CHAIR OF BOARD: OCCIDENTAL INSURANCE COMPANY
Mike Eldon, according to friends and peers, is an emotionally mature people’s leader, management consultant and coach. Tall and elegant, mostly in well-tailored business suits and matching ties (at least before Covid-19 pandemic), and crispy light-colored sweaters on working Saturdays, Mike’s influence customarily extends beyond specific appointments and assignments.
For instance, as Business Daily’s longest serving columnist, Mike is considered an indispensable thought leader by many, whom you ignore at your own peril. A practical strategist in all aspects of his life, business and personal, Mike reinforces his written work by his many appearances on broadcast media, where his oratory prowess, gentle demeanor, intellect and wit easily blended to deliver maximum effect on NTV’s am live morning talk shows, as an expert panelist on the State of the Economy and the Leadership Forum programmes.
Due to these exposures and performances behind the podium, Mike is one of the most sought after as a public speaker and facilitator on a wide variety of topics.
With a university education that spanned two globally prominent institutions – University College London, where he graduated in Economics, and the London Business School, where he attended the Sloan Fellowship Executive Master’s program – Mike is very comfortable in academia as an adjunct distinguished faculty, the latest of which includes the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communication. This education and the subsequent workshop and leadership experience catapulted him into the top echelons of leadership development as a co-founder of the Institute for Responsible Leadership, which was launched in London in 2019.
Mike became a management consultant, focusing on strategy, culture and change management after phasing out of the ICT industry fifteen years ago, after reflecting on how much of what he, as a non-techie, had been focusing on, leading his own people, making the business case for investing in technology, and developing his clients’ ability to deal with the disruptive change generated whenever new technology and systems were being introduced.
Through The DEPOT (The Dan Eldon Place Of Tomorrow), which he formed in 1994 as a living memorial to his son Dan and whose founder chairman and lead consultant he became, he has worked in many sectors with both international and local organizations, and in both the private and public sectors – much of the latter through partners such as the World Bank and GIZ.
He has been invited to join boards of strategic institutions after offering exemplary services and value addition as a consultant. These include the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), whose prime focus is to see the actualization of the demographic dividend; Occidental Insurance, where – as with AFIDEP – the relationship began when he helped them develop their strategic plan and also to meet industry regulatory requirements and good corporate governance standards; and Davis & Shirtliff, the water and energy sector leaders, where he has been a director since 2003 and currently chairs their Board Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee.
His commitment to the education sector is exemplified through having served on the council of the Kenya Education Management Institute, which is responsible for the capacity building of head-teachers and education officers; and having chaired the council of KCA University, which he took on a few days before its chartering and where his term ended last year, by which time KCA had become the second largest private sector university in Kenya, with a formidable reputation thanks to its uplifting culture… actively nurtured by the towering chairman of the university council in partnership with its visionary vice chancellor, Prof Noah Midamba.
In 2015, as Occidental Insurance Company was deciding to re-strategize towards a more ambitious growth trajectory, it invited Mike Eldon to facilitate the development of a strategic plan that would guide it to the next level. The positive impression he made during the strategy retreat, and the good chemistry that developed between the directors and him, led Occidental Insurance to invite him to join their board as an independent non-executive director, in line with the emerging good corporate governance best practice and insurance regulatory requirements.
It was not because he enjoyed a background in the insurance sector but, as he would show during and since the strategy event, thanks to his ability to get the best out of those with whom he works, consistently bringing his colleagues together as a high-performance team that enjoys working to a common vision and with healthy values.
Mike Eldon took over as chairman from Jimnah Mbaru (one of the leading investment bankers in Kenya), a major shareholder. Alongside fellow directors, Jimnah wished to comply with contemporary good governance practice, even as he continues to focus on the company’s sustainable growth as a director.
Since Mike took over the helm Occidental Insurance, a company that was incorporated in 1984 and which started operations in 1987, registering Ksh 11 million in gross premium booked in its first year, has expanded its broker network, moved into retail business and begun opening branches around the country. The gross premium underwritten has since rose to Ksh 2.6 Billion as at 2018.
Under its current board and outstanding managing director Asok Ghosh, Occidental Insurance has benefitted from good corporate governance practice that has guided its steady but not unduly dramatic growth. For it has taken great care to say “no” when it is prudent to do so, and in particular to the all-too-common undue undercutting of premiums that make claims payment unsustainable.
Asok Ghosh is an accomplished economics graduate and a Fellow of the Indian Insurance Institute, who enjoys vast experience in all the insurance sectors, and thanks to him and to active board support Occidental Insurance has been attracting bright young recruits while developing and empowering staff at all levels.
Relying on high-trust relationships, it has been reinforcing an organizational culture that has seen Occidental’s reputation as a reliable and responsive organization, enabling it to soar higher within a culturally diverse and complex industry.
During his time as a director and now chairman, and as is customary for him, Mike has applied his skill of grasping the essence of any issue and articulating it in easy-to-understand ways, both within the company and with external stakeholders.
In much of his work, whether as a chairman or as a management consultant, he typically sees himself as an energy aligner, helping others to develop their non-technical skills, not least their emotional intelligence, so they can negotiate win-win outcomes. This implies a give-and-take culture, where consensus is built around decisions that everyone buys into and owns. His role is to act as coach and mediator, building positive and ethnical mindsets that allow people to enjoy working together, being trustworthy and hence trusted and empowered. In doing so, Mike’s default style is to engage with a light touch, and to allow his wit and sense of humour to generate a friendly atmosphere.
Mike is at ease with anyone, from anywhere, however senior or junior, irrespective of age, gender or how many letters they place after their name. This is perhaps explained by his diverse background. His parents are from Romania, so the first language he spoke – in which he is still fluent – was Romanian. But he was born in Israel (then Palestine); brought up in England; and moved to Kenya in 1977, where he has lived ever since.
He says it was joining the Rotary Club of Nairobi in 1978 that integrated him into this country (he became the Club’s then youngest ever Chairman in 1986), and marrying Evelyn Mungai further helped him see Kenya as his home. (He was the editor of her book From Glass Ceilings to Open Skies.)
It was British computer multinational ICL that brought him to Kenya, to be the general manager of their subsidiary here. He became a pioneer for promoting ICT (long before the acronym was coined), including as Founder Chairman of the Kenya ICT Federation, and participating in the development of the country’s first ICT policy – within the 2005 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.
He is also a champion for modern management practices, not least when he was chairman of the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) at around that time.
It was these kinds of positions that led him to be a founder director in 2003 of the private sector umbrella body KEPSA, rising to be its vice chairman and now an active member of its Advisory Council.
Mike is a founder chairman of the British Business Association of Kenya (now the Kenya Chapter of the British Chamber of Commerce) and a past independent non-executive director of Hotpoint Appliances.
Those who have worked closely with Mile Eldon over the years aver that he reminds them in all ways but physique of Peter Ferdinand Drucker, the Austrian management consultant, educator, and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation. But Mike has gone steps further; adding media and ICT to his menu.