Dr Rakesh Rao
CEO CROWN PAINTS KENYA PLC
Established in 1958, Crown Paints Kenya Plc is widely recognized as the undisputed market leader in East Africa’s paint sector, commanding a market share of more than 65% in both the premium and economy market segments. The Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) listed paint manufacturer produces more than 3 million liters of paint per month, operates more than 3000 retail outlets in the region, and serves a diverse base of individual, public sector and private sector customers in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda.
Although Crown Paints has been around for six decades, the last 15 years have been the most defining in the company’s history. Crown Paints has essentially grown more than 10 times since 2005, when it employed just 150 full time staff versus the more than 1,000 today.
In 2005, annual turnover was Sh1.5 billion, a fraction of the record Sh9 billion achieved in 2020 against the backdrop of the covid-19 Pandemic. It is also in the last 10 years that the Crown Paints made its bold foray outside Kenya to other markets across East Africa.
A CEO with a growth mindset
While the boom in the building and construction sector over the past 15 to 20 years has played a significant role in Crown Paints’ explosive growth over this period, the strategic leadership of the Group CEO, Dr. Rakesh Rao, has been equally instrumental in catapulting the firm to success.
Speaking to Business Monthly for this recognition, Dr. Rao noted that when he joined Crown Paints as CEO in 2005, he made it his number one priority to promote a growth mindset within the firm.
“I came with a growth mindset and put a lot of emphasis on sales and customer obsession,” said the CEO, who describes himself as a natural salesperson. “Revenue is the lifeblood of a business; get it right and everything else eventually falls into place,” Dr. Rao stresses.
However, before he could commence the demanding task of growing the firm’s top line, Dr. Rao had to first transform business processes and step-change the culture. “Staff morale was low, our management systems, including the IT infrastructure, needed upgrading, and our product range was very limiting. I put my energy in correcting all these in my early days as the CEO,” he explains.
The results speak for themselves. Crown Paints today holds the distinction of being the first company in East Africa to have received the triple ISO certification: Integrated Management System (IMS) Certifications–a testament to the world-class management practices Dr. Rao has been able to embed at the firm.
“We’ve invested in technology over the years and the training of our teams. We’ve also invested in Research and Development to boost product innovation,” he notes. The company today has more than 17 different products, from just 3 in 2005. It is also considered an employer of choice, having earned the prestigious accolade of being Company of the Year Award 2016, among other laurels.
Dividends of innovation
Dr. Rao explains that part of the reason Crown Paints is so successful is that it constantly focuses on innovating with a view to exceeding customers’ expectations. “Back in 2005 there were only 10 paint companies.
Today, they are more than 70. It is a competitive market, so you have to constantly innovate and differentiate yourself by giving the customer quality products and experiences that exceed their expectation,” he notes.
As an example, Crown Paints was the first paints company to launch a Colour App which is available on any Android or Apple device. The app has significantly redefined the customer experience. You can download the Crown Paints entire range of color shade cards on your mobile phone via the app.
Most of the time, when you want to buy paint, you must go to a shop, choose a color, and it is very difficult to communicate what color you are seeing versus what color the people at home are imagining. Crown Paints color app changes that.
The company also operates world-class experiential showrooms that boast of a virtual color visualizer, a dedicated color consultant and computerized tinting machines that can dispense a range of over 6,000 shades in minutes, thereby making the showrooms a one stop shop and experience to behold for all Crown Paints products.
On the product front, the company recently launched the granite finish paint. Granite countertops, slabs and tiles have become a popular way of bringing natural beauty, character, and style into people’s homes. However, natural granite is quite expensive, heavy and requires a lot of care to remain appealing.
“We’ve introduced new Crown natural granite finish paint which is 100 percent alternative to granite at a fraction of the cost,” notes Dr. Rao. The paint is water and dust resistant, retains color, bridges cracks, is non-combustible and can be used on a wide variety of surfaces.
Put people first
Dr. Rao says that a fundamental part of his leadership and management principles is putting people first and at the core center of the business. “We take good care of our staff and are intentional about rewarding excellence and good performance,” he opines.
The CEO notes that he has collaborated with his HR department to create an elaborate and attractive incentive scheme where all staff get generous bonuses if performance targets are met.
“Its inspiring to be at the factory and hear even casuals talking about how we are tracking against our targets and what we can do to achieve them. There is strong alignment among our staff about what we want to achieve and what we need to do to get there thanks to the incentive program we have.”Dr Rakesh Rao
The company’s principle of putting people first extends beyond its staff. “We are also working to improve the lives of painters who use our products through the Team Kubwa Initiative,” asserts Dr. Rao.
Through the Team Kubwa initiative, Crown Paints onboards painters who buy its products on to its system and reaches out to them with training. The company has more than 150,000 painters on its data base and has trained more than 40,000 of them, helping improve their skills and granting access to opportunities to elevate their earnings and social status.
Crown Paints is also a big supporter of community projects, especially education. “Education makes all the difference as far as the future of our children and the world goes. This is something very close to my heart,” says Dr. Rao.
Among the dozens of CSR initiatives undertaken by the firm in schools is the recent painting of new classrooms and donation of desks, water tanks and learning equipment in Moyo Primary School Kajiado. Before the intervention, learners were attending class under trees. Records indicate that since the school was reopened with new infrastructure, there has been an increase in the number of students from 25 to 75.
I pray a lot
When not at work, Dr. Rao keeps himself busy at the golf course. “I like the game, but I also like networking at the golf course. I meet a lot of different people, including architects and developers who tell me what they like or don’t like, and I get many new ideas from these conversations.” Dr. Rao has also spent the last few years completing his PhD in Global Leadership and Management from the European International University in Paris.
Despite the busy schedule and packed diary, Dr. Rao jealously guards his family time and religious time. “I pray a lot. My religious obligations are important to me and believe we must give to society what we have been blessed with. I also believe that strong families lead to strong and stable societies and dedicate a lot of time to my family. My family has been a strong pillar of strength and support,” he notes.
With regards to what the future holds, Dr. Rao says that over the next decade, his ambition is to see turnover double to at least KES 20 Bn. “I may not be here in the next 10 years, but I am confident we have set a strong foundation and we have the right culture and people to double our business over this period,” he concludes with a chuckle.
Dr. Rakesh Rao is 2022 BUSINESS MONTHLY EAST AFRICA TOP 25 MOST INFLUENTIAL CEO IMPACTING BUSINESS