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Corporate fixer John Ngumi quits KQ board in another State job exit

Investment banker John Ngumi. The astute investment banker has lately been in the eye of a storm over Telkom Kenya sale. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Investment banker John Ngumi has quit the Kenya Airways (KQ) board, the last high-profile seat he has been holding in a State-owned firm.

The airline said in a statement on Friday that Mr Ngumi, who was first elected as a director on KQ's board in 2019, had resigned.

David Kabeberi has been appointed to fill a "casual vacancy" until the airline holds its next annual general meeting when shareholders will elect another director.

Ngumi is leaving KQ shortly after departure from other key State entities, the last of which was Safaricom, which is 35 per cent owned by the government.

He only lasted five months on the job, having been appointed to chair the telecommunication company on August 1 last year but quit in December.

"The board announces the resignation of Mr John Ngumi as an independent non-executive director of the company," said KQ in a statement by board chair Michael Joseph, which added that he joined the board at a time the carrier was possibly at its lowest and was facing seemingly insurmountable financial and other challenges.

Overcome challenges

"He was central to concerted efforts by the board and management that saw KQ overcome extreme challenges faced then and thereafter, especially those posed by Covid-19, including the urgent, simultaneous need to tackle head-on entrenched costs and expenses while seeking to grow revenue, called for an especially strong, committed and focused board."

Ngumi chaired the board's audit and risk committee where, KQ said, he played an integral role in its ongoing transformation journey, employing his financial sector and corporate executive expertise to help the airline navigate several unprecedented crises and enable it to stay on its transformational journey.

It added that he was leaving "at a pivotal moment for KQ having contributed immensely to KQ's improved operating performance".

Despite the glowing words that the carrier used to describe the work of Ngumi, KQ reported a record loss last year of Sh38.26 billion in the period to December 2022. This is in comparison to the Sh15.89 billion loss after tax it reported in 2021.

It is also in comparison to the Sh36.2 billion loss that the carrier made in 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19 that saw it ground all its operations, aside from cargo business.

Revenues grew 66 per cent to Sh117 billion while passengers flying KQ went up 68 per cent in 2022, but these are yet to match the carrier's revenues and passenger numbers in 2019 before the pandemic broke out.

In the statement, Ngumi was quoted as saying that the hard work of turning around the carrier had been done and he was now paving way for others to carry on.

"My departure is motivated by my belief that now the tough work of stabilising KQ is starting to bear fruit, it is the right for others to come in and build on the transformational platform that the board and management have created," he said.

He added that he believes in KQ's strategic and economic importance to Kenya.

Mr Kabeberi, an accountant, recently retired from audit and business advisory firm PKF where he held various roles including managing director of PKF Consulting.

He has been serving as an ex-officio member of the KQ audit and risk committee.

"Mr Kabeberi brings to KQ vast experience garnered over 40 years in accounting, finance and business strategy in several industries spanning across both large, complex companies and emerging start-ups, and in the public and private sectors," said KQ.

While Ngumi has had a stellar career as an investment banker, he owed down in 2016 and instead took up an active role in the governing of State-owned firms.

He started off as chair of Kenya Pipeline Company board, after which he became chairman of the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC).

Expanded mandate

ICDC, a development financial institution, also had an expanded mandate when Ngumi was appointed as its chair to manage the Kenya Transport and Logistics Network (KTLN) that was to oversee rail, pipeline and port operations.

KTLN however did not take off as anticipated.

Ngumi also chaired the Presidential Taskforce on Review of Power Purchase Agreements in 2021 that made bold recommendations including a 30 per cent reduction in cost of electricity as well as the review of power purchase agreements that electricity producers have signed with Kenya Power.

Some of the recommendations were opposed by the sector and many were never implemented.

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