Barclays Kenya boss ISAAC TAKAWIRA is the first ever non-white to be appointed CEO of a Barclays subsidiary in Africa.He
talked to Special Correspondent GITAU WARIGI about his
management style, the Donde Bill and the political problems dogging his
native ZimbabweWhat is it like to do business in a dying economy?People are not borrowing.Banks are essentially living off Treasury Bills.
The man on the receiving doesn't believe things are that bad.
"Oh no," he
responds with mock horror, his
face breaking into a wide grin that exposes a distinctive gap between his
According to Mr Takawira
, 65 per cent of them predict increased profits this year compared with last year.
However, smaller businessmen and traders are in dire straits.They form the bulk of the bank's customers, but many have drastically cut back on borrowing due to the punishing interest rates regime, a fact Mr Takawira
does not deny.
Credit now is more and more the preserve of big corporations and the government (via Treasury Bills).Mr Takawira
is the first to admit that investment is fleeing.He
estimates that between 20-25 per cent of all investment taking place in Tanzania is of Kenyan origin.This is especially the case with manufacturers, he
The litany of causes is familiar.Poor infrastructure, high power tariffs, non-availability of capacity on Kenyan rail - all have contributed to the high cost of doing business in Kenya.So has been the high interest rates on lending, a fact Mr Takawira
does not deny.
Above all, in the banker's view, is the "confidence factor."This is affected by many things, he
explains."In any election year anywhere, it is prevalent.But in Kenya we have had it running.What business wants is a degree of certainty with regard to government policy.Corruption is a factor.It contributes to the erosion of confidence.The whole governance structure matters."
While waiting to see Mr Takawira
office, this writer engaged in a lively discussion on the supposed demerits of the Donde Bill on "overall business" by the CEO's otherwise personable personal assistant.Among the files lining the shelves of the PA's office was a particularly fat one clearly marked "Donde." He
is dark-skinned, rotund, with lively eyes and a very engaging smile that puts the visitor at ease.He
even offers to pour a cup of tea himself from the tray on his
desk for the visitor.It is 8.00 o'clock in the evening, well past the bank's official closing hour and there are a few staffers on the 8th floor of Barclays Plaza in Nairobi, where the CEO's suite of offices is located. Mr Takawira
brings up the Donde issue himself.
Whatever it is, the Donde Bill is wildly popular with the public, fed up as they are with the high interest rates the banks are charging.Mr Takawira
is the first to admit that the banks may have underestimated this fact, and also that their clumsy reaction could have done with better PR handling.
There is nowhere, he
argues, where some resentment against banks is not a constant factor.In Kenya, the mood has been especially heightened by the perception that banks have been making windfall profits at everybody's expense. He
points out that the high interest rates regime was not a creation of banks.In fact, the root problem was political.The rates first hit the roof in the early 1990s as a consequence of the gross increase in money supply that preceded the 1992 general election.
"The problem was not caused by banks.The banks were caught up in it," he
explains.The Barclays boss strongly feels that in a liberalised market, the onus is on the banks to regulate themselves, not the politicians through parliament to do it for them.
Over time, interest rates have come down as the inflation has subsided, Mr Takawira
maintains.BBK's base lending rate is 14 per cent, four points above the Treasury Bill rate, which in contracts has zero risk.BBK
touts its base lending rate as the lowest in the market at present. Mr Takawira is the first ever non-white to be appointed CEO of a Barclays subsidiary in Africa.
It happened in 1991, when he
was chosen to head Barclays Zimbabwe
.He scored another first when he was appointed CEO of Barclays Kenya in November 2000.
took over Barclays Zimbabwe
, the bank was making $5.6 million in profits.When he
left it had shot up to $63 million.This translated to an annual average growth of 35 per cent. BBK
is much larger than the Zimbabwe subsidiary, whether in terms of equity, number of customers, or outlets.And while Zimbabwe is a far more sophisticated financial market in terms of skills and product diversity (a spillover from the neighbouring South African market), Kenya has the bigger and more vibrant private sector.Kenya's population, of course, is more than double Zimbabwe's 12 million people. Mr Takawira's
management philosophy is all about having the right calibre of staff.His
vision of BBK
is tied up with this.It may look simple, but in his
mind a good bank is all about people."This is a service industry.I want to develop the people I work with into a team that will make BBK the best and most profitable business in Kenya." He
is not shy about commenting on the troubling events in his
country of birth, Zimbabwe.He
describes the situation as unfortunate and disappointing."As a businessman, I and others have tried very hard to influence the situation for the better.
was born in 1943 in the Masvingo region of Zimbabwe.His
birthplace is a walking distance from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, the centre of the Munhumutapa Kingdom.He is a trained accountant, and for 17 years worked in industry after graduating with a BA in economics from the University of Southern Rhodesia in 1968.His
career in banking, virtually all of it with Barclays
, spans 19 years.He joined Barclays Zimbabwe in 1983 after a three-year stint with the government immediately after independence.He
had headed a section of the Treasury dealing with domestic and international finance.
In 1991 he
rose to CEO post of Barclays
in Zimbabwe , indeed the first ever in Africa and in November 2000, he
was posted as CEO to BBK
. Mr Takawira
is married with six children - three sons and three daughters."It's an even number, in line with African tradition," he
chuckles.The eldest, a girl, is married in Botswana.
Two of the children are in high school in Kenya, another is attending university in the US, while the two youngest are at home in Nairobi.