Meet the Boss: James Mworia, CEO, Centum

‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.

James Mworia

James Mworia, CEO, Centum Investment Company

1. What was your first job?

My first job was filing in a law firm during school holidays when I was in high school. At the end of the holiday they paid me Ksh.800 (US$9.5), which I used to buy a jeans suit. My first job at Centum was also filing documents as an intern back in 2001. I enjoyed it because I used to read the files. One day the senior managers decided to administer a quiz among all employees on their understanding of the business. I had the highest score and was given a voucher of Ksh.5,000 ($59) and later a job. Working from the bottom has given me a good understanding of the business.

2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?

My mother. She gave me a lot of confidence. Success is 90% in the mind. It is not your abilities, but confidence. She believed in me.

3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

I believe very much in delivering to promise. Running a listed company means every six months you are announcing what you have achieved. The bigger the business gets the more difficult it becomes and execution challenges increase. It is like running on a treadmill and the treadmill is moving faster.

4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?

The ability to work well with people. As a leader you cannot do anything on your own. It is a combination of things, but if I did not have that ability to work with people and motivate people it would have been very difficult.

5. What are the best things about Kenya?

Every time I am out of the country for two weeks I feel like I want to get back. It has to be the people. The Kenyan people are very friendly.

6. And the worst?

I think our political leadership has let us down. Sometimes they say people deserve the leaders they get, but I think in this case we have been dealt a particularly poor hand.

7. Your future career plans?

I intend to stay at Centum and continue growing the business.

8. How do you relax?

I play squash once in a while. I also play with my children and talk with my wife. Recently I ran in the Lewa marathon and I finished way head of very many people in just two and half hours.

9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?

We are very fortunate to have the opportunities in Africa today. I think it is the most favourable time if you look at Africa’s history. Young people in Europe today are facing many challenges and don’t have these opportunities. It is for us to make our mark. It is very easy to make your mark in Africa now if you are focused.

10. How can Africa realise its full potential?

We need to tap the right leadership. We need inspirational leadership that is not selfish, but instead service oriented.

James Mworia (34) is the CEO of Centum Investment Company Limited, the largest quoted investment firm in East Africa, listed on the Nairobi and Uganda Securities Exchanges. He was recognised as the Africa Young Business Leader of the Year 2011 at the All Africa Business Leader Awards.