Top 25 Most Influential Chairs Of Board Impacting Business

Rita Okuthe is a seasoned business leader with a career spanning over 25 years. She’s a marketing turnaround specialist, renowned for her ability to build and create brands and new business lines in the telecommunications sector.

#22

Rita Okuthe

CHAIR OF BOARD: KENYA PIPELINE COMPANY PLC

“The ageless science of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make the system’s weaknesses irrelevant”

Peter Drucker.

Upon my appointment as a director to the Board of Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) in 2018, I was surprised. Having been a private sector professional all my life, I could not comprehend how I would add value to the public sector and more so at KPC that, at the time fraught with numerous challenges, including a very bad and unreasonably antagonistic media.

Most of my peers and friends warned me that I was likely to go down a slippery slope and if history was anything to go by, many career private sector individuals like myself have never cracked the public service and, instead are often cracked by it.

One of the things that always intrigues me is how well the private sector entities thrive and why the public, rarely. Having worked at Safaricom for 11 years, I was acutely aware of just what resounding success looked and felt like. I often wonder what hinders the public sector from thriving, given that the public and the private sector co-exist in the same business ecosystem. And, though the challenges could be different, both the public and the private sector enjoyed one thing in common, extremely good and well trained and developed human capital.

In fact, I would aver that the public sector has very skilled and highly trained individuals, the one thing the government invests heavily on is in the training and development of the work force.

As a Kenyan who had been a part of the success of building East and Central Africa’s largest company, Safaricom Plc, I was faced with two options upon my appointment: sit on the sidelines and criticize the public sector by pointing out to the nth detail what wasn’t working or be the change I wanted to see and make my country a better place for future generations, one step at a time.

Fast forward, upon my joining the board at KPC, I kicked off my tenure as the chair of the board audit committee. This gave me a bird’s eye-view of the organisation; what was working well and what needed improvement.

Outgoing KPC Board Chair John Ngumi (R) hands over to incoming Board Chair Rita Okuthe (L) in a brief ceremony at Kenpipe Plaza, Nairobi.

I discovered a couple of things. As earlier mentioned, KPC has a highly trained and competent team. In addition, it is easy for the perennial critics to take for granted what KPC does…we keep the country moving, literally. If Kenya was to wake up one morning to a shortage or total lack of petroleum and fuel products like it indeed happen in other countries, the country would grind to a halt.

Secondly, I learned that government has the most elaborate framework of processes and systems to cover every anticipated business need, with the framework so elaborate that there is a cure for every situation under the various government legislative Acts and regulations that govern state corporations.

But there are a few challenges. The systems and processes are not always adhered to by those entrusted with the management of the state corporations. Most SOEs are very inward looking and while the human resource is educated and well trained, commercial acumen in decision making has not been that well-honed. In most of the organizations, culture is the biggest contributor as an impediment to the effective service delivery and this generally impacts negatively on the employing morale.

Unlike most of the SOEs, KPC has had a successful run, thanks to the firm management style and financial discipline introduced by the previous chair of the board, John Ngumi. So, for instance, KPC paid dividends totalling Ksh 18.4 billion to the Exchequer. My challenge as the chair of the board, therefore, is to figure out how the board should provide leadership to build and scale up on this success.

Since I took over as the chair of the board, KPC is evolving into a customer centric SOE, always thinking about the customers first, always. We remind ourselves constantly that we exist to transport petroleum products on behalf of our customers and the more we improve our efficiencies across all customer touch points, the better experience we give our customers.

We are also looking into new lines of business, new revenue streams to grow and diversify our revenue lines into the future.

Thirdly, we are clear that strategy often eats execution for breakfast. So, it is important that we have the right structure, systems, skill set and organizational culture to make KPC nimble and speedy in execution of the growth strategy. As a board, we are committed to providing management with the governance required to execute projects on time, within cost and on schedule.

Rita Okuthe (right) with H.E. Governor of Mombasa Hon.Hassan Ali Joho (left) cut a ribbon to officially open the refurbished Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital new born unit and Ward 9.

Working with the “whole of government” approach which has started off with Kenya Transport and Logistics Network (TLN), we are confident that the synergies between KPC, KPA and KRC will position Kenya as the premier logistics hub in sub-Saharan Africa. If we are able to achieve these national objectives, we will create an alignment of strengths to leverage and support the growth of the country’s economy. It certainly is not an easy task but it will be done.  I am very fortunate to have on my board a team of highly skilled like-minded professionals who are determined to support management in achieving this task.

Rita Okuthe is a seasoned business leader with a career spanning over 25 years. She’s a marketing turnaround specialist, renowned for her ability to build and create brands and new business lines in the telecommunications sector.

She has worked for organizations such as MTN Uganda and Safaricom Plc, where Rita is credited with building the Safaricom brand through memorable ads like “Niko na Safaricom”, “Relax with MPesa” amongst other touch-point and memorable products.

She is credited with creating impactful brand assets such as Safaricom Sevens, Safaricom Jazz and Niko na Safaricom Live whilst driving innovation through new business lines such as Skiza, Lipa Na MPesa; Internet of Things and integrated business solutions.

Ms Okuthe has won several local and international awards and has been nominated as one of the top 50 Global Marketeers by the Global Telecoms Magazine in recognition of her contribution to building the Safaricom brand.

Safaricom Foundation Trustee Rita Okuthe hands over sanitary towels to Gladys Biwott and Baringo County Women Representative Gladwell Cheruiyot.

Rita recently transitioned into corporate governance roles and sits on several public and private sector boards. As chair of KPC, Rita serves as a Director of the Industrial Commercial and Development Company (ICDC), the British Chamber of Commerce in Kenya (BCCK), CarePay Kenya and the Advisory Board of Global Payment Services. She previously served on the boards of JamboJet and the Kenya Advertising Standards Board.

Rita is passionate about empowering women and supporting women in breaking the imagined ‘glass ceiling”. She is an accredited executive coach and mentors executives and entrepreneurs.

She is heavily vested in Corporate Social Investment (CSI) and serves as a trustee of the Safaricom Foundation where she leads the maternal and child health pillar to ensure that the lives of mothers and children are safeguarded. She previously served as a trustee of the SoS International Children’s homes.

Rita holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Nairobi and an MSc degree in Marketing from the Business Faculty of the London School of Economics (LSE).

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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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