Acting finance GM Patrick Chonde's talks transition from private to public sector

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The transition from the private sector to the public sector is often seen as challenging, but Patrick Chonde, the acting general manager of finance at Kenya Airports Authority, believes that the gap between the sectors is narrowing. However, he does acknowledge that some differences do still exist.

Patrick Chonde, the acting general manager of finance at Kenya Airports Authority, is not just a financial expert but a true leader with a remarkable career spanning over two decades.

His expertise lies in analysing financial data, identifying key figures, and providing innovative business solutions. With in-depth knowledge of cash flow management, budgeting, project management, human capital, and strategic planning, Patrick is certainly making his mark in the world of finance.

Before his tenure at Kenya Airports Authority, Patrick spent six years at Kenya Television Network (KTN) and two years at Capital Group. Reflecting on his journey, he states, "I studied accounting due to a mentor in my family. One of my cousins studied accounting in England and came back to Kenya to work in Nairobi for blue-chip companies. The way he carried himself and the lifestyle he led attracted me to the profession."

Narrowing the gap

The transition from the private sector to the public sector is often seen as challenging, but Patrick believes that the gap between the sectors is narrowing. However, he does acknowledge that some differences do still exist.

"It takes a long time for a decision to be made in a public company given that we are required to obtain approvals from different institutions prior to implementation of some ideas. In the private sector, my experience was that only one or two people needed to sign off on something prior to implementation," he explains.

Patrick, who has been acting general manager of finance for a few years, explains, "It is a common feature for public sector institutions for individuals to be in an acting capacity for extended periods. This is because of the need for approvals from various agencies. Change of management takes a long time."

Notwithstanding the title, Patrick is fully accountable for the finances of the company, providing input and critical financial data at board meetings as well as ensuring that the authority remains fiscally sound.

"We used to do things manually here, but in 2013, we implemented an ERP system through SAP. It was a change management process given that we were transitioning to automated systems," he says.

"We provide annual financial statements and projections. We also generate our income and do not depend on the government. We are empowered to negotiate with banks for funding just like private institutions," he adds.

Sustainability and leadership

This autonomy has allowed the organisation to consistently report profits, even during the challenges posed by Covid-19. "In 2019, we had just remitted funds to the government before the pandemic hit us the year after, leading to a closure of air spaces. We had to find ways to continue paying our 2,000 staff without retrenchment. Recovery was gradual and difficult," he says.

Patrick adds, "We are still recovering from the pandemic which impacted our financial reserves significantly. I constantly think about how we are going to finance our capital projects which require heavy financial investment.”

Cash flow, he emphasises, is crucial for the organisation's growth and sustainability. He further explains the complexity of the situation, saying, "Interest rates in Kenya have gone up, which impacts our ability to borrow. We also cannot depend on the government which has differing priorities."

From a personal leadership perspective, Patrick believes in empowering his team to make decisions while maintaining accountability. He also spends time developing relationships with other departments.

Patrick has a passion for aviation economics and in addition to being accredited, he is a permanent representative to Airport Council International (ACI-Africa) economics committee where he regularly present topical papers on the global aviation sector. He is also an alternate director of the Tourism Promotion Fund (Kenya) and a regular trainer in the airport transport system and commercial course for Aviation Strategies International (ASI).

It is not surprising then that in his spare time, Patrick enjoys reading books and journals on aviation economics, finance and investments - although he does point out that he also likes travelling and socialising with friends.

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