JANE KARUKU: I am firm and like being in control

Friday August 11 2017

Managing director of Kenya Breweries Ltd (KBL) Jane Karuku. PHOTO | NMG


As the managing director of Kenya Breweries Ltd (KBL) Jane Karuku considers herself humble but focused. Mrs Karuku is now tasked with of not only seeing through the massive investment in Kisumu but also ensuring KBL’s market share in Kenya is not eroded further.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that East Africa Breweries Ltd (EABL) was investing $142 million in a new production plant in Kisumu, she was the company official who signed the deal alongside Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed.

For her, the occasion was yet another hallmark in a career spanning two decades in top corporate leadership in Kenya.

EABL is one of Kenya’s oldest and most successful companies and is among top taxpayers to the government.

For EABL, Kenya is the biggest market, accounting for 75 per cent of its business. While the business is currently pressured by a tough operating environment, Mrs Karuku is confident that it will overcome the challenges.

“We are committing investments in a new plant because we believe in the Kenyan market,” she told The EastAfrican.


Before taking over at KBL, Mrs Karuku was the president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Other high management positions that she has held include being the managing director of Cadbury Schweppes East Africa and later the deputy chief executive of Telkom Kenya.

Mrs Karuku holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Technology from the University of Nairobi and an MBA in marketing from the National University of California.

She is also a non-executive director at Barclays Bank of Kenya, a board member of the Global Sustainability Index and a trustee of the United States International University.


What is your off duty passion?

Playing golf and being with family are my two most important passions. I am a member of the Karen Country Club in Nairobi, where you will always find me spending most of my free time. Another place you can find me is at the members only private Capital Club in Nairobi catching up with friends.

What is your dress style?

It is dictated by the fact that I work in the corporate world and for that reason, I prefer comfortable suits.

What kind of books do you read?

I am a fan of emotional intelligence and leadership books. I also read inspirational books and Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is one of my favourite authors.

What is your favourite destination in East Africa?

The South Coast of Kenya. The beaches are clean and serene. Besides, it’s just an hour away by flight from Nairobi.

What’s your favourite music?

I love modern country, rock and R&B because it is calm and I can unwind to it. It is totally different from the kind of music that my son and daughter listen to. At the end of a tough day in the office, I need the calmness.

What is a typical day like for you?

I am an early riser. I am awake by 5am but my day starts around 7.30am when I am in the car. That is when I read newspapers, make calls and reply to e-mails. By the time I get to the office latest about 8.30am, I have done all the e-mails and then start my meetings at around 9.00am and probably I will do this for the rest of the day.

Do you get bored by meetings?

I don’t get bored, that can only happen if you don’t have an objective for the meeting. All the meetings I attend are agenda-driven and I want to achieve results. Why would I get bored?

Who is the one person who has had the most impact in your life?

My father. I got most of my values from him. He’s strict, kind, a leader and tough but most important, he lets those he has nurtured fly off to chase their dreams.

How does it feel being a veteran of corporate leadership?

It is fulfilling knowing that I make a significant impact not just on the company but the country’s economy. I consider myself a corporate person at heart, at home in the fast moving consumer goods industry. I feel very proud seeing brands grow and dealing with people.

What is the most stressful thing about your current job?

I think as a leader, the stress is usually about the people. I know I am very firm, focused and I shoot from the hip but I do it in a gentle way. I won’t bang tables but I will see that things get done right by leading the people I lead to do what they are supposed to. Besides, I have to worry about meeting the commitments we’ve made to stakeholders, be it shareholders, retailers, consumers, employees and even myself.


One of Jane Karuku's passion is playing golf. PHOTO | NMG

Have you found it difficult to transit from one corporate job to another?

Changing jobs involves a lot of factors but the most important is when I get to a point where the job offers no challenges. It them means I have to look for a more challenging job. But it is important to understand that while a new job offers more challenges, fundamentally the roles are still the same. It’s about people, stupid, to paraphrase the American strategist.

What keeps you awake at night?

When there is a problem in the office that I have no control over. In a work environment there are always issues that need to be resolved and as a leader if I have no solutions or control of the outcome, it keeps me awake.