FD David Muriithi: bridging the continental divide

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David Muriithi, director of finance at Serengeti Breweries, sees accounting as a life skill - and one that has provided a solid foundation for him to make his mark in finance in over 10 countries and across two continents.

David Muriithi, director of finance at Serengeti Breweries, sees accounting as a life skill - and one that has provided a solid foundation for him to make his mark in finance in over 10 countries and across two continents.

After attending Strathmore School of Accountancy, David studied for business management at Moi University and shortly before graduation, he joined PwC.

“It was one of the greatest privileges that has happened to me and I wanted to use it as the start of opportunity. I wanted to eventually get into corporate and pursue my way into leadership,” he said.

Taking on the role of internal auditor at British American Tobacco (BAT) was David’s first foray into corporate.

“I was basically in more than 10 countries on assignments. One of the most memorable ones for me was Kazakhstan during winter, where you could go to the mountains and people were skiing,” he recalled.

After about two and half years in audits, he moved to a role in planning and reporting for Eastern Central Africa - a “first real finance role”.

“That came with its own dynamics and it was an interesting transition. Auditing is checking what other people have done and now you are the one making and implementing financial decisions,” he said.

Two years later, David took on a role in commercial finance at BAT, which he enjoyed immensely as it added to the front line of the business, while supporting both the finance and commercial teams.

Making moves
Not long after, he accepted a role as the head of commercial finance for Kenya Breweries Limited in Nairobi. Two years later, David assumed the position of head of group finance at the company’s head office.

“It was a really, really interesting role but I didn’t get to do it for a very long time as just over a year later I accepted the position of finance director at Meta Abo Ethiopia,” he said.

He therefore moved to Ethiopia in March 2020 - as the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to be felt in Africa - and stayed there for two years.

Better communication
Then around April 2022, David accepted the role of director of finance at Serengeti Breweries, based in Tanzania.

“Tanzania Is no different from any other economy in East Africa and globally. Macro factors like the economic crisis, the Russia-Ukraine war, drought, high inflation and the resultant impact on the cost of living has significantly impacted businesses,” he explained. In East Africa particularly there are major issues around the foreign exchange crunch and devaluation of currencies.

“This means that some businesses have to restructure their payments because you just can’t get enough foreign currency. And what you get is very pricey,” he explained.

In terms of cultural dynamics in the various African countries that he has worked in, David is clear that there are always commonalities and differences to consider.

“There are always cultural dynamics to navigate. In Ethiopia for example I was an English speaker in an Amharic country. That poses significant barriers around communication. The country is only starting to open up so the business landscape is very different. It is not very liberalised and there are no international banks operating. Then there is still civil strife in the North,” he explained.

“I am able to communicate better in Tanzania and there are a lot of similarities in the cultural undertones to Kenya. Regardless of the country, however, everybody is just looking for an opportunity to show up, grow and be their best. In any country, a clear vision and good leadership is still important,” he said.

Adjusting
David and his family have adjusted well to his geographical career footprint, with his kids and wife joining him in the country and David returning home to Kenya regularly.

“My wife and kids are in Kenya, as my wife has a business there and the kids are at school, so we didn’t want to destabilise things. It’s easier to commute to Kenya here from Tanzania than it was from Ethiopia - even if you wanted to dash home for the weekend. The family was recently here for three weeks during the school holidays,” he explained.

Other than hanging out with family, David is also a keen runner and enjoys exercising every day.

“I run between 10 and 15 kilometres per day about three times a week and I did the 21km Kilimanjaro Marathon. I love a physical challenge and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year. Maybe if I wasn’t an accountant, I probably would have ended up in an army or in doing a more physical job,” he mused.

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