“Step by step relentlessly. If you are always taking a step as big and as fast as you can towards a goal, you are always getting closer to your target.”
As the Managing Partner & Chief Executive Officer at Cytonn Investments, my typical day is crafted around five things:
- The core initiatives which I monitor daily to ensure that we are making progress; at any one point, I have about 20 initiatives around the firm, but there will be about 3 to 4 big strategic initiatives,
- Reacting to matters as they arise; as a CEO you can never really perfectly plan your day as there will be issues coming at you from all sides of the business,
- Keeping in touch with people around the firm, as the discussions allow me to gather insights, compare and contrast views, sense problems & opportunities. I like to ask about “what is the one thing we should change at Cytonn?”
- I talk to clients at any opportunity I get, “how are we doing? & what is the one thing we can improve on?”
- When I get some quiet time, I like to think about possibilities. And it usually around 3 questions: How can we deliver extraordinary returns and servicing to our clients? How can we create compelling opportunities for Cytonn staff, especially the top performers, and how do we make Cytonn a compelling brand for all stakeholders?
To be successful, you must be passionate about what you do. I, however, don’t look at passion from the context of what I love to do. To me, passion is about giving my very best and focusing intensely on the core task or challenge in front of me. The fact that I may or may not like to do it, I think is not quite relevant, what is relevant is once I take it on, I give it my all and when I see results, I get a kicker out of it.
I hold a BSc. In Accounting from Monmouth University, an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and I am also a CPA. In terms of recognitions so far – Institut Choisel top 200 business leaders in Africa 2014, Business Daily Africa Top 40 Under 40 Men 2012, & Who’s Who in American Colleges & Universities.
I started off my career at KPMG New Jersey as an auditor where I learned financial statements analysis and detailed quality work. After KPMG, I took a path towards Investment Banking at Lehman Brothers, a career line which proved to be my real break. As an Associate in Investment Banking, I had to put in extremely long and hard hours - I honestly don’t think there is any other career that works as hard and that puts in longer hours than junior bankers do.
As a summer associated, working for almost 40 hours continuously, of course with a few naps in between was not unusual; I could get called to work on a Saturday afternoon to analyze a transaction and prepare a presentation for Monday morning, leaving that Monday morning to go to sleep having delivered the presentation to the senior banker who was scheduled to go meet a client. Banking taught me how to execute & get things done and how to deliver exceptionally high-quality work that one can genuinely be proud of.
Consistently executing with speed and precision over long periods of time sets you and your organization apart. When you bring that kind of culture and work ethic to a region that still sees connections, cartels, and kickbacks as the competitive advantage, you can grow very fast and do very well, because clients still want the best execution if they can get it. People always wonder why Cytonn is growing, we are just damn good at what we do, period.
I really love finance and investments, with a keen interest in the valuation bit. I was intrigued to learn while at Wharton that any investment is nothing more than a series of future cash flows, and once you reasonably estimate the amounts and timings of the cash flows, you can come up with a valuation to inform a decision as to whether to invest or not. At Cytonn we emphasize that our analysts must approach investment decisions from a fundamental detailed analysis point of view, a culture that has enabled us to pick the best investment opportunities for our clients. Beyond technical skills, I also love general management. There is something fascinating about identifying a problem or opportunity and putting together a team and going at the problem until it's solved.
After my Investment Banking career in Wall Street, which ended in the thick of the global financial crisis, I came back to Kenya where I headed the investment management arm at Britam before leaving with a team to set up Cytonn. I was part of the founding team that saw an untapped opportunity in alternative investments, especially in the investment grade real estate. The real estate market did not approach the asset class from an analytical point of view, hence there is a lot of non-obvious yet attractive real estate if you do market research and invest based on returns analysis. We were convinced that there was a compelling opportunity in alternative assets, but the execution approach, the values and incentive structures required us to set up an independent shop.
While building an Investment Banking career has been very satisfying, it has not been without its challenges. Career wise, adjusting into Wall Street was a very big challenge – whether it's skin color, accent or culture, I just did not fit into Wall Street. That sense of being a third-class team member eats into confidence, which can be very debilitating. I, however, wanted to do it as I had the skill set and the few people who encouraged me to stick it out made all the difference. My challenge was not technical; it was social capital.
Even with the challenges, both in starting the career and in setting up and running Cytonn, I find deep meaning in the work I do, in two ways: From a micro level, financial security is important to everyone. When we deliver above average returns to our clients, we are giving them some edge in their financial security relative to their peers. From a macro level, as an investment manager, we are always allocating capital to good businesses, which funds their growth, creates jobs and uplifts the standards of living. The opportunity for capital markets funding in the region is huge. In advanced economies, banks account for only 40% of business funding, here we are at 95% of funding from banks – this shows just how much opportunity there is in product development and innovation to develop alternative funding opportunities.
Having built a career in Investment Banking and now in Real Estate, I welcome all like-minded and driven people willing to build their careers to join us at Cytonn in making a difference in the region. I believe in hard work and building oneself from the ground up - anyone can do it! To be successful, you have to be passionate, driven and willing to work long and hard to develop skills. The first 3 years will be tough; you have to be willing to spend more time at Cytonn than you will spend with anyone in your life.