatly diminished – as there is nothing to hide. It is no exaggeration to say that the company is way ahead of the game on matters environment, social and governance (ESG), including in how it deals fairly with both internal and external stakeholders, and in being consciously well-aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN’s SDGs).

Beju Shah is a Board Member and Treasurer of the Cereal Millers Association (CMA). Here, he contributes actively in protecting the interests of cereal millers in Kenya through advocating for the creation of an enabling environment for members, while ensuring the highest industry standards in training and capacity development, safety and quality assurance.

According to the  Cereal Millers Association (CMA) CEO Paloma Fernandes, “Beju Shah is an accomplished and successful businessman who has been a transformational leader on the board of CMA, an association that represents the grain milling industry comprising of varied wheat, maize and pulses in Kenya, with a consumer base of over 35 million. Beju has impressed us with his rational thinking at the board. He has been instrumental in moving us away from being merely transactional to becoming a more strategic board, with a comprehensive plan for the next five to 10 years in line with the vision and mission of the Association and its members.”

Additionally, Beju is Chairman of Roho Hospitality, the parent company of “Fonda”, an authentic Mexican restaurant chain in Kenya. His leadership and keen business acumen have steered Roho Hospitality to successfully navigate the challenges faced in the hospitality industry over the COVID-19 pandemic period to survive and indeed thrive. He also sits on the boards of a number of property development and management companies, allowing them to benefit from his enlightened leadership style.

With an undergraduate degree from the University of Manchester (UMIST) in Management Science, an Executive MBA from the Stanford School of Business, a graduate of Sirdar’s Applied Directorship Programme and having successfully completed the Effective Director Programme on Board Governance at Strathmore University, he has a strong educational background in management, leadership and governance.

This background, coupled with the experience Beju Shah has garnered over the last 30 years as an entrepreneur across multiple businesses, has shaped him into becoming the influential Chairman he is, at the forefront of food manufacturing and broader sustainable economic development.

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Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Kenya’s Dr Hanningtone Gaya, holds a PhD in Commerce in Business Management from Nelson Mandela University (NMU), is viewed as an authority in country branding and is the founder chairman of the Brand Kenya Board.

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