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BIKO INTERVIEW: CEO’s Weakness For Things Vintage

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CEO’s Weakness For Things Vintage

Tony Mulwa, managing director at Liaison Group. PHOTO | COURTESY 

At 50 years, Tom Mulwa, the managing director and one of the pioneers of Liaison Group — has a spirit like smoke. It refuses to be confined in one place, it seeks new spaces to explore, to fill nooks with curiosity and to live untethered. He’s a holder of an MBA from the University of Leicester in UK, a golfer, an entrepreneur, a lover of all things vintage and a keen aficionado of cognac. He met JACKSON BIKO in his cushy office on Nairobi’s State House Avenue for a powwow.

That poster on your wall, “A Man Reaps What He Sows” …

I’ve been with that since 1991. It was my first hanging on any wall in any business. I picked that from the streets of Mombasa right at the famous tusks monument. It’s a verse in the Bible and that’s really my life philosophy, you get what you plant.

What have you planted so far to reap what you are reaping now?

My biggest plantation is relationships. In fact right now I’ve planted one with you. Everyday I make sure that I sustain and maintain relationships. That’s the only thing that I have, if you mess up you are done because your legacy will be the people you have interacted with. My relationships since nursery and primary school are still fresh.

You have worked here for 23 years. What has kept you in one job for so long?

Same thing, the relationships I have built over time. It becomes very difficult to disengage because it becomes watertight in the sense that the services we provide are still very personal. They engage your family, businesses and lifestyle, and that’s the only cycle I get involved in. Mulwa is Liaison and Liaison is Mulwa. So, I have never found any other space I can play better than this. We have grown this business from an SME {small medium-sized enterprise} to what in my view, in this current economic terms we would call, mid-level non-banking financial services institution. We interact with owners of capital. And that space is very comfortable to play with especially when you want to make a lot of business impact.

What don’t you know about running this organisation after doing it all these years?

Everyday is very different, especially with the teams we have, we’re getting, these days; the millennial. It was a little bit easier earlier in the years when I’d just give instructions and we would agree as a team how we want to pull. To the millennials, it’s very different. The management style changes. Also the business environment has changed and people now want to harness value. So, we’re always on the edge looking for the value we’ll bring to your table. It’s very dynamic and now financial services have become more global.

Your office theme, this leather and ship steering wheel and the old colonial chest desk… what’s the story?

I like classic things, sophistication. I’m a cognac drinker. Cognac dates back to 1780s and it stands to reflect how you behave. You know most of the connections people have could actually reflect how you behave. So antique to me is the new thing. I like the sea, I’ve told you about my Mombasa beginnings, so I get a lot of thrill in the seawater. I have an old 1977 Jaguar, I tend to go for the classic. But I’m extremes, I’m very comfortable with the old. I was a chairman of Karen Country Club and I’d find myself very comfortable sitting with the old men at the corner who were there during my birth time in 1960s.

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You are 50 now, do you find that you like yourself more now than when you were 40?

I liked myself more when I was 30. (Laughs) There was lesser risk to think about. You know when you’re 30 you believe you’re in total control, you’re driving a Subaru, can afford a drink, borrow cash for the next month and you don’t think about social impact. At 30 I had little care, I could go back home at 5 o’clock, sleep and all I was worried about was if I’d make it to work on Monday and perform with a hangover.

I don’t think life has been fair to allow me to reflect, until now that you ask. (Laughs) I miss the days of Simba Saloon. We used to go there on Sunday evenings and hang out until late and show up in the office on Monday like nothing happened the previous night.

Are you enjoying your life now?

Yes! I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a privilege to have the life I have today. There are people who were caught up in that 14 Riverside saga and didn’t make it. I think we should have fun everyday and not fret about tomorrow. I have come to appreciate that you live today, tomorrow creates a lot of anxiety and yesterday is an agony for no reason. Just enjoy every moment.

What’s the one thing you wouldn’t sell for all the monies in the world?

Yes! (Laughs) There’s no better feeling than a good swing in the course. It gets you away from all the hell in this world. Also it helps in business. If you really wanted to know someone’s character, take him for a round of golf. Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, would say that if you really wanted to interview a CEO and know their character, take them on three rounds of golf.

What is it about golf and character?

In golf, you’re competing against yourself and how you react towards yourself reflects how you react towards the environment and towards everybody else. You can tell someone’s mentality, attitude, and character by how they play golf.

What’s your favourite smell?

Cognac! (Laughs aloud) I used to keep some fine bottle of cognac in the office but decided to move it away because I realised after 5pm especially on a hard day, I’d need a driver to take me home. (Chuckles) I really do enjoy it, a good cognac is a beautiful bouquet of things.

What’s your extravagance?

That’s a very good one. I think my neck ties. I buy them on impulse. I own very many ties, I have stopped counting. I see a good tie and I can’t resist the urge to buy it. And they’re very expensive. I also think golf balls are another extravagance because I always lose them on the course.

When are you at your most weakest?

When I lose business. Because to me it’s a rejection, it’s a proof that I have failed to maintain a relationship. But at the same time I don’t believe in weakness or being vulnerable, I’m always feeling in charge. Overconfidence. (Laughs) I have lost accounts because I was overconfident on my pitch.

Do you think you are a good person?

(Pause) Because of my overconfidence, I’d rather pass that one, but I am sure I have very many judges out there. (Pause) To be honest, I’m unable to assess myself.

But I do the right things but the right things may not be necessarily good for everybody.

Give your fun 30-year-old self a piece of advice.

Live for now. If you’re in school, just live with the books, if you’re in a church choir, sing like there’s no tomorrow. That way you’ll have a happy life. At the end of the day, it’s really happiness that you’re seeking and happiness is having what you desire.



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BCCI: The bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.

BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.

It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.

BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.

The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.

He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.

In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  

BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.

The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.

The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.

It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.

The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.

It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”

This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.

The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.

And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.

“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.

BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.

“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.

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A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.

“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.

CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.

This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.

For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.

In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.

Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 

The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.

Criminal culture

In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).

The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.

This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.

Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.

“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.

These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.

“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.

BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).

Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).

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East Africa celebrates top women in banking and finance

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The Angaza Awards for Women to watch in Banking and Finance in East Africa took place Online via Zoom on 8th June 2021.

The event was set to celebrate the top 10 women shaping banking and finance across East Africa. The 2021 Angaza Awards, which will be a Pan-African Awards program, was also announced at the event.

Key speakers at this webinar were Dr Nancy Onyango, Director of Internal Audit and Inspection at the IMF; and Gail Evans, New York Times Best Selling Author of Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman and former White House Aide and CNN Executive Vice President.

Dr Nancy Onyango advised women to deep expertise in their fields, spend time in forums and link with key players in that sector.
“Gain exposure with other cultures by seeking for employment overseas and use customized CV for each job application,” said Dr Onyango.

According to Gail Evans, women should show up and be fully present in meetings and not be preoccupied with other issues.
“Be simple and avoid jargon. Multi-tasking only means that you are mediocre Smart people ask good questions in a business meeting. Most women face drawbacks due to perfectionism, procrastination and fear of failure, said Evans.

She advised women to play like a man and win like a woman, be strategic, and intentionally make their moves to get to the top.

“For us to pull up businesses that have been affected by effects of COVID-19 pandemic, we need to re-invent business models, change the product offering and make more use of digital platforms,” said Mary Wamae Equity Group Executive Director.

Mary Wamae emerged top at the inaugural Angaza awards( East Africa) ahead of other finalists.

While women continue to excel in banking and finance, the number of that occupies top executive positions is still less.

“There is a gap for women occupying C suite level and it continues to widen in the finance sector. At entry level, there is still an experience gap for women,” said Nkirote Mworia, Group Secretary for UAP-Old Mutual Group.

She said that at the Middle Management level, women do not express their ambition. For this reason, UAP-Old Mutual has developed an executive sponsorship program to help women get to the next level.

Mworia added that most women hold the notion that top positions in management have politics and pressure.
“One needs leadership skills and not technical expertise to get to the top,” said Mworia.

According to Catherine Karimi, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Officer of APA Life Assurance Company, women need to focus on the strengths and natural abilities that they already have.

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“Take risks and raise your hand to get to the high table. Find mentors along the way and develop your own brand and not compare yourself with others Focus on your strengths because it will make you move faster in the career ladder,” said Karimi.

Lina Mukashyaka Higiro, a Rwandan businesswoman and chief executive officer of the NCBA Bank Rwanda since July 2018, has three lessons for women who want to excel in banking and finance.
“Always spend at least 20 minutes each day reading, seeking genuine feedback from other staff members and widen your network,” Higiro told the webinar.

Women picked for Angaza awards

Mary Wamae, Executive Director, led this year’s Top 10 Women in Angaza Awards, Equity Group (Kenya)(2)Catherine Karimi, Chief Executive Officer, APA Life Insurance Company (Kenya)(3)Lina Higiro, Chief Executive Officer, NCBA Bank (Rwanda)(4)Elizabeth Wasunna Ochwa, Business Banking Director, Absa Bank (Kenya)(5)Joanita Jaggwe, Country Head of Risk and Compliance, KCB Group (South Sudan)(6) Millicent Omukaga, Technical Assistance Expert on Inclusive Finance, African Development Bank (Kenya)(7)Emmanuella Nzahabonimana, Head of Information Technology, KCB Group (Rwanda)(8)Judith Sidi Odhiambo, Group Head of Corporate Affairs, KCB Group (Kenya)(9)Rosemary Ngure, ESG & Impact Manager, Catalyst Principal Partners (Kenya) and(10)Pooja Bhatt, Co-Founder, QuantaRisk and QuantaInsure (Kenya).

The Kenyan Wallstreet, a financial media firm, partnered with Kaleidoscope Consultants to raise awareness of seasoned women shaping and influencing the sector through their organizations.

The Angaza Award criteria included assessing the applicants’ area of responsibility and contribution to firm performance. Professionals in Banking, Capital Markets, Insurance, Investment Banking, Fintech, Fund Management, Microfinance, and SACCOs were invited to submit their applications or nominations via the Kenyan Wallstreet Award Web page.

ALSO READ: Angaza Awards Top Finalist; Mary Wangari Wamae

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IFC in New Partnership to Develop Affordable Housing in Mombasa County

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 14 – International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, has signed a new deal in support of affordable housing in Kenya.

The corporation has partnered with Belco Realty LLP, to develop a mixed use affordable living complex that will consist of 1,379 residential units and over 4,500 square meters of retail and commercial spaces in Kongowea, Mombasa County.

Together with the Kenyan firm, IFC says the partnership will help meet surging demand for housing in Kenya.

Under the agreement, IFC will help identify suitable international strategic partners to invest equity of up to $12 million, or Sh1.3 billion in Belco and to provide the company with the necessary technical support to develop the project.

The development, known as Kongowea Village, will be developed to foster inclusive and affordable community living within the city.

Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa says the project, which will be located on eight acres within the heart of Mombasa city, will aim to be a catalyst for wider city regeneration.

The project will be developed to meet IFC EDGE certification requirements and will incorporate the latest technologies in passive cooling, energy efficiency and water conservation to support sustainable urbanization.

 Kongowea Village is expected to create 1,160 jobs and business opportunities during the three-year construction period and many more after completion of the project within the themed retail arcade.

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 “Access to quality housing is a growing problem in Kenya and across Africa,” said Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa.

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“Developers often target the high end of the market, but this project is aimed squarely at the lower-income bracket. Helping Belco identify the right partners for this project is expected to attract more developers to Kenya and other parts of Africa to help meet rising demand for housing.”

 IFC‘s engagement with Belco will help Kenya support its rapidly growing and urbanizing population by increasing access to affordable housing. The problem is similar across most of Africa, where population growth and demand for quality housing are combining to outstrip supply.  We are pleased to partner with a company such as Belco that is committed to contributing to solving this challenge,” said Emmanuel Nyirinkindi, IFC‘s Director for Transaction Advisory Services.

 IFC’s partnership with Belco is part of its broader strategy to support better access to affordable housing in Kenya.

In 2020, IFC invested $2 million in equity in the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company (KMRC) to help increase access to affordable mortgages and support home ownership in the country.

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