CFO Andrew Makumbi is building the ladder one rung at a time

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Despite not initially setting down the finance career path, Andrew Makumbi, CFO of Jubilee Allianz Insurance Uganda, reveals that he was mesmerised and challenged by his first insurance audit.

It was destiny that set Andrew Makumbi, CFO of Jubilee Allianz Insurance Uganda, on the finance career path.

“I wanted to become an electrical engineer, but at the University of Makerere, I missed out by about 1.5 points to get government sponsorship to study. So, I embarked on a bachelor of Science, majoring in mathematics,” he said.

“I thought if this is my destiny, let me go and do it. I did my best and after three years the other Big Four firms came looking and I selected PwC, even though I didn’t know alot about PwC at the time. All I was looking for was to join a reputable firm. That’s how I started my accounting journey,” he added.

Although the initial years were extremely tough, they provided a very solid foundation and a sense of healthy competition among peers.

As an audit associate, Andrew recalled that he was mesmerised and challenged by his first insurance audit.

“The detail that was being thrown around us. Why is this sector? So complicated? And remember it was dominated by Kenyans. So I had to spend time reading and researching. At the time, not many associates wanted to do insurance but every time there was an insurance audit, I volunteered so I could build my expertise,” he said.

“You get to learn more when you interact with professionals, who are practising so naturally. You have to put in the hours and understand the business,” he added.

Helicopter view

After spending seven years at PwC, it was time for a new challenge.

“I wanted to do something different, and I knew I didn’t want to become a partner, which is the epitome of the audit career. Obviously not everyone can become a partner and it is very narrow at the top. So I went looking for a new challenge,” he explained.

That’s how Andrew landed up the role of chief accountant at Jubilee Insurance Uganda, in 2012.

Nine months later, he was presented with the opportunity to take on the CFO role at AIG Uganda. Three years after that, he moved to the position of regional operational controller of AIG in South Africa.

“Being a controller in South Africa gave me a platform to have a helicopter view of things. When in one place. you only get to look at things from a local point of view. The tasks that you may oversee may be many but the transactions are smaller,” he said.

“When I got to South Africa, I removed my CFO hat and put on my let-me-learn hat. I rolled up my sleeves and got into the deep end. At the time we were moving our finance reporting structures from Africa to India so overseeing that with the CFO was a lot of work,” he added.

This was in addition to the normal controller operations - and Andrew was also in charge of overseeing a partnership between AIG and Virgin Money. Consequently, Andrew was exposed to working with very big transactions, working with numerous experts and harnessing new skills.

Different cultures

Living in South Africa was a culture shock for Andrew. “I was living alone, but also moving in a very high risk environment, so obviously, I was challenged. Also, when you are working in the region, you understand the people in that region better, like the pressures they face and the local norms,” he said.

Destiny again came knocking and Andrew took up a role in Kenya, which was initially only supposed to last a few months.

“I decided to stay. Catherine Igathe was a new CEO and she needed support from an experienced company person. My family was still in Uganda at the time, and could commute, so that’s how I stayed in Nairobi for five years,” he said.

It was during that period that Andrew held a number of roles at AIG, as the acting CEO and board member of Uganda, as well as CFO of Kenya.

Then Jubilee came calling.

“I had been chatting to Jubilee for about two years and we finally agreed on terms and the timing was good as I was ready for a move,” he said.

Andrew pointed out that the culture between the two organisations is vastly different, as AIG is very structured with committees and regional support, while Jubilee is less structured. A year later, Allianz acquired a majority in the Jubilee entities in East Africa.

“So we started the project to separate the $40 million medical business, which combined general and health. We had to hive off the medical business as a first step into a separate company. The general, which is the remainder, was then acquired by Allianz who took a 66 percent stake. So there was a lot of heavy lifting as you can imagine and sleepless nights,” he explained.

Listening more
Andrew credits his core values of humility and respect for everyone as the reasons behind his success.

“I come from a very modest family and my parents are humble and respect everyone. Learning this from them has contributed to my success. Even when you are knowledgeable, you still can be there in the trenches working hard,” he said.

Interestingly when asked about his definition of success, Andrew is quick to point out that success is when his finance team makes him “irrelevant”.

“I want to get to that point where they come to me with solutions and options, where they have already thought through things. And I’ll say, yeah, I’ve done a good job,” he said.

In order to get to this point, Andrew believes that it is important to recruit people with integrity, always be available and listen to them.

“Do more listening than talking,” he advised. “John Maxwell says as you groom leaders, you need to help build the ladder. I like to do that. I cannot be the monopoly of knowledge,” he said.

This personal leadership style includes not procrastinating when it comes to difficult conversations.

“Have the conversations when it’s still a hot topic because that’s when you help improve people, as they may not be self-aware. They may not know that they’re doing the wrong thing. This is something I have learned along the way,” he said.

In his downtime, Andrew enjoys training, travelling and reading.

“I am hypertensive and I do a lot of boxing, with a trainer and punching bag. It also helps me focus and gives me time to think. I read books, journals and articles to keep my mind alert. I’m currently reading a book on high performance,” he revealed.

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