Titus Naikuni, Chairman, Airtel Kenya, Kenya
Stepping down from the CEO job at Kenya Airways in 2014 after more than a decade at the helm, Titus Naikuni, one of Kenya’s most visible executives, has shown no sign that he wants to retire quietly. The veteran businessman, one of the World Bank-appointed ‘Dream Team’ of technocrats who led the recovery of the Kenyan economy at the start of the millennium, has since been signed up as chairman of Rift Valley Railways and of Airtel Kenya, the telecommunications operator.
While the turnaround of Airtel might not be as big a job as fixing the Kenyan economy was, Naikuni will need to deploy a good deal of political nous and business acumen.
Naikuni is credited with turning Kenya Airways into the successful – and profitable – pan-African business that it has now become, and is known to have good relationships with government.
Bharti Airtel has not had an easy ride in Africa since it paid close to $10bn for Zain Telecom in 2010. The Africa business has underperformed the group’s other operations in South Asia. Costs have risen, regulatory tangles in key markets have slowed revenue growth and the company has been selling off its towers business in order to pay down its large debt load.
Airtel will be looking to deepen its involvement in mobile financial services and to find ways to increase its permanent subscriber base in a market characterised by churn. There will be complicated regulatory conversations as well, as mobile operators edge closer to the business of banking. Kenya is Airtel’s second-biggest market in Africa, and adding a seasoned operator like Naikuni could be one step towards fulfilling the company’s potential.