CFI.co Meets the Regional CEO of Britam: Stephen Wandera
Engagement, diligence, care and integrity are the guiding principles of Britam Regional CEO Stephen Wandera. Optimism is another of his character traits: “I believe that the scale of possibilities is almost endless, provided there is good leadership. Leaders are found throughout society. You have leaders at home, at work and pretty much anywhere in between. I am most fulfilled when meeting, or indeed exceeding, the highest expectations of my stakeholders in business and those at home. I also derive satisfaction from demonstrating to society that such a level of excellence can be attained by focusing on engagement and diligence.”
Mr Wandera thrives on the daily challenge of providing, through Britam, life-changing solutions to his customers; in the process adding value to both the company and to the wider society. “I must really add that I also wish to be the good husband and father my family expects me to be. Actually, this is what excites me most of all.”
In order for success to be sustaining, Mr Wandera believes in continued learning: “That learning may not take place in the classroom but classroom work does come into the equation sooner or later. People can be successfully developed into entrepreneurs. Opportunities can be identified and seized through the training of people who would not otherwise have ventured into business.”
For Mr Wandera, failure is not necessarily a bad thing: “Entrepreneurs can be successful or they can fail. We celebrate success but often forget those courageous souls who failed. Failure does not in itself mean that the entrepreneur lacked business skills. Business has inherent environmental risks that can torpedo even the best.”
This is where insurance incomes into play. Events that Britam readily insures against – such as earthquakes or terrorism – have put paid to many businesses that were not adequately prepared. “Most entrepreneurs fail more often than they succeed. It is persistence and sheer providence that contribute most to their ultimate success.” For Mr Wandera, business insight is a valuable gift that guides entrepreneurs towards the market whether they are in farming, trading, practicing law, engineering, medicine, physics, or any other trade or profession.
The Early Years
From the age of five, Mr Wandera has called Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, home. Before that, the young Mr Wandera lived in different districts of the country as his father, a civil servant, was reassigned to from one posting to the next. “I was born in Naivasha and later lived in Kisumu, Bungoma, Kerugoya and Nakuru.”
The defining moment, however, came a bit later in life. “In fact, there have been many defining moments, beginning with my appointment as a class monitor in nursery school – can you imagine? Throughout my life, I was always entrusted with some leadership role such as head prefect, head boy or leader. In all honesty, the most defining moment of my life was the acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Saviour in 1986. Everything has been moving upward ever since.”
Mr Wandera has enjoyed the benefits and dedication of a great many mentors throughout his professional life. One, however, towers above all others: “Benson Wairegi, my Group CEO, stands out in his brilliance, maturity, humility, wisdom and generosity.”
Mr Wandera’s personal growth was positively impacted by his exposure to the Round Table Movement, a source of lifelong friends and a venue that allowed for extensive travel. Yet again, he was destined to lead this movement. “I was happily introduced to Round Table by my then boss after I showed interest. I have grown from graduate entry level to my current role where I combine being CEO in Kenya with oversight of our insurance companies in the region.”
Mr Wandera had actually wanted to become a university professor but was dismayed with the treatment meted out to dons at the time. A friend mentioned the great opportunities available in insurance. The rest, as they say, is history.
Paying close attention to the hiring of staff, the Britam CEO looks for young people who have put in the effort and dedication required to clearly excel at school or at work. “We also look for people who can align positively to our value set. These are always the best candidates.
Though Britam grew steadily in the 1980s and 1990s, Mr Wandera feels that the company might have done even better were it not for an, at times, rather adverse business environment. “There was one year when government borrowing through treasury bills propelled annualized interest rates to 73%. You can imagine the implications for businesses: No liquidity for the equity market, no funds for business growth, impossibly high borrowing rates, inflation etc. That was not fun.”
After working at Britam for over twenty years, Mr Wandera has few, if any, regrets and doesn’t think he’d do things any different the second time around. “The organization did change considerably over these last two decades. Once again, the company finds itself on the cusp of a quantum leap in scope and capabilities. This will introduce a very exciting new customer proposition and propel us to leadership in financial services in the region.”
Britam already operates in Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda. In every country in the region, the company’s CEO anticipates providing a broad range of excellent insurance, financial, investment and property services.