Equity Group chief executive James Mwangi is one of the longest-serving CEOs in Kenya, having dedicated more than half of his life to serving the lender. For 31 years, Mwangi has served in the executive, 17 of those being a CEO and 14 as a finance and operations director.
Mwangi began his career in banking as an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) before moving to Ernst and Young, where he worked for three years. He later joined Trade Bank as the Group’s Financial Controller.
By 1991, another financial firm, Equity Building Society (EBS), the precursor to Equity Bank, was bléeding cash and had accumulated losses of up to Ksh33 million. The executives of EBS approached the banker to save the firm from insolvency, offering him a position as the finance and operations director.
This marked the beginning of an illustrious career for Mwangi at Equity, where he has been credited with the lender’s expansion in the Eastern African region on the back of mergers and acquisitions while rising to be Kenya’s most profitable lender.
In the mid-1990s, Mwangi converted Ksh7 million deposit at the time with EBS to ordinary shares, making him one of the key shareholders.
He became the CEO in 2004. During his tenure, Equity’s market valuation has risen 23 times from Ksh8.1 billion in 2006 to Ksh189.6 billion.
But the CEO, now 59, says he is not retiring any time soon, and probably might never retire from the lender for the rest of his life. He says the earliest he can retire from Equity Bank is 2032, at the age of 70, though he does not guarantee it.
“I have served only 17 years. I am inspired by that. Equity retirement age is 70. Peter Munga retired as chairman at age of 75, just like David Ansell. When my time comes, it will be really easy [retiring] but I am still under 60,” Mr Mwangi said in an interview.
“I have retired from all the subsidiaries and now on the holding company. So I don’t see a challenge because I don’t run the business. The company that I run is the holding company, managing the relationship with investors. That doesn’t drive performance, but drives relationship with the shareholders. That can be done by anybody.”
Mwangi will, however, not be able to serve on the board beyond 70 years, the age limit set by the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) for serving on the boards of firms listed in the Nairobi bourse.
Beyond 70, Mwangi toys with the idea of joining Equity Foundation, the social arm of Equity Group.
Mwangi currently holds 127.8 million Equity shares, equivalent to a 3.38 percent stake in the lender. He is also entitled to an additional one percent stake through his entitlements in the bank’s employee share ownership plan.
This makes his shareholding reach 4.38 percent, catapulting him to be the single-largest individual shareholder with a stake worth Ksh8.27 billion.
Other CEOs who have served their companies for long include Flame Tree’s founder, Heril Bangera, (32 years) Car & General’s Vijay Gidoomal (25 years) and TPS Eastern Africa’s Mahmud Jan Mohamed (24 years).
Others are DTB Group’s Nasim Devji (20 years), Co-operative Bank’s Gideon Muriuki (20 years) and Crown Paints’ Rakesh Rao (16 years).