FD Lawrence Kimathi points out the link between time and gaining traction

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Considering the perspective of others is a personal principle by which Lawrence Kimathi, financial director of KCB Group, lives - and this code of ethics has served him well.

Since joining KCB eight years ago, group financial director Lawrence Kimathi, has been involved in successfully executing three acquisitions - an incredible feat given the fact that acquisitions had not previously been a part of the bank’s expansion strategy.

“These acquisitions have strategically propelled our geographic expansion and are a change from the traditional greenfield new market entry approach. While this method requires time to gain traction, the investment in acquisitions pays off swiftly.

“This is especially true if you acquire a strong brand with deep heritage in the community and are mindful of retaining the names; after all, if a brand is working effectively, it's best to build on its success rather than disrupt it. This approach speaks to our shareholders whose value we are paid to protect and grow,” he added.

Lawrence lists considering the perspective of others as a personal principle by which he lives.

“When it comes to shareholders, this practice has greatly contributed to our remarkable growth – our balance sheet has doubled, and our reach has extended far beyond what people initially expected from KCB. We are making inroads into transforming the image of KCB from a local conventional bank into a regional powerhouse,” he explained.

Always accessible
The principle extends to his diverse finance team as well, who are spread across seven countries in Africa and 10 direct reports.

“I lead through a combination of structured team meetings, individual coaching sessions, and a commitment to accessibility. The challenge lies in coordinating across the entire spectrum of responsibilities and geographies,” he said.

“The fortnightly coaching and conversation meetings are also an opportunity for me to get feedback on what is going well, what’s not going well, and what to change. We all have blind spots, and the world is always changing so sometimes you don’t realise how you are coming across to others, so it is helpful for me to get feedback from the team,” he added.

Lawrence’s commitment to accessibility results in a lot of travel across the continent.

“Physical interaction with the finance teams in-market is helpful as I see it as demystifying my role and making myself accessible. Covid helped with virtual meetings, but that cannot replace face-to-face interaction,” he explained.

Lawrence rates Covid-19 as the biggest crisis he has faced in his career, as the company was three months into a new strategy when the pandemic hit.

“The regulator was very clear about the fact that banks needed to stay open and then the focus was squarely on protecting staff, customers and shareholders. I refused to work from home, as branch staff were still going into the office so I felt I should also be working from the office,” he said.

“It was a difficult time, as we didn’t want to do a capital call and had to manage liquidity and capital as closely as possible. We were monitoring liquidity and capital daily. My biggest learning from that period was that the best laid plans can go belly up in a heartbeat, so you have to be agile and adaptable,” he added.

Exceeding expectations
Agility and adaptability are traits that Lawrence has cultivated throughout the course of his career, from leading finance functions at multinationals to his current role at the biggest bank in east and central Africa.

His first rodeo as a finance director was when he got promoted to this at British American Tobacco responsible for Horn of Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

“While not attaining the same grade as my predecessor due to market complexities, I exceeded expectations and drove significant results,” he said.

A similar instance occurred during his time at Cadbury, where Lawrence had a huge influence on the company's reward and performance structure.

“When I joined Cadbury as finance and IT executive for East and Central Africa, I was accustomed to the reward and recognition strategy at BAT, where bonuses were granted when employees hit their targets. However, Cadbury East Africa did not work in the same way because they had never hit their targets,” he said.

However, by the second year in the role, the avid golfer and music lover succeeded in changing this approach.

“We hit our targets and the guys got a bonus, which is not a 13th cheque. The team couldn’t believe it, that I had managed to change performance and the way performance was recognised. That was personally very fulfilling for me,” he said.

Not all of Lawrence’s roles in multinationals were as fulfilling, however. He notes that some multinationals get bogged down by bureaucracy resulting in the CFO becoming a firefighter rather than driving impactful change.

Growth trajectory
He explained, “One of the reasons I decided to join a local company is because I was spending up to 15 hours a day in the office and I felt like I was not making any significant decisions to change the trajectory of the organisation.”

Significant matters on Lawrence’s radar this year include addressing the non-performing loans in KCB Kenya amid a challenging macroeconomic environment and overseeing the integration of Trust Merchant Bank (TMB).

“Being the largest bank in Kenya and a significant contributor to the national economy, KCB's performance holds immense weight. Our shareholders – both local and international – demand a return on equity that justifies their investment,” he said.

KCB recently acquired a majority shareholding in DRC’s TMB Bank.

“Since joining KCB in 2015, I have done a lot of things that I would not have had the opportunity to do at a multinational. Areas such as capital raising, running Mergers and Acquisitions are usually the preserve of specialists in multinationals who parachute in, do the acquisition and leave,” he said.

“Now it’s about elevating our level of execution, consolidating on our investments and continuing to change people’s lives across the communities we operate in,” he concluded.

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