FOUNDER BOARD CHAIR – KoTDA
A Decade Chairing Boards
The name ‘John Ngumi’ always crops up immediately when conversation turns to corporate board chairs: their personalities and accomplishments.
The investment banking grandmaster remembers his first posting as Chair in 2012, when President Mwai Kibaki appointed him inaugural Chairman of the Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA). While Ngumi hadn’t asked for the appointment, his stint as a founding Board Member of the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), now Communications Authority (CA), coupled with his close involvement in the finance and telecom industry, led him to develop an undying interest in Kenya becoming the technical and digital hub of Africa.
John’s appointment as KoTDA Chairman came as a complete surprise to both him and his then employer, Stanbic Bank. The bank wasn’t exactly thrilled to have him take on this additional role. Nonetheless, John took the bull by its horns, and today is extremely proud of the strong foundation he and his fellow board members laid at KoTDA, which in John’s view is well on its way to realising its potential.
As far as Ngumi is concerned, KoTDA was an ideal place to cut his teeth as Board Chair. There were no legacy issues, and the board was largely left to its own devices in crafting a culture, ethos and style of working.
Some of John’s proudest memories leading the KoTDA board include: grooming Catherine Adeya as interim Chief Executive, an exemplary leader who went on to be part of the global team at the World Wide Web (www) Foundation, established by Tim Berners-Lee, to promote free and open access to the web worldwide; and plucking Eng John Tanui from Huawei to become KoTDA’s founding substantive Chief Executive. Eng Tanui went on to head KoTDA for seven years before being appointed by HE President William Ruto as Principal Secretary (PS) for the State Department of Information, Communication and the Digital Economy.
Ngumi’s three-year term as KoTDA Chair was cut short, six months to its end, by his appointment to be Chairman of the Board of Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), a position that led to him exiting his banking career.
KPC could not have been more different than KoTDA: it was a long established, strategic institution often in the public domain, and one that had a distinct culture and way of doing things. When the Business Monthly EA team asked John about his experience at KPC, he responded by saying, “It was interesting, a real baptism of fire in the leadership of critical public sector entities, and a continuing education in corporate governance.” Certainly, if any institution carved out John’s persona in the public’s mind, it was KPC. In short, it was a very public role, one that also helped redefine the role of Board Chairs in State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
At the time, KPC and other government entities in the energy sector were rocked by corruption scandals and the loss of billions of shillings of taxpayers’ money. Under Ngumi’s five-year chairmanship, KPC emerged as the star SOE in Kenya, responsible for supporting other SOEs and lending a hand to the government’s wider social mandate.
In 2020, John was appointed Chair of the Board of the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC), tasked with spearheading the creation of an integrated transport and logistics network, initially around KPC, Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). Although this initiative has since been redirected, John believes it performed a valuable function in highlighting, to a broader audience, the criticality of seamless logistics and transport for economic development. He served as ICDC Board Chair for a period of two years.
Ngumi has also chaired boards of companies in fibre and digital health insurance, as well as a board member of leading companies in aviation and manufacturing.
Some of the lessons he has picked up during his ‘decade of chairing boards’ include:
- Understanding the critical role boards play in setting the tone, pace and platform for performance by management.
- Acknowledging the ever evolving balance between boards and management.
- The benefits of gender, regional and experience diversity on boards.
- Comprehending each board’s essential role in balancing stakeholder interests in increasingly complex environments.
John holds a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from St Peter’s College, Oxford University in the United Kingdom (UK). He began his banking career as a trainee at the National Westminster Bank in London, UK.
He then returned to Kenya, working for Grindlays Bank, Citibank, Barclays Bank and Standard Bank (Stanbic Bank) in various capacities, culminating in his final position as Head of Investment Banking Coverage for Standard Bank in East Africa. John had a critical role in setting up market leading regional investment banking franchises for Citibank and Standard Bank.
Ngumi led path-breaking transactions in diverse sectors: telecommunications, real estate, energy, financial services, agribusiness, manufacturing, aviation, energy, power and infrastructure, and pioneered many of the financing techniques currently in use in East Africa.
Additionally, he has been a key player in setting up a consultative framework between market players and the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), which led to the successful relaunch of the Kenya Government listed Treasury Bond programme, and its rapid development to become one of the mainstays of the Government’s debt raising strategy.
Upon his retirement from banking in 2015, John co-founded Eagle Africa Capital Partners, a financial advisory boutique, where he serves as Executive Director.