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Monday, March 26, 2012


Titus Naikuni.
Titus Naikuni, the 6 foot 3 inch tall CEO of Kenya Airways is set to leave the company sometime this year, it has emerged. Reports indicate he could be headed for a career in politics with some pundits mentioning the Kajiado governorship as a possible next stop.

Naikuni, CEO since February 2003, reportedly will be succeeded by Mbuvi Ngunze, the current Chief Operations Officer who joined KQ in August last year.

Timelines are not clear but quite likely, Naikuni will steer the company's ongoing Sh21billion rights issue before making an official announcement.

Like Michael Joseph when he headed Safaricom or James Mwangi at Equity Bank, Naikuni is viewed as virtually synonymous with Kenya Airways and it is hard to imagine the airline without him at the helm.

But Ngunze comes with impressive credentials and the management team is quite vibrant. Ngunze is a Lafarge alumni having held various senior positions at Bamburi and Lafarge group.

As CEO Titus Naikuni has never been known to suffer fools gladly or have the patience for them. It is only until recently that Naikuni has eased up and relaxed somewhat and seems not to take things as seriously as he did before.

A member of the dream team of technocrats as PS Transport between 1999-2001, Naikuni served with among others Martin Oduor-Otieno, currently CEO KCB Group, Mwaghazi Mwachofi, the current Finance Director of the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance in Geneva, Richard Leakey, Shem Migot-Adholla and Wilfred Mwangi.

Naikuni's departure comes at a time when the company has launched a 10-year business plan that will see it treble its fleet with an emphasis on Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Boeing 777s for its long-haul fleet along with 737s and Embraer 190s.

It will also seek to raise over US$3billion for purchase of aircraft beginning with the Sh21billion rights issue that will cater for deposits for its first Dreamliners set to be delivered over 2013/2014.

Boeing requires deposits for planes to be made 24-month ahead of delivery time.

Government and KLM have committed to taking up their rights amounting to 49 per cent while institutional investors are also said to have expressed strong interest. 

A successful rights issue will also shore up the airline's balance sheet allowing it to leverage it for borrowing from banks.

The airline is also said to be set to launch a regional airline, Jambo Jet, which will cater to a changing market that now features an increasing number of travelling businessmen as opposed to the tourists who have previously formed the bulk of its business regionally.

A cargo business has also been started as the airline seeks to capitalize on the flow of goods from the Far East into the African continent as well as Jomo Kenyatta International Airport's emergence as the busiest cargo airport in Africa after surpassing Cairo and Johannesburg.

KQ for those who know it has a simple business plan. It uses its regional flights to bring passengers from all over the continent and loads them onto long haul jets that take it to far flung destinations like Bangkok, Gouangzhou and the like. It then does the reverse bringing in travellers from around the globe and putting them in 737s and Embraers that take them into African capitals.

The airline plans to build the most extensive network on the continent making it the undisputed leader and use Dreamliners to take them to any part of the world.

For instance when its workers went on strike some time back, operations in West Africa, Nigeria, Cote D'Ivoire and the like were severely disrupted given KQ's grip on international air travel in the region.

Titus Naikuni is known for his biting remarks and sarcastic wit particularly when shooting down reporters' questions when he feels they are ill-informed or ambigous.

One time a reporter asked him when Pride Center, its training and simulation facility would open yet it was already operational.

"Pride Center is already open, in fact it is old, it needs paint."

Naikuni, 59, sits on several boards including Maersk Kenya, AccessKenya, East Africa Portland Cement and Magadi Soda.

One thing he was yet to do was to reform the corporate culture at the airline. Like Safaricom and KCB, some feel it is now time for a major restructuring of the airline to streamline the way it does business and align its personnel skills to better support its growth strategy.

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