By STEVE UMIDHA
Most Kenyans hadn’t heard of the Russo name before. Let’s face it. The first time most did- atleast those in the corporate scene heard it, probably thought the guy might be French or Italian. Who knows?
Actually, the name Russo is a common Southern Italian and Sicilian surname. It is the Southern counterpart of Rossi and comes from a nickname indicating red hair or beard.
Well, you’ll have to get used to the name now after Kenya’s second largest bank, KCB Group Tuesday named Paul Russo as its next CEO – replacing the long-serving Joshua Oigara who is leaving the firm after nearly 10 years at the helm.
The abrupt departure of Mr. Oigara – a man credited with steadying the bank’s business both locally and regionally, caught many of the company’s staff in flagrante delicto, seven months ahead of his official retirement date which was due in December 31.
Russo, currently the managing director of National Bank of Kenya (NBK), from where he has been overseeing the integration of the bank into the KCB Group, is expected to carry the mantle, defying expectations the lender would pick an external candidate to replace Oigara.
He will make his debut today, following a similar script the bank employed a decade ago, when it replaced Martin Oduor Otieno with the then Chief Financial Officer Joshua Oigara in 2012.
KCB’s Board Chairman at the time Musa Ndeto, indicated that hiring from within would offer “a smooth transition,” in a selection process he insisted was transparent and competitive recruitment, describing Oigara as a young man who “has been able to articulate the KCB business and gain in-depth understanding of the bank’s operations.”
His assessment of the exiting KCB boss seems to have paid off, with Oigara leaving the bank in a relatively stable financial state. Only Equity Group has the highest market valuation according to NSE listings at Sh141.7 billion compared to KCB’s Sh126 billion as of March 2021.
He had been poached from Bamburi Cement where he served as an executive director and group finance director, was only 47 years old when he joined the bank.
His successor, was a former employee of Barclays bank now Absa bank and Price Waterhouse Coppers (PwC) as well as stints at Chase Bank, K-Rep Bank and Unga Ltd, will be assuming the high-pressure position at the age of 46.
Russo – an alumni of Mang’u Boys High School, had served as the group head of human resources (HR) at KCB before his surprise promotion to head NBK in 2019 following the lender’s acquisition by KCB Group in September of the same year.
Does he fit the bill?
A company’s CEO is often the face of the brand. In the case of Oigara, his unassuming countenance has become synonymous with the bank’s terrific growth numbers.
“He is therefore the right person for the job and will take the Group to the next level in its growth ambitions to become the undisputed regional leader and drive much-needed business transformation for greater impact of economies and communities around us” said KCB Group Chairman Andrew Wambari Kairu adding that the Board is confident that he will carry on with the Group’s resolve to simplify the world of our stakeholders to enable their progress.
During his tenure at NBK, Russo is credited for having executed a significant turnaround, moving the previously lossmaking business into profitability and on a trajectory for stronger growth into the future.
KCB is currently the third most valuable stock on the NSE with a market capitalization of Sh115 billion, which is about 5.28 percent of the NSE equity market.
The lender’s growth under Oigara included the acquisition of lenders in Tanzania and Rwanda – key markets that helped propel the group’s general revenues across the banking sector.
It is a responsibility Mr. Russo will be tasked to shoulder as he takes over the corner office amid ever-rising influence of Equity Group which overtook KCB as the most profitable bank last year on aggressive expansion to foreign markets.
His unyielding pursuit to tame what came to be known as ‘dirty tricks’ that nearly brought NBK on its knees owing to accumulating write-off loans, would however put him at loggerheads with some of the bank’s insiders who were opposed to his promotion and were believed to be colluding with defaulting customers to milk the lender dry.
In a previous interview with a local outlet, Russo is quoted as crediting his father for where he is today. “I got here by God’s grace. My father sold all his animals for that to happen (to attend Mangu Boys after sitting his KCPE in Samburu) and my late older brother sacrificed his education so that I could pursue mine.”
In the same interview, Russo says his greatest asset at the moment is his family and names Oigara as his biggest go-to man when corporate issues escalate to Twitter wars.
“When we were getting hammered on social media not long ago, the only point of comfort was family for me even though Joshua Oigara would also offer encouraging words,” he is quoted as saying.
He brings a wealth of experience in banking, operational management, people management, strategy, and a sharp business acumen.
He is currently the Managing Director National Bank of Kenya and the KCB Group Regional Business Director. He has over 20 years of work experience spanning executive and key roles including Group Human Resources Director, KCB Group Plc.
He holds an MBA from Strathmore University Business School and a Bachelor of Business Management from Moi University.
He also holds a Senior Executive Program for Africa Certificate from Harvard Business School and a Higher Diploma in Human Resource Management from the Institute of Human Resource Management (Kenya).
Paul has consistently been a great leader of outstanding performance. Over the past 8 years while at KCB, he has been involved in the running of key strategic assignments within the Group business, lately looking after the regional businesses (KCB’s businesses in Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan as well as KCB Capital and KCB Bancassurance Intermediary) and National Bank of Kenya.
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