Written by: CEOs Profile

James Mworia: From Intern to Kenya’s Best Paid CEO

James Mworia
James Mworia Courtesy of Sidian Bank

Leaders come and go; what remains is a legacy of their tenure. Exceptional corporate leaders leave an indelible mark on the firms they lead. James Mworia is one such leader; he is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Centum Investments.

He has become a household name in business circles, winning hearts and awards. Centum has become a giant towering across the Kenyan economy.

James Mworia

When James Mworia was starting his career, he got an internship at ICDC Investments. He had a Bachelor’s degree in Law and was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Mworia was overqualified with a stellar academic background. As a legal clerk, his work involved a lot of filing work. He took up the role and made the most of it.

Spotting Opportunities

Mworia is a man who spots opportunities others may miss. With time on his hands, he read many of the documents he was filing. It gave him a deep understanding of how the business operated. He would also volunteer for many other tasks within the firm, gaining more skills. Mworia was preparing himself for bigger, better roles. A hardworking man with big ambitions.

Too Conservative

During a staff meeting, his boss asked a question that others were unable to answer. With insights from reading the documents, Mworia came up with an answer. It earned him a promotion.

He rose to become the chief investments officer for ICDC. He soon quit the role as he felt ICDC was too conservative. There was no room to grow in such an environment.

Do Things Differently

Eager for a new challenge, he got a job at TransCentury Group. TransCentury Group was an investment firm focused on engineering and infrastructure projects. His former employer, ICDC, would then try to poach him. He was asked what he would change were he to return to his old role.

This needed planning, and after a few weeks, he came up with a new strategy. The board was impressed with his proposals and asked him to be the CEO to execute the plans. This was a huge leap for him. He was now going to head a firm that had first hired him as an intern.

Regenerating Centum

One of his first moves was hanging the ICDC Investments name to Centum. He wanted a brand with a fresh outlook. That was just the beginning as there was more to come.

The firm had about  Ksh 6 billion in assets, an overdraft of Ksh 200 million, and Ksh 10 million in cash. Mworia wanted the firm to change its investment strategy to be more aggressive. This needed money and time to work out.

Withholding Dividends

Mworia withheld Centum’s dividends for years and invested them. It was a tough call but worth it.  Twelve years since he became the CEO, the massive growth in shareholder wealth is proof. Centum has billions in assets, and its share price reflects the market’s confidence in the firm.

Shift in Direction

Under Mworia, the focus shifted to holding majority stakes when investing in firms. Being a majority shareholder enables you to influence company decisions. Centum also shifted focus from listed companies to non-listed firms. It was a sound strategy that would eventually work out.

Centum was rebirthed, a new entity on full growth mode. Some of its projects are:

  • Two Rivers Mall -This is the biggest mall in East Africa. It is set on 102 acres with office and retail space.
  • Vipingo  Estates – This is a project based on the Kenyan coast with luxurious houses.
  • Sabis School –  This is an international school located in the diplomatic blue zone of Runda. Centum has partnered with international investors in its first foray into education.

Economic Downturn

The investment firm now concentrates on marketable securities, real estate, and private equity. With this coronavirus pandemic, Centum has also been affected. It recently posted a Ksh 1.98 billion loss. With an economic downturn globally, this does not dim James Mworia’s shine. He will have to use his managerial wits to guide his ship into profitable waters again.


In the past, Mworia has received many accolades for his achievements:

  • Africa CEO of the Year  by Wharton Club of Africa in 2013
  • Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellow in  2012
  • World Economic Forum Young Global Leader
  • Honorary doctorate degree by Machakos University

Lessons From James Mworia’s Journey

What are some of the lessons you can learn from James Mworia’s story?

  • Work hard with what you have. Leverage your current position or resources to get where you want to be. Being overqualified, he would have rejected the intern offer. Mworia made the proverbial lemonade with the lemons he was given.
  • Always be ambitious. Despite working as a legal clerk, he would volunteer for other tasks in other departments. He would do the menial tasks no one wanted to get their hands on. This enabled him to network across the organization. Mworia stood out from the herd. He was preparing to be a CEO.
  • Spot opportunities. Mworia would have chosen to be the average CEO, but he wanted to be a different breed. He took the challenging path, worked hard for it, and made a name for himself and the firm he leads. Choose to be exceptional.

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Tags: , Last modified: December 24, 2020