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Africa's rising stars: James Mworia, group CEO and managing director at Centum

Nationality: Kenyan

James Mworia has grafted his way up the corporate ladder at Centum. 

Starting as an intern working in the company’s filing room in 2001, while at the same time studying for his chartered financial analyst exams, Mworia became head of investments at the company in 2005 before being promoted again in 2008 to CEO – the youngest CEO of a listed company in Kenya.

“Throughout my career at Centum I have had such a variety of roles, which really set me up to run the company," he says. "The experience I received was invaluable.”

Capital-markets development in Kenya is central to Mworia’s work at Centum and beyond. He sits on the Capital Markets Authority board and the Central Depository & Settlement Corporation in Nairobi. 

Centum has been listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) since 1967, was cross-listed in Uganda in 2010 under Mworia’s leadership and now has more than 38,000 shareholders. Since his appointment, the company has delivered a return of 197% to its shareholders.

James Mworia 

Through its private equity business, Centum has also managed to exit a portfolio company on the NSE – something challenging in the illiquid domestic markets in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Publishing company Longhorn was listed on the NSE in 2012 after Centum made an initial investment in the company in 2008. 

Next on the list is Nairobi-based UAP, one of east Africa’s leading insurance companies, which began trading on the over-the-counter market in December 2012 to create sufficient liquidity before listing on the exchange.

“While exits are difficult in the current environment, they are necessary to deepen the capital markets, and we will push for other companies within our portfolio to eventually be listed,” says Mworia.

With Mworia’s leadership, Centum became one of the first Kenyan companies to win a real-estate investment trust (Reit) licence in December 2013. Centum’s real-estate project Two Rivers in Nairobi will be the first to be considered a Reit. 

The development, which will cover nine million square feet, will house hotels, hospitals, an international school and offices as well as the largest mall in SSA, outside of South Africa. The project has received interest from international blue-chip companies hoping to build their presence in east Africa.

“As it stands, there are limited investment opportunities for the amount of capital that is actually available in Kenya," says Mworia. "By developing good-quality, large-scale opportunities such as Two Rivers, and also transforming small companies into local and regional champions, we can offer investors something extra.”

When Centum received its licence to operate a fund management company in June, Mworia wasted no time in acquiring a 73.35% stake in Kenya’s second-largest pension fund Genesis. Out of the top-four asset management companies, Genesis is the only one that remains locally owned, the others having been bought by international investors.

This is an important change, says Mworia, highlighting the maturity of local companies that can now participate and even compete with international players – impossible less than 10 years ago. 

Centum, under Mworia, is leading the change in Kenya.

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