Top 25 Most Transformative Leaders Impacting Business

Evidently, Dr. Rakesh Rao’s success has much to do with his management style and acumen, with his commitment to the customer experience, another key attribute.


Dr. Rakesh Rao


For the longest time, paint in Kenya was just paint. Until one day a man bestrode the land and changed the way we see and interact with paint. Dr. Rakesh Rao is his name, the current Group CEO of Crown Paints Kenya Plc.

According to those who know him, his moment of truth came the day he realized that paint in Kenya, is treated as an afterthought, coming at the tail end of projects and allocated only 1 per cent of the total costs! It is the day Dr. Rao knew something had to be done.

Looking around now, with all the development in the paint industry, it is clear that something has been done. Because, today thanks to his vision, building developers are taking a keener interest in the quality of paint, number of coats of paints to apply and the type of paint suitable according to the development soil site. Thanks to Dr. Rakesh Rao, the appearance of buildings, after the last coat of paint, including colour coding, is now of prime importance. You search for an industry transformative leader; Dr. Rakesh Rao is one in the building construction industry.

For starter, he has changed the Nairobi’s skyline. From monotonous blue and white and yellow, the site to behold is a rainbow of quality colors, textures and designs.

Who really is this man? This man is one of the 25 CEOs we are celebrating in this issue, the one our research indicated, was voted CEO of the year 2014 at the Company of the Year Awards (COYA), the man who was shortlisted as a notable Africa Business Leader by CNBC, the same man who led Crown Paints Kenya Plc to enjoy their name by being crowned overall winner Company of the Year Award (COYA) in 2016. We took time to talk to him for this recognition and this is his story.

Dr. Rakesh came to Kenya in 2005 to head Crown Paints Kenya Plc. He joined the company at a time when the company had been around for four decades and could do with some revamping. Turnover then was touching on Ksh 1.2billion, but with little or no regional presence. Employee morale was at its lowest.

Dr. Rakesh quickly settled down to work. First off, the grid, he laid down his vision, put together a vibrant and dedicated team to drive innovation and change, and set his eyes on changing a firm and an industry that had underperformed for decades.

At the time of his joining Crown Paints Kenya, the company was one of just a painted walls business. Dr. Rakesh had caught the paint bug, saw the potential and transformed the wall to a surfaces business, by expanding to areas like roof and floor paint, waterproofing solutions, adhesives and industrial and designer coatings to grow the business and introduce new revenue streams.

In addition to a focus on paints, he predicted that advanced paint technology was the future. He was quick to tap into this and spearheaded the introduction of quality products which offer longevity as being more cost effective and economical on the long term for the consumer. He not only though of the bottom line for the company. He revelled at the bottom line as well, how he would unleash superior customer experience by offering quality, long life and value for money, that Crown Paints are now known for.

He therefore introduces a number of new technology products, among them Crown Silicone, an additive from Germany which gives Crown paint products dust and water repellence and Crown Antibacterial paint that protects from infectious germs and perfect for high traffic areas. Wherever you meet him, Dr. Rakesh Rao talks endlessly and knowledgeably on technology and his transformation in the paint manufacturing and distribution industry.

In management, Crown Paints was the first to leverage Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution SAP to drive operation efficiency and growth, giving the business data analytics to enhance decision making, efficiency of the operations to better serve customers through better supply to customers and fill rate. Probably this is how he caught the eyes of the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM).
In the home décor space, introduction of the Crown Colour App to give homeowners the power to pick paint colours and draw inspiration from our curated colour schemes is a novel in the country.

Today, Crown Paints has grown in leaps and bound; its premium segment has grown from 48% to 65%, turnover revenues have grown from the Ksh1.2 billion when Dr. Rakesh Rao ascended to the helm as CEO to Ksh. 9 billion. In addition, Crown Paints remains the leading paint and surface coating manufacturer in East Africa, with diverse products and with a regional presence in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. Dr. Rakesh Rao has so far spearheaded the launch of 17 new products which contribute to an additional 19% of revenue and growth.

Evidently, Dr. Rakesh Rao’s success has much to do with his management style and acumen, with his commitment to the customer experience, another key attribute. He subscribes to the idea of ‘the Customer is King’ and that serving the customer is the only way to guaranteed success and corporate sustainability. To this end, he says, quality is a way of life at Crown Paints and he has engrained this through Operational Excellence strategies implemented through Six Sigma, Kaizen, ISO and Up Your Service tools.

Focus on quality is meant that the business has had to invest in its people, through employee continued development and training and by instilling a high-performance culture. In his own words, Dr Rakesh Rao says, “to become the number one brand in the market is easy, however; maintaining the position is so difficult, as a result we always focus on creating brand value through innovation, unrivalled customer service and staying customer centric in-service delivery”.

Another milestone for Kenya that Dr. Rakesh Rao has contributed is the rise of the employee compliment from 150 to over 1,000 to date, in quality full time employment.

Most of these additional employees are in ensuring customer-centric culture. “Our strategy around growth and expansion remains to take our products closer to customers and support our dealers to increase their sales in new innovative ways. This enhancement in customer experience has been through the introduction of a call centre and a new world-class experiential showroom that boasts of a virtual color visualizer, a dedicated color consultant and a computerized tinting machines which 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,’ Dr Rakesh adds.

However, another striking attribute of Dr. Rakesh Rao, is his passion for the local community; first the community where Crown Paints works and operates and second, the greater community in which Crown Paints ultimately exists.

He sees himself and Crown Paints as a product of the community and works to uplift the less fortunate, acknowledging that the society will not thrive without those who have giving back to the community around them. This social consciousness has seen the company spend millions of shillings annually to transform lives of the less fortunate. Beyond this, his commitment to up-skill painters on technical and soft skills and his desire to empower painters through the first painter loyalty program in East Africa dubbed ‘Team Kubwa’, marks him out as a man committed to improving the lives of youth in East Africa.

“Painters remain significant partners in our value chain and therefore, when the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, we cushioned their financial burden by introducing redemption of Naivas e-vouchers and MPESA instantly anywhere, anytime to safeguard them during this tough economic period.” Along with this, Team Kubwa Sacco was also born to instill the saving culture in painters, most of whom would rather live hand to mouth.

Dr Rakesh has a passion for golf to wind down and earmarks quality time for family. This busy man, a captain of industry in effect, is able to do all this, by calmly mastering the art of work/life balance, a rare feat among his peers. Dr. Rakesh Rao summed up the interview with his mantra, ‘ being passionate, honest, humble and most of all, God fearing”.


Sales Revenue Growth – Increased annual sales from $10m to $100m since 2005 till date.

Production Capacity – increased annual production capacity from 5m liters to 45m liters.

Regional Expansion – Led Crown Paints (under the name Regal Paints) to establish plants in Uganda and as Crown Paints in Tanzania and Rwanda to expand opportunities in the East African Market for brand growth.

Profitability – Improved profitability from $0.3m to $6m since 2005.

Share Price – Increased share price from Ksh 7 to Ksh 45 and improved market cap by 8-fold.

Market Share – Improved market share from 48% to 65% in Kenya for premium segment.

New Products – Launched 17 new products to increase revenue significantly since 2005.

Technology – First to launch digital platforms for home décor in East Africa i.e., Painters’ loyalty program and mobile applications such as the Crown Colour App.

Operations – Successfully implemented Operational Excellence tools such as as Six Sigma, Kaizen, ISO, BSC and UP Your Service for continuous improvement.

Other Awards

2016 – Overall Winner COYA Company of the Year Award

2014 – Winner COYA CEO of the Year Award

2013, 2014, 2015 – Finalist CNBC Businessman of the year Award

2013 – Winner COYA Innovation & Information Management Award

2012 –Winner COYA Financial Management Award

2011 – Shortlisted CNBC Businessman of the year Award


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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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