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Uchumi loses top manager to rival

By Moses Michira | June 14th 2016

A senior manager touted as a 'guru' has quit Uchumi Supermarkets less than a year after his appointment.

Willy Kimani has rejoined Naivas Supermarkets as the chief operating officer where he was head-hunted from by Uchumi boss Julius Kipng’etich.

His arrival last August, soon after Mr Kipng’etich was hired from Equity Bank, was anticipated to help turn around the fortunes of the troubled retailer.

“Willy is an excellent talent and experienced retail executive whose loss a few months ago was regrettable,” Simon Mukuha, Naivas chairman said yesterday.

His exit is a big blow for Uchumi and Mr Kipng’etich’s turnaround strategy that has involved major restructuring amid threats of closure under heavy debts.

Mr Kimani leaves only days after the biggest shareholder Jamii Bora Bank announced its regret in buying into the retailer, and even further claiming that they were duped into investing in Uchumi. Several top managers have since been fired from the retailer while the board of directors has been reconstituted.

Several loss-making branches of the retailer have been closed since June last year, including the complete exit from Uganda and Tanzania. Unveiling Kimani last August, Mr Kipng’etich described him as the ‘best retail guru’ in Kenya.

Uchumi is currently locked in negotiations with its suppliers seeking to have them convert an estimated Sh1.8 billion worth of debts into shares. At the current valuation at the Nairobi Securities Exchange where the retailer is listed, conversion of the debts into shareholding will hand a majority stake to the suppliers.

At yesterday’s closing price of Sh3.55 per share, Uchumi is valued at less than Sh1.3 billion while debts to suppliers are worth Sh3.6 billion. The previous management has been blamed for the dwindling fortunes of what was once Kenya’s largest retail chain.

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