Top 25 Most Influential Chairs Of Board Impacting Business

Rita Kavashe

Rita Kavashe's mandate includes overseeing BAT’s delivery of its A Better Tomorrow ambition by addressing the health impact of the business, whilst also meeting demand from East African consumers for potentially reduced risk alternatives to cigarettes.


Rita Kavashe


According to Agatha Juma, a strong curator and director at Engage Kenya, Rita Kavashe is absolutely her woman crush! Agatha uses the power of narrative and engagement to drive leadership influence and business impact. She adds, ‘Rita is Boss lady who’s as real and authentic as they come.’’

Interviewing Rita Kavashe, hot on the heels of her recognition as one of the Top 25 CEOs impacting business in Kenya by the Business Monthly 2021 Jan/Feb magazine edition, she had the following to say of her new role as the first ever woman to ascend to the coveted seat as chair of the board of BAT Kenya, ‘My mandate includes overseeing BAT’s delivery of its A Better Tomorrow ambition by addressing the health impact of the business, whilst also meeting demand from East African consumers for potentially reduced risk alternatives to cigarettes. Transforming the tobacco industry through offering these potentially reduced risk alternatives, whilst also growing BAT Kenya’s contribution to the Big 4 Agenda through the local manufacture of these alternative nicotine categories is a major priority for the business.’ Ms Kavashe continues, “the second big focus right now is ensuring that environment, social and corporate governance (ESG) concerns are front and centre in all that BAT Kenya does.

Giving priority to ESG will help to better determine the future performance of BAT Kenya since it is the framework for assessing the impacts of the sustainability and ethical practices at BAT Kenya. In this way, we will be guaranteeing and improving on the compliance framework and practices that have been in place over the last five years.

As a responsible organization, BAT Kenya will continue to support the business agenda in tackling illicit trade in order to maximize government revenue from excise and returning lost revenue to the government.

Lastly, Rita is driving a robust and inclusive people agenda enabled by a great place to work. This includes BAT Kenya’s commitment to gender diversity and nurturing the future leaders of Kenya, evidenced by increased female representation at all levels of the business and the appointment of the first Kenyan MD in decades.

As a fourtime certified Global Top Employers Institute (2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021) employee and recipient of the Best Employer in Kenya 2017 and 2018 by the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), it is an area where the business is rightly proud of its achievements, and strives to do even better.

At the Kenya Roads Board (KRB) Rita reveals that the management of the funds has improved tremendously, with the funds currently at Kshs. 80Billion which has largely aided in the maintenance of 48,000kms of national trunk roads and 15,000Kms of county roads in Kenya through the approved Annual Public Roads Program (APRP).

Her board oversaw the review of the KRB Act 2019 which gave KRB express borrowing powers that enabled KRB to mobilize long-term resources in the issuance of a Fuel Levy backed Road Infrastructure Bond in the Kenyan capital market worth Kshs. 30 Billion. This resulted in KRB becoming a third Generation Road Fund (GRF).

In the area of public policy and governance KRB regularly carry out annual technical, financial and performance audits to ensure value for money of the RMLF fund. KRB also initiated the Kenya Roads Board Graduate Engineers Training program, currently in its 2nd cohort in the Road Authorities with a total of 34 new graduate engineers.

KRB also completed the finalization of the Road Register Review in 2020 by mapping 161,000kms of the classified road network and 85,000kms of new roads and narrow roads in addition to the regular overseeing of axle load control within the whole country.

Under Rita as chair of board, KRB attained the ISO 9001:2015 certification in 2018 through the Kenya Bureau of Standards and managed to complete enhancement of the ICT systems in time and within estimated costs.

Rita is seen as a thought leader in the roads sector in recognition to her strengthening the working relationship of the KRB with other related agencies and key industry players through regular joint meetings with board members of the road authorities and courtesy calls on the County Governors.

In creating and sharing social value, KRB has to date distributed and funded the training and licensing of boda boda operators as below, with 1000 helmets and 1500 reflective jackets distributed in Nyamira, Kakamega and Elgeyo Marakwet Counties. 25 boda boda operators have been trained and licensed in Nakuru County, 50 in Nyamira County, and 78 are currently undergoing training in Kakamega County.

Ms Kavashe leads the research initiatives in the roads sector that includes chairing of the chairman’s leadership forum (CLF), funding and overseeing the completion of a trial section of 1km cobblestone road in Machakos County and funding Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) research in the design and development of emulsion treated base equipment (ETBE).

Another achievement is the hosting of the 2nd International Transport & Road Research. Rita Kavashe’s influence as a chair of boards impacting business, is perhaps summarised by an article dated 26 September 2020 in The East African, in which she is best described as shattering stereotypes in the world of vehicles and (roads-addition mine) areas for a long time the domain of men. But for Rita Kavashe, Njiraini avers, they are her world, and she understands them perfectly.

Rebecca Mbithi, MD Family bank (left) and Rita Kavashe present the signed asset finance partnership agreement on 29th June, 2020.

In this interview, Rita states that it has not been an easy journey. Many times, she has encountered situations in which people would call seeking to speak to the managing director, and when she got on the line, they would ask to speak to the MD, not the secretary. She has also sat at male-dominated auto forums where their facial expressions betray their discomfort because of her presence, the article posits.

According to Njiraini, despite being seen as an outsider, years of steering Isuzu, formerly General Motors East Africa, to great heights, and her commitment to the growth of the auto industry in general, has earned her respect from her peers. “Initially, there was doubt about whether I would make it. Eventually, they realised I was making it, and therefore I earned their respect,” adds Ms Kavashe in the article.

In the hitherto male dominated industry, earning recognition from motor industry players resulted in Rita being elected chairperson of the Kenya Vehicle Manufacturers Association (KVMA) and the Kenya Motor Industry Association (KMIA), positions she has held at different times. In the interview with TEA, Rita opines that her career path was made easier because she was working for a global company committed to gender diversity in the workplace and that this meant that development of female employees was central to the firm’s values.

Rita adds that more importantly, she has been an embodiment of the fact that hard work and determination is rewarding, irrespective of someone’s background. The article further postulates that when Rita joined the automotive industry, she did not have an engineering background so she had to learn on the job through direct interaction with colleagues. She quickly learnt the acronyms, models and engineering concepts.

Njiraini adds that in a 2017 interview with CNN, Ms Kavashe was referred to as “The queen of commercial trucks in Kenya”. We should, ‘’ and roads,’’. Rita Kavashe grew up in Taita Taveta County, in South-eastern Kenya.

“I did not imagine I would be where I am, not at all,” she says, adding that growing up her father instilled in her the virtues of creating relationships, leaving a good impression, working hard and, when in a position of leadership, serving with dedication. Going by the performance of Isuzu East Africa, the lessons from her father have borne fruit.

World marathon record holder and Isuzu D-Max Brand Ambassador Eliud Kipchoge (L) with Rita Kavashe present the endorsed one-year partnership agreement at a ceremony held at Isuzu EA Plant on 22nd October, 2020.

Today, Rita Kavashe is also the managing director (MD) of the biggest auto assembler in Eastern and Central Africa, with a market share of 44.5 per cent, up from 15 per cent when Ms Kavashe took over as the MD of the then General Motors East Africa in 2010.

Rita Kavashe holds a bachelor’s degree in Education from Moi University and Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Nairobi (UoN). She also attended the prestigious Harvard Business School leadership programme in 2013. Due to her penchant of walking the talk in corporate governance and instilling ethics in the business she leads, Rita Kavashe is a much sought-after corporate honcho by numerous blue-chip companies, including those listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE).

Rita always adds value to boards she sits on and brings high voltage networks, diversity in gender and infuses the often much needed skill set due to her exposure, experience and board background. Rita also serves as on the board of Bamburi Cement, is the vice-chair of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), and also sits on the boards of the Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Board and the University of Eldoret Endowment Trust Board of Trustees.

While leading Isuzu has been both a wonderful and interesting experience, the opportunity to serve on boards has given her the chance to encourage other women to take up board positions, and mentor young girls looking up to her for inspiration.

Today Kavashe is a champion of the Women on Boards Network, which addresses issues on how more women can get ready for board positions. She is also an executive coach certified by the Academy of Executive Coaches (AOEC), UK, a credential she uses to mentor young girls on matters of career and family, among other issues, and give them the much-needed inspiration that they too can rise to the peak.

“I am not only attractive to young girls but also to women at my own level. We draw inspiration from each other,” Kavashe says.

In 2017, the President of Kenya awarded Rita Kavashe the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) for exemplary service to the country as a business leader, an award bestowed on her personally by the President at a State House. We will be seeing more of this lady from Taita-Taveta Country, Coast Province of Kenya.


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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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