Disagreement birthed a $800m asset company

Sunday September 3 2017

Edwin Dande is the co-founder and chief
Edwin Dande is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Cytonn Investments. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Edwin Dande, CEO, Cytonn and his daughter. He
Edwin Dande, CEO, Cytonn and his daughter. He regrets not making enough time to spend with family. PHOTO | COURTESY
By VICTOR KIPROP
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In mid-2014, Edwin Dande co-founder and chief executive officer of Cytonn Investments was comfortable in his job. He was then the chief executive of Britam Asset Managers, the asset management subsidiary of Britam Holdings. He worked with a team of other asset managers.

“We were doing very well. We managed to grow the company from managing $170 million worth of assets to $770 million worth and grew the profits from $200,000 to over $3 million in just three years,” says Dande.

However disagreements between Britam Holdings and the asset management subsidiary over a lucrative real estate deal resulted in the exit of Dande and a few others on his team from the subsidiary in a sour break-up that birthed Cytonn Investments.

Cytonn currently has more than $800 million in assets under its management.

“The disagreements were a blessing in disguise as they helped us start a new firm whose name was splashed in the media thanks to the lawsuits that followed,” Dande told The EastAfrican.

Cytonn Investments has since grown into a renowned investment and real estate company, with offices in Nairobi and the DC Metro area in the state of Washington, USA.

Dande, 40, started his career at KPMG New Jersey, in the US, as an auditor before taking a path towards investment banking at Lehman Brothers and Bank of America in New York.

He returned to Kenya in 2011 where he was appointed the chief executive of Britam Asset Managers, until August 2014 when he exited.

Dande holds a BSc in Accounting from Monmouth University, an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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What’s your typical day like?

My days are normally determined by the previous day’s issues. I don’t have a ‘typical day’ schedule to follow as my job is unpredictable and as a CEO, you can never really plan how your day will be. Sometimes I leave the office at around midnight and that means I will have to come in a little late the following day.

What part of your job keeps you awake at night?

The workforce. Today Cytonn employs over 1,000 people who are working hard to grow and move the company forward. We have to make sure that the firm is growing fast enough to create challenging opportunities for them.

You’ve grown this firm from scratch three years ago to the giant it is today. What’s your secret?

Putting customer interests before personal or those of the company. One of the reasons we have grown so fast over the past three years is that we’ve been able to focus on meeting the needs of our customers and putting their interests before those of the management.

What’s your biggest achievement over the years?

My single best achievement has to be building the Cytonn brand from four employees to 250 and navigating it through some very turbulent times. The team takes a lot of pride in having seen the Cytonn brand, its people and the clientele grow tremendously over a very short period.

Any regrets?

Finding enough time for family has been a challenge for me. Sometimes I am not home as early as I should be or spend enough time with my family as I should. Our schedule is really tight that family gets short-changed in favour of career.

What’s your leadership style?

Moving with the team. I always try to be in touch with everyone around the firm as the discussions allow me to gather insights, compare and contrast views, sense problems and opportunities. I like to ask my team, ‘what is the one thing we should change at Cytonn?’

Do you sometimes get bored by meetings?

Yes. Some people just like to give long, and winding explanations at meetings just to show how much they know instead of just getting to the point. 

What’s the best professional advice you have ever received?

Put your head down and work your tail off. Constantly work harder than your competitors if you want to stay afloat.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Running a leading regional real estate and private equity shop.

What would you have been if you were not doing what you are doing today?

I like law. If I was not in business, I would have been a lawyer, especially dealing with complex commercial transactions.

What’s your off-duty passion?

I always try to make time for my family as much as possible. If I am not in the gym over the weekend, then I’m probably travelling with my wife and my daughter or enjoying nature walks especially in Karura Forest in Nairobi.

Where would a random afternoon find you in East Africa?

Lake Kivu in Rwanda. I love the peace and serenity around the area. There’s just something about me and Lake Kivu.

What is East Africa’s greatest strength?

This lies in its growing population that translates into growing economies, natural resources, good weather and enviable wildlife. However, we are performing way below our potential.  

What’s your best last read?

Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch.

How do you unwind from a busy week?

By going to the gym at least four times a week. The two-hour gym experience takes away all my exhaustion thoughts about work as I have to submit to my gym instructors like a student to a teacher. I also enjoy evening social chats with friends over a drink.

How do you manage your wardrobe?

I keep it simple. I mostly wear black and blue suits, with white and blue shirts.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

A liberal arts education that allows me to think both broadly and deeply. So I would say its the gift of thought.

What’s the constant in your fridge?

My bottle of red dry wine, especially the Malvern.