CEO, APA APOLLO GROUP
In the heart of East Africa’s financial services industry stands a towering figure, Ashok Shah, whose remarkable capacity to drive business growth, enhance profitability, and prioritise sustainability has left an indelible mark.
With a career spanning over 45 years, Ashok’s leadership journey has been characterised by innovative strategies, unwavering ethical principles, and a commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion.
Born in Nyeri, Ashok Shah’s educational journey took him from Temple Road Primary School to MP Shah Chania High School. He then ventured to England, United Kingdom (UK) completing his A-Levels at Sebright School in Wolverley before embarking on a Diploma in Applied Chemistry at Kingston University.
His professional path began in the UK, where Ashok joined an insurance brokerage firm, honing his expertise in Life Insurance and Home Mortgages, setting the stage for his impactful contributions to the industry.
Returning to Kenya in 1975, Ashok joined his brother, Shashi Shah, to establish the Apollo Insurance Company. This venture marked the genesis of his transformative journey in East Africa’s financial landscape. Over the years, Ashok held various senior roles within the APA Apollo Group, until he assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 1996.
Under Ashok’s astute leadership, the Group witnessed unprecedented growth. In 2003, the merger of Apollo and Pan Africa’s general insurance businesses led to the birth of APA Insurance, followed by Apollo’s full acquisition of Pan Africa’s share in 2010, cementing APA Insurance as the flagship company of the APA Apollo Group.
The Group has over the years expanded to comprise APA Insurance (Kenya and Uganda), APA Life Assurance, Apollo Asset Management and Gordon Court; with a shareholding in Reliance Insurance (Tanzania). APA Apollo Group reported a combined turnover of KES 20 Billion in 2022, solidifying its position as a leading provider of insurance and financial services such as pensions and investments in East Africa.
Notably, over 50 percent of leadership positions within the Group are held by women, a testament to Ashok’s dedication to diversity and inclusion.
Ashok’s leadership legacy encompasses pioneering moves within the Insurance industry. The company boldly extended insurance to individuals with HIV, a step that no other insurers were willing to take. What’s more, during the COVID-19 pandemic, APA Insurance provided full coverage within policy limits.
Ashok’s strategic acumen came to the fore when APA Insurance seamlessly processed and disbursed a staggering insurance claim of USD 26 Million, arising from the fire incident at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). This accomplishment not only showcased APA Insurance’s financial stability but also demonstrated the company’s unwavering commitment to policyholders during challenging times.
Moreover, the Group has played a pivotal role in enabling Government-sponsored Agricultural and Livestock Insurance, showcasing its competence and credibility in the insurance industry.
Ashok’s impactful presence has been recognised through numerous awards, including the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for services to the Kenyan Insurance industry. He was also honoured as the EY Entrepreneur of the Year and the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (ABLAA) Entrepreneur of the Year, among others.
Ashok Shah’s influence extends far beyond the boardroom. His pioneering role in the APA Apollo Foundation underscores his commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR). The Foundation’s impactful water projects, which initiated with the construction of 37 sand dams in 2006, have seen an impressive investment of USD 1.5 million as of December 2022. These projects have significantly enhanced water availability, improved livelihoods, and promoted environmental sustainability across four semi-arid and arid Kenyan Counties. The Foundation’s support for youth extends to education scholarships and sponsoring sports activities.
In recognition of the company’s innovative solutions, Ashok, on behalf of APA Insurance, received the European MicroFinance Award for ‘strengthening resilience to climate change’, being the first insurance company ever to do so.
Ashok’s contributions also extend to leading the Kenya Agriculture Insurance Group, which insures smallholder farmers and pastoralists in Northern Kenya. APA’s collaboration with International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) pioneered the index-based livestock cover, now adopted by the World Bank for the five Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) countries in the Horn of Africa.
Furthermore, Ashok’s dedication to community upliftment is evident through his engagement with associations like the Association of Round Tables in Eastern Africa and the Rotary Club of Nairobi. His compassionate spirit is exemplified through his contributions to campaigns such as ‘Healing the Children’, which provides surgical interventions to children in need.
As a past Trustee of Watoto Kwanza, Chairman of the Asian Foundation, and an Advocate for Asian African Heritage at the National Museums of Kenya, Ashok’s influence reverberates through various avenues.
His roles on numerous boards, including Barclays Bank (now Absa) where he chaired the credit committee for seven years, the Central Depository & Settlement Corporation (CDSC) where he is a Founder-Director, CMC Holdings, Island Life Insurance Mauritius and Reliance Insurance Tanzania, further underscore his enduring commitment to shaping the financial landscape and community welfare.
In the words of a colleague, “Ashok Shah’s humility, energy, and optimism are palpable, making him an approachable and inspiring figure.” As he continues to lead and contribute, Ashok’s legacy remains a testament to visionary leadership, sustainable growth, and making a positive impact that transcends boundaries.