Finance head Joseph Kahenya connects the dots between life inside and outside the office

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One book that shaped Joseph Kahenya’s work perspective is Winning by Jack Welch. In particular, he loves the quote “any strategy, no matter how smart, is dead on arrival unless the company brings it to life with people – the right people”.

One book that shaped Joseph Kahenya’s work perspective is Winning by Jack Welch. In particular, he loves the quote “any strategy, no matter how smart, is dead on arrival unless the company brings it to life with people – the right people”. It is aligned to the thinking of another of Joseph’s icons, Sir Richard Branson who repeatedly states that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients and for that reason, it is employees, not clients who should come first.

Joseph is the regional financial controller at Prudential Africa, a role he has held since the company restructured its operations in September 2021. Prior to that, he held the CFO position for Prudential Kenya (Prudential) for close to three years.

“At the heart of leadership is people. There is a huge buzz at the moment around artificial intelligence which is good but it cannot replace people. I believe that to get results out of your team, you require servant leadership that supports and provides resources for staff to be the best they can be. In my management approach, I do not have a monopoly on knowledge; my responsibility is to create an environment where teams can express themselves and develop winning ideas,” he says.

Joseph’s leadership is also evident outside of work where he provides mentorship to many young people and also serves as a director of Dignitas, a non-profit organisation in the education sector. Many get surprised when Joseph welcomes them to Mamlaka Hill Chapel, where he worships, on Sunday mornings, having swapped the corporate role he occupies during the week for the role of usher at the church.

The married father-of-three connects the dots between life outside and inside the office. He states that he has a deep desire “to die empty having shared all the knowledge and experience” he has gained with others.

“Success for me is about making a meaningful impact in the environment you find yourself in. I derive satisfaction when people succeed both personally and professionally. It is difficult to succeed at work if things are not well at home,” he says.

From mainstream to commercial

Joseph is keenly aware of his imperfections. ‘The name Kahenya means quick, intolerant and impatient,” he says with amusement. “A bit of that has rubbed off on me because I like to get things done pretty fast which is not always ideal. This is something I am consistently working on. I can also be quite routine in my approach and my wife is on a mission to get me to be more spontaneous and occasionally try out new things.”

Among the things that Joseph hopes to try to rekindle is his love for law. After high school, he wanted to become a lawyer but his mother convinced him to pursue CPA studies. An accountant herself, she argued that the legal field in Kenya was saturated. Besides CPA, Joseph obtained a degree from the United States International University (USIU) in 2002 followed a few years later with an MBA in strategic management from the same university.

The first highlight of his career was when he was promoted to chief accountant at Madison Insurance after working at the company for less than five years. This thrust him into a management role supervising over 20 people at the age of 28. He held this role for only a year before leaving the company for Old Mutual (OM).

“I was appointed a finance and investment manager at OM in January 2009. My colleagues thought it was unwise to leave Madison at that time but I knew I was ready for the next challenge. I preferred to work in a multinational organisation, which had better opportunities for growth and exhibited international best practices,” Joseph recalls.

OM purchased a stockbroking business and Joseph was deployed to look after it, which he did during a three-year stint. It was an exciting time as he was involved in the integration of the business which included rebranding, recruiting staff and positioning its systems for success. He also got to travel outside Kenya for roadshows, meeting institutional investors and selling Kenya as an investment destination. This was an exciting season for Joseph allowing him to break away from mainstream finance to frontline, client-facing engagements that stoked his commercial interest.

“With limited knowledge in stock broking, my success in the role proves that you can do anything if you have the right attitude. In 2013, OM purchased Faulu Bank and the CFO moved to head that integration. Consequently, I was appointed group finance manager responsible for both operational and strategic finance,” he explains.

Deliberate and unwavering

Four years later, Joseph called time on his tour of duty with OM, after the merger between UAP and OM, prompted by the desire to seek new opportunities aligned with his career aspirations and values.

In June 2017, Joseph took up the role of CFO at Jubilee Life Insurance which he held for a year before joining Prudential in the same role where he was responsible for the finance function for a period of two and a half years. ‘’It was refreshing to work as part of the Prudential team whose work ethos and values were congruent with my personal values,’’ he says.

After the stint at Prudential Kenya, Joseph was offered a regional financial controller role for Africa, where he currently supports the finance function across eight markets namely Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Togo and Cameroon.

“I feel abundantly blessed in my career journey thus far and would not change much looking back. I have had both highs and lows, yet I choose to celebrate these peaks and troughs as they have fuelled my ambitions to be better and carry the team along. Perhaps, I would try to limit my competing priorities so as to find more time to read more broadly. I would also advise young professionals to network and be deliberate about forming the right relationships that will improve their lot,” he concludes.

Joseph believes integrity is a currency that a finance professional must never compromise on. ‘’This has contributed greatly to my career progression and I would encourage the CFO fraternity to embrace this value without wavering,’’ he states.

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