Top 60 Most Transformative CEOs Impacting The Economy

Crispin is the first Kenyan to hold this esteemed position since the firm was founded some 116 years ago.




As Kenya commemorates her Diamond Jubilee this year, Crispin Achola marks three years at the helm of BAT’s business in Kenya and the region. He oversees a vast cluster of over 15 markets, including Uganda, Rwanda, Somalia, Mauritius, La Reunion, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola.

Notably, Crispin is leading the transformation of BAT into a multicategory consumer goods business, anchored on the Company’s purpose to build A Better TomorrowTM by reducing the health impact of its business. This is by no means an easy task and given the progress made thus far, he has earned this spotlight in our profile of top 60 CEOs transforming Kenya.

From his debut at BAT in 1999 to his appointment as Managing Director (MD) of BAT Kenya in 2021 – the first Kenyan to hold this esteemed position since the firm was founded some 116 years ago – Crispin has consistently driven meaningful change. In keeping with this, he was part of several corporate leaders appointed by HE the President, Dr William Ruto, to the national Drought Response Committee in 2022.

His visionary leadership has catalysed a profound shift within BAT Kenya, placing sustainability at the front and centre of the Company’s operations. According to Cris – as he is fondly referred to – the focal point remains steadfastly on reducing the health impact of the business. As important is driving excellence in environmental management, delivering a positive social impact, and ensuring robust corporate governance across the business – underpinned by creating a vibrant work environment.

Central to this ambition is BAT’s greatest asset: its people. Acknowledging his team’s pivotal role in fortifying the company’s resilience through the years, Cris emphasises a continuous commitment to cultivating a purpose-driven and dynamic workplace. “I truly believe that people make the Company, and not vice versa. Employees contribute to an organisation at different capability levels, personalities and perspectives. It is therefore imperative that as leaders, we provide a conducive environment for our people to thrive. This includes enabling them to fail fast and learn fast. Business is about results, and results are delivered by people – look after your people and they will deliver the results.”

BAT’s commitment to championing employee wellbeing has not gone unnoticed, earning it the prestigious Top Employer certification from the global Top Employers Institute for six consecutive years (2018 to 2023) in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Mozambique. BAT Kenya was also named as the Overall Best Employer in 2017 and 2018 at the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE)-Employer of the Year Awards, alongside being named a LinkedIn Top Company in 2023.

Diversity and inclusion presents another dimension where Cris’ leadership has seen a positive impact. He ardently affirms, “For us, it is not about setting quotas. We think of diversity in its widest sense, as those attributes that make each one of us unique. Together, we build an inclusive culture where difference is valued, employees from diverse backgrounds and experiences feel that they belong, are at their best and inspired by our purpose.”

With women comprising approximately 44 percent of the total workforce and 66 percent of the Executive Leadership Team at BAT Kenya, Cris is evidently blazing a trail in the empowerment of women in the country. “We target to achieve 50 percent representation of women across the organisation by 2025. Moreover, we are committed to building a disability-inclusive workplace, with a target of 5 percent representation of persons with disability (PwD) in the organisation by 2025.” 

BAT received various accolades at the 2022 Accenture Gender Mainstreaming Awards held concurrently in South Africa and Kenya, being named Gender Mainstreaming Champion Africa – Winner, Empowerment in the Workplace – East Africa and 2nd finalist in Gender and Disability – East Africa.

Cris’ stewardship extends well beyond people and culture, cementing an enviable position as a leader in sustainability. The triumphant sweep of awards annually at the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) Energy Management Awards attests to this. Equally remarkable is the company’s leading role in shaping Kenya’s inaugural Extended Producer Responsibility Regulation with one of BAT’s employees serving as the Vice Chairperson of the Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility Organisation (KEPRO), reflecting the Company’s Responsible Ethos. These initiatives are on the back of ambitious targets, including being Net Zero by 2050 (across its value chain – comprising Scope 1, 2 & 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as carbon neutral operations by 2030 comprising Scope 1 & 2 GHG emissions).

Innovation and technology resonate as twin pillars of BAT Kenya’s progress under Cris’ astute leadership. In 2022, BAT Kenya won the DX100 Manufacturing Sector Award 2022, CXO of the Year 2022 and Gold Mark awards in recognition of excellence in Enterprise Information Technology adoption.

Even then, Cris’ transformative journey has not been without challenges. The Company’s operating environment continues to present several hurdles. This is primarily driven by an unpredictable and unsustainable fiscal and regulatory environment, a scenario that inadvertently fosters illicit trade. “By the end of 2022, illicit trade in cigarettes worryingly sat at approximately 25 percent and 28 percent in Kenya and Uganda respectively.” To address this, Cris has taken a cross-industry and multistakeholder approach to advocate for an environment that protects legitimate businesses and fosters sustainable socio-economic growth.

Cris’ unwavering determination shines through in his quest to elevate BAT’s purpose and its array of possibilities. He envisions a tomorrow where BAT stands as a vanguard of transformation, delivering sustained shared value for its stakeholders.

 “I’m always reminded of the African proverb, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”


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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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