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Brown Ondego From KPA to RVR

NAIROBI, August 12- The Kenya Uganda Railway concessionaire, Rift Valley Railways (RVR), has been in the news lately, but for all the wrong reasons. So when its board announced a change in the management, everyone was keen to know who had replaced the immediate former Managing Director, Roy Puffet.

At a press conference to announce the new changes, Ngugi Kiuna, RVR Steering Committee Chairman, was flanked by a medium-built, dark man whom he introduced as the new RVR Executive Chairman. Brown Ondego was not a new personality to the media; he previously headed the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).

Capital Business sought to find out what the man is all about.
He is a Supply Planning Management and Operations expert, an alumnus of the London Business School and, as he confidently told me, he had helped turn around the KPA into a profitable parastatal.

“I have been in the shipping industry since 1974 when I joined McKenzie Kenya Limited as a management trainee where I rose through the ranks,” he continues. “In 1992, I was appointed the Managing Director at Mackenzie Holdings Company and in 1999 I was invited to help turnaround the KPA where I served for six years.”

Q: What have you been doing with yourself since leaving KPA?

A: After I left KPA, I joined MJ Group which owns Grain Bulk Handling, Great Lakes Services, Great Lakes Uganda Limited and many others. My responsibility has been to improve the efficiencies of existing operations, expand the business and re-craft and see whether we can employ new innovations in the way of doing things.

Q: What were some of the highlights in your career?

A: The one that really stands out for me is the involvement in the turn-around of the KPA. When I joined the Authority, it was ridden with Sh20 billion worth of debts including arrears in taxes, it was operating with an overdraft of Sh1 billion and in the kitty I only found Sh600 million. But within a period of one year, we were able to achieve financial turnaround and we were able to operate on our own cash flows. Within two years, we had retired the entire overdraft and by the time I left, we had paid Sh745 million in dividend and Sh15 billion in taxes and dealt with the liabilities.

Q: Who do you attribute this great success to?

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A: The workers of KPA whom everybody had written off are the ones that helped turn around the port’s operations.

Q: As the Executive Chairman (of RVR), what exactly are your duties?

A: It’s a bit of a hybrid situation because there is a CEO, but I will be doing what a normal chairman does. Basically, I will be in charge of strategy and how to run the business. I will also be responsible for running the board to make sure they adhere to the company’s corporate governance.

I am also the Principal Director and that means that I will be responsible for all the communications with our customers, the public and the government and also make sure that we are all reading from the same script.

Q: Your appointment to the Executive Chairman post comes at a time when RVR is facing very many hurdles. How do you intend to correct this?

A: In this situation, I will initially have to spend more time here, may be one or two days in a week, to see how the operations are going. But as time goes on; I think the board will discover that I will become less involved in the running of the day-to-day business.
Q: What measures are you and your team going to put in place to save RVR from its situation?

A: The first thing that I will be looking at is the business plan and the milestones in that plan. Are they realistic? What are the critical performance indicators that we have signed on with the governments (Kenya and Uganda) in order to deliver services as per the concession? Once we have taken stock of that, we will know whether we are on the right path.

Q: Do you think you will be able to turn around the concessionaire?

A: I’m quite optimistic that we will be able to move in the right direction. More than any other time, this country needs those services to move. If I thought that I would not be able to do it, then I’d say so. But I’m confident that we just need to adjust the place a little bit and everything will be ok.

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Q: What are some of the challenges you envisage as you get down to work? Are the problems in RVR similar to those in KPA?

A: This situation is new to me although the fundamentals and management principles are not very different (from KPA’s). In my career, I have been largely involved in strategy and innovation, so we’ll see.

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