Dr. Gachao Kiuna is the current Executive Director of Aqua Power and former Chief Executive Officer of TransCentury, a leading infrastructure company listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. He is considered by Forbes to be among the 10 youngest power men in Africa. He holds a Ph.D. in biotechnology from the Institute of biotechnology in Cambridge, which he bagged at age 24. He also holds a first-class from Imperial College London in biochemistry.
After completing his studies, Gachao Kiuna returned home to join the sub-Saharan Africa office of McKinsey & co. He joined as a Management Consultant. Early on, he started to demonstrate the ability to develop great ideas, to design good projects, and to guide people. He was promoted to the role of engagement manager of one of the biggest projects of McKinsey in Africa- the vision 2030. This vision 2030 was developed as Kenya’s economic blueprint. In collaboration with the Kenyan government, the private sector, local and international agencies, and many other stakeholders in the country, Gaucho developed the vision 2030 strategy. His obsession with perfection encouraged him to work with experts across the globe to understand the best examples relating to all parts of the vision 2030 strategy. He would fondly remember how he led the day-to-day work of the vision 2030 team.
The Vision 2030 Strategy
Kenya’s Vision 2030 aims to transform Kenya into an industrialized country that provides a high quality of life to its citizens in a clean and Serene environment by 2030. In 2008, the then President Mwai Kibaki launched the initiative Vision 2030 as a medium to speed up the transformation of the country into an industrialized country.
Dr. Gachao was one of the McKinsey experts who presented the Economic pillar of the vision 2030 strategy to Kenya’s president, Vice president, and other key government stakeholders. He also helped in the development of the initial proposal for the setup of the Kenya vision 2030 delivery secretariat based on key learning from other successful units such as the Prime Minister’s delivery unit in the UK, Economic Development Boards (EDB) in Bahrain and Singapore or the Economic Planning Unit in Malaysia.
Leading TransCentury at an early age
When Dr. Gachao Kiuna joined TransCentury at 37 years, he was one of the youngest CEO of a listed company. The main factor that influenced his decision to join at the time was that he believed that Domestic Direct Investment (DDI) could play a crucial role in economic transformation. In his capacity as CEO, Dr. Gachao was responsible for managing the company’s infrastructure business across 14 African countries. When he came on board, the main focus was on power and transport infrastructure the main pillars of infrastructure spend and growth across the continent.
Dr. Gachao discovered early on that infrastructure developments have not kept pace with the economic transformation of the continent. He strongly believes that this infrastructure deficit places a hurdle on the way of continued economic growth. He resigned from the job in January 2014. TransCentury was one of the 16 companies that issued profit warnings from the year for the year ended in December 2015. He left the position due to poor corporate performance as a result of a tougher business climate and poor execution of strategies. Apart from working in McKinsey, Dr. Gachao also consulted for the Dangote group and the United Bank for Africa chaired by Tony Elumelu.
Africa’s Infrastructure Deficit
In general, Africa lags behind the rest of the world in coverage of key infrastructure classes especially energy, road, and rail transportation. For instance, with respect to electricity, entire communities in large areas of Africa are not connected to the grid. For households and businesses, alternative energy sources expensive. For example, generator-based power in sub-Saharan Africa costs at least three times what grid consumers pay across the world. Even those who have electricity, use very little compared to the average person in Europe.
Closing the infrastructure gap is a matter of utmost importance for the continent’s economic development. It also affects the quality of life of the people and the growth of its business sector. Dr. Gachao’s identification of infrastructure development as a bottleneck for Africa is well stated. It is backed by research and experience from projects in different parts of Africa.
TransCentury group focuses on infrastructure development. It has three divisions: Power Infrastructure, Infrastructure Projects, and Engineering and Construction. It is one of the major companies in this space in Africa. The good news is that infrastructure investment in Africa has been increasing in the past decade. International investors have the appetite and funds to spend much more across the continent. The hurdle is Africa’s poor track record of moving projects to financial close. A whopping 80% of infrastructure projects fail at the feasibility and business-plan stage.
Learning Points for Young African Leaders
There are significant differences in the level of development in countries around the world. All countries do not have the same rate of development. For example, people in the sub-Saharan region of Africa experience lower welfare than people in Europe and North America. Leaders have the potential to influence factors that affect development. Therefore, leadership has a lot to do with the low quality of life we find in Africa. Leadership has a lot to do with the ability to motivate other people to act and provide support for achieving beneficial goals.
One major challenge for leadership in Africa is that it is deployed from a viewpoint of hierarchies and chains of command. This means that the leaders have the power of voice while the followers on the listening end. The modern-day business leader needs to have some skills which, if lacking, could spell disaster for the organization. For instance, take the stellar example of Dr. Gachao Kiuna who, at age 37 led a global brand like TransCentury. He was skilled in identifying talented team players and collaborating with them. He also had excellent communication skills. No wonder he was able to consult for the likes of Dangote and Tony Elumelu, in addition to the governments he consults for.
The African continent so far suffered from a leadership vacuum. This has had negative effects on the fate of the African people. Fortunately, there are leadership programs set up to address the problem of leadership in Africa. Leadership is a skill that can be learned. The time for young leaders to step up to the challenge is now.