Sophia Mukoba-Kioko: From hawker to global audit finance lead

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Sophia Mukoba-Kioko, FD at Unilever East Africa, recently left Kenya to take on a new role in London, UK, as the Unilever global audit finance lead. Although she has travelled extensively, this will be her first assignment outside the country.

At the start of September 2023, Sophia Mukoba-Kioko, FD Unilever East Africa, left Kenya to take on a new role in London, United Kingdom, as the Unilever global audit finance lead.

Although she has travelled extensively, this will be her first assignment outside the country, and the decision has been prompted by a number of factors.

“The world is changing, and I have come to appreciate that you need to step out of your comfort zone to grow. It is also good exposure for my kids,” she explained. “I’ve built my career in this market for about 25 years, and I have mastered it. It is time to stretch myself and get exposure outside Africa. In the new role, I will have the opportunity to work across all the continents which will go a long way in helping to build global networks.”

Over the course of nearly two decades within the East African market, Sophia has left a notable impact in the fields of audit and finance. However, her professional journey had an intriguing inception. After completing her first year as a Bachelor of Commerce student at the University of Nairobi, Sophia embarked on a 9-month break as per the university's schedule. During this hiatus, she took the initiative to enrol in a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) course as a private candidate. Yet, this endeavour didn't consume all her time, leading her to seek employment.

Alongside a friend, Sophia applied for a sales position advertised in a newspaper and was subsequently called in for an interview. In hindsight, they should have been wary when the interview only required them to submit their national IDs. However, being young and inexperienced, they complied. Unfortunately, the job turned out to be a form of street vending, where they were provided merchandise to peddle and required to return in the evening with cash and unsold items in exchange for their IDs and earned commissions. In the initial week, they were tasked with selling kitchen knives, an undoubtedly challenging endeavour. Sophia decided to quit after just one week, realizing that her transport expenses exceeded the commissions she was earning.

During her university breaks, Sophia gained experience as an audit intern at EY. Following her BCom undergraduate degree and obtaining her CPA (K) qualification, she embarked on her journey at Deloitte in 1998 as an auditor. Over a span of seven years at the firm, Sophia managed diverse clients across industries such as manufacturing, banking, insurance, and services. Her portfolio comprised a balanced mix of local and multinational entities.

Amidst her professional aspirations, Sophia's desire for both a thriving career and a family prompted a reassessment of her life's priorities. This pivotal juncture led her to bid farewell to Deloitte. In 2005, she transitioned to British American Tobacco (BAT), dedicating over a decade to the organisation. Eventually, in January 2017, Sophia assumed the role of FD Unilever East Africa, marking the latest chapter in her accomplished journey.

That inner voice

One of the defining moments in Sophia's career was when she received the prestigious Top 40 under 40 award from Business Daily Africa in 2012. Reflecting on her journey, she shared, "Another significant highlight occurred when I was appointed as the nutrition lead for the Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania cluster, taking on a double-hatting role. This opportunity aligned with my aspirations to enhance my commercial acumen, and the appointment served as a resounding vote of confidence from the business, reinforcing their belief in my capabilities."

In her capacity as the FD at Unilever East Africa, Sophia's oversight extended across six markets: Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Djibouti. Her instrumental role in steering the East Africa business towards exponential and sustainable growth has been underpinned by five years of unwavering profitability and a culture of conscientious controls that has fostered enhanced stewardship and value creation.

Attributing her accomplishments to a combination of hard work, guidance from career coaches and mentors, and a collaborative ethos, Sophia underscored the significance of team dynamics, stating, "The strength of a team is determined by its weakest link."

Confronting imposter syndrome head-on has been a conscious endeavour for Sophia. She acknowledged, "It's essential to quell that inner voice that questions our worthiness. Building self-assurance and persevering through challenges, even when the path is arduous, is paramount."

For Sophia, the concept of success is multifaceted. She expounded, "Success, in my view, lies in the ability to generate value and meaningful impact for the intended recipients. From the organisational standpoint, shareholders seek optimal returns on their investments, employees seek avenues for career growth, and the broader community desires an organisation's active involvement in making their surroundings a better place."

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