Joshua Oigara: KCB boss leaves on a high by charting his own path to top

Outgoing KCB CEO Joshua Oigara during an interview at his office. [Maxwell Agwanda, Standard]

Joshua Oigara, the outgoing KCB Group chief executive, is not the kind of person to be easily carried away by the wave.

He proudly wears the tag of contrarian and scoffs at individuals who are obsessed with fitting in rather than doing the right thing.

Even in social settings, like when he occasionally had hangouts with journalists, Mr Oigara never shed his formal mien.

As a member of the famous Boys Club, Oigara might have learnt from the late Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore to become a man who thought a lot about purpose—in the words of another member of the Boys Club, Radio Africa Group CEO Patrick Quarcoo.

But Collymore doesn’t seem to have convinced Mr Oigara, the way he made Quarcoo and a bunch of other men, to unbutton his shirt.

It was Collymore who founded the Boys Club, where Mr Oigara was and remains its youngest member. Until his death, Collymore was its captain. 

Other members of the club, which still meets once a month, include Citizen TV anchor Jeff Koinange, politician Peter Kenneth and Scangroup CEO Bharat Thakrar.

Bharat is now its new captain.

“One of my greatest inspirations to build a stronger bank was because of our engagement with Bob Collymore,” said Mr Oigara in an earlier interview, adding that talking to Bob, as he was fondly known among his friends and peers, gave him a "compass".

“And you know with a compass you don’t really get lost.”

But beyond that, Mr Oigara was his own person. A man who took his own path, and hissed at any attempts to compare him to his predecessor Martin Oduor-Otieno.

Some even thought Mr Oduor’s shoes were too big for the young Oigara to fill. But he charted his own path.

If Mr Oduor-Otieno is like the Bible’s Moses who led KCB from the bondage of mismanagement, Mr Oigara believed he was like his namesake Joshua, and would lead the lender into the promised land; a digital revolution.

Think of KCB M-Pesa, a mobile lending and saving platform, that KCB co-owns with telco Safaricom. KCB also has a stake in Fuliza, an overdraft facility.

Then there is Vooma, a mobile wallet service that enables a user to send money to other Vooma users.

Despite the success of KCB M-Pesa, the lender and Safaricom’s joint venture on Pepea, a card that allowed commuters to load cash and pay bus fare, flopped.

“We put in a lot of money there. We spent between Sh200 million and Sh300 million on the business. It failed,” said Mr Oigara in an earlier interview with Financial Standard.

In a hangout with journalists towards the end of last year, some scribes tried to convince him that many young people are making loads of cash as influencers on social media platforms such as Tik-Tok, a short-form video hosting service.

He did not sound convinced and was curious to understand how Tik-tok works because he had never used it.

He also just did not understand that a blogger who used to abuse him on social media could have a different identity outside his social media space.

One day in 2018, Mr Oigara decided he had had enough of the insults on social media, especially by Kenyans on Twitter (“the worst bullies on Twitter” according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime).

He shut down all his social media accounts, save for WhatsApp and LinkedIn.

Two years later, when this writer had an interview with him, Mr Oigara insisted he had no regrets.  

“Do I look like I am missing something?” he asked. This is rare at a time when an increasing number of people are so hooked on social media that they cannot imagine going for a day without it.

Perhaps, being a contrarian is the main reason Mr Oigara was appointed the CEO of KCB Group at the age of 37 in 2012, becoming the youngest chief executive of a publicly-traded bank at the Nairobi Securities Exchange.

Vast experience

“Nobody understood that at 37, I was probably a 50-year-old,” he said in an earlier interview, explaining that his vast experience put him in good stead to take up the job. 

His resume, he said, was a better indicator of his age than his national identification card.

Before he became the bank’s CEO in 2012, Mr Oigara was its chief financial officer for two years.

Earlier, the University of Nairobi alumnus had served as Bamburi Cement’s group  financial director and chief financial officer for the East Africa region.

The father of three was also involved in a number of global engagements, including at the United Nations Security Council.

Now he seems to have left with a bang.

In the first three months of 2022, KCB Group’s profits grew by 54.6 per cent to Sh9.85 billion, compared to Sh6.37 billion in the same period last year.

Since his appointment ten years ago, Mr Oigara has helped KCB Group scale greater heights with the lender’s assets valued at Sh1.17 trillion by end of March, 2022.

This is a three-fold increase from an asset base of Sh390.8 billion in December 2013.

Only Equity Group, buoyed by a bigger regional footprint, has a bigger balance sheet, with an asset size of Sh1.27 trillion.

However, KCB, like the lion on its logo, is still the king of the Kenyan financial jungle with a new report by the Central Bank of Kenya ranking it the largest bank with a market size of 13.81 per cent by end of 2021.

Equity Bank came second with a market size of 13.57 per cent.

With his exit, a lot will be written about Mr Oigara, but none of the writings will tell the man’s legacy better than KCB’s financials.

Mr Oigara, whose seat has been taken up by Paul Russo, is a man who prefers to look into the future rather than dwelling in the past.  

In our interview, he remembered being asked whether he would fit into Martin Oduor’s “big shoes”.

“What we forget is that everybody sets their own journey. We are stuck in the past and we forget the future,” he said.

He went on to downplay his sceptics: “There is this cotton wool in our eyes; we rarely can see the future. Instead, we focus on the past.

"If you want to drive your life using your rearview mirror, you know you can’t go far. You need to be courageous enough to ask, 'can I disrupt?'”

With the benefit of hindsight, Mr Oigara described as “foolish” the decision he and Collymore took of going public with their assets in late 2015.

“I call it a foolish action because we then remained the only two people who were willing to stand firm. And the conversation then changed.”

Wealth declaration

On December 8, 2015, Collymore made a public declaration on what he owned and had earned that year.

And because Collymore was his compass, Mr Oigara followed suit.

At the time he put his net worth at Sh220 million. He valued his assets at Sh350 million and loan obligations at Sh130 million.

The assets, he said, were in the form of land, buildings, motor vehicles, cash bank balances and shares.

His monthly salary and allowances then were Sh4.9 million.

“My public declaration is driven by the need for us as private sector players to initiate greater transparency,” Mr Oigara said in a statement at the time.

He said Kenya was bleeding from corruption, mainly driven by secrecy in organisational operations.

In his view, Kenyans are not good at churning out as many innovations as they are hurling insults on the internet.

He said what he saw in KCB Lions’ Den competition for budding entrepreneurs were mostly ‘me-too’ innovations; copycats of originals. He said Kenyans need to do more to improve their crafts.

One of Mr Oigara’s unfinished business is the entry of KCB into DRC, with their main competitor Equity already up and running in the lucrative Central African country that recently joined the East African Community.

He had even offered to take this writer to DR Congo so he could write “objectively” about the country that has been associated with civil strife.

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