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Leadership Lessons from the Group MD, Kenya Airways

  Mar 23, 2012

Dr. Titus Tukero Naikuni, the Group Managing Director and CEO of Kenya Airways came to Strathmore Business School to give a Leadership session to the first year MBA participants on Wednesday 21st March 2012. Dr. Naikuni has had extensive boardroom experience as the Chairman of the Kenya Film Commission, Deputy Chairman of Magadi Soda Company Ltd and sits on the board of Maersk Kenya Ltd, Access Kenya Ltd and CFC Bank Kenya Limited.

He has also served on various company boards including Brunner Mond (South Africa), Kenya Power and Lighting Company and Housing Finance Company Limited. He was awarded Manager of the Year Award in 2002.


Don’t start at the top, instead start at the bottom

Start from the bottom and garner the experience needed to lead. I had always aspired to be the Managing Director and when I finally became one, I was given the task of convincing my colleagues of my ability to run the company. However, I did not begin as an MD. Always be prepared for what you think may not happen – be prepared to take up the next level – that way, you will be ahead of your game. By starting from the bottom, one can be empathetic to the experiences of others especially those at the bottom. However, do not be afraid to take risks or fear unchartered territories. I moved from a comfortable private company to work for the Government. Had I not taken this risk, I would not have gained the wealth of experience that I did.

Create and forge good relationships

We spend a great amount at work sometimes nine or even ten hours, more than even the time we spend at home with our families. It therefore makes sense to create friendships to avoid destroying the biggest portion of your life if you do not create friendships which enhance productivity. Some of the friendships formed at the workplace can outlast the positions and jobs and move on in time to even the next generation. Be open and honest to your colleagues and support each other, even out of work.

Create a great relationship with your suppliers. Understand that they must support you in order for you to succeed which will in turn reflect on their success. Initially Kenya Airways needed good facilities in order to train their crew. I negotiated with Boeing to sponsor the construction of the facilities which they did as they understood that for them to succeed, Kenya Airways had to succeed.

Do not burn your bridges

There is nothing wrong with resigning from your position or work place. I had tendered my 3 year resignation to Magadi Soda. I was not sure where I was headed though I knew that I needed a change as I had been in the same position for almost 10 years. At that time, I got an invitation to join the “Dream Team”, a team assembled by the Government to turn around the Kenyan economy and sponsored by the World Bank. I discussed the offer with those who were close to me including the Chairman at the time of Magadi Soda. I thereafter joined the team and after a while left to return as the MD of Magadi Soda. It is important for one not to burn bridges but instead be open and leave after an amicable agreement. Even after I joined Kenya Airways, I remained the Deputy Chairman of Magadi Soda.

Adhere to Ethics

As a leader be ethical in your behavior at work and be guided by professionalism and the right principles and not those of nepotism in recruitment. Do not go to the procurement office or interfere with procurement processes. Being unethical will not lead you anywhere and once a leader is unethical, then the team will also be unethical.

Use your employer’s time wisely and do not steal it by doing your personal errands or businesses. Remember, non -ethical behavior will not take you very far.

Expertise, Expertise, Expertise!

As leaders we are afraid to get expertise from the best. We tend to toil and toil until the situation becomes uncontrollable. Expertise is very crucial especially when it comes to managing a crisis. Go out and look for the right and best expertise.

You’re greatest asserts are your people

People! People! People! They are the greatest resource and probably the hardest to manage. Understand the value of your people and develop them.

As a leader, develop your people and groom them for the next step possibly, to take over from you. You become a success when you realise that they can do even better than you.

Have a Vision

As a leader, have a dream, a vision and a benchmark. Your people must believe in it so as to be able to attain it. If someone is skeptical, amicably agree on how you will part ways.

My personal benchmark is to serve for 10 years as a CEO. In developing your vision, ask yourself ‘Where do I want to be? Where is my treasure?’ Once you know the answer, it will not take you long to reach and attain it.

The sky is the limit.

About Dr. Titus Naikuni

Dr. Naikuni, holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nairobi. He is also a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Management Development Programme (PMD71) and was awarded a Doctor of Science Engineering by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, an honorary award in recognition of his contribution to development. He joined the Magadi Soda Company in 1979 as a trainee engineer and rose to the positions of Managing Director of that company in 1995 and Managing Director of the Magadi Railway Company (a subsidiary of Magadi Soda Company) in 1996. Between August 1999 and March 2001 Mr. Naikuni was a member of a team of World Bank sponsored Kenyan technocrats, known as the “Dream Team” who were engaged by the President Moi to turn around the Kenyan economy. In this capacity Mr. Naikuni served as permanent secretary to the Ministry of Information, Transport and Communications and was a member of the Board of Kenya Airways during that period. He returned to Magadi Soda Company in April 2001 where he continued to serve as Managing Director, a position he held up to his present Appointment with Kenya Airways in February 2003.

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