The man who has been driving East Africa’s biggest brewer does not drink alcohol.
But this, according to him, has not hindered him from navigating East African Breweries (EABL) through its most turbulent times.
“Is there anyone who doesn’t drink? Water is a drink, Alvaro is a drink, and malt is a drink.
“Ultimately, I get to take a drink or two but I’m not really big on alcohol.
“This does not take away the fact that I sell exciting brands that are well established in the region,” Mr Seni Adetu, EABL’s chief executive, says.
Save for the ticking clock, nothing about his stature or office tells you that he will be flying to Nigeria this week to head Guinness Nigeria Plc, Diageo’s biggest business in Africa.
Mr Adetu is leaving EABL just when the market was beginning to adjust to his management style and settling down after the controversial alcohol law that reduced the number of hours bars can operate.
He exudes confidence about his achievements, brewing the company’s profits steadily despite heightened regulation of the beer industry.
“What you see is what you get. I am a very passionate family man.” This is the first thing he says in his office at the company’s headquarters in Ruaraka, Nairobi when asked to describe himself.
Mr Adetu also mentions his strong belief in God at least four times in the first two sentences of the interview.
“I like to build strong relationships. All my life, I have believed that serving God is the foundation for having a good life. I am a family man, married with three lovely kids,” he says.
Mr Adetu maintains that he has left the company at its best, when asked to look back at his brief stint at the helm.
“The profits numbers that we have now are the highest we have had. We have turned around our business in Uganda, which was at some point struggling.
“We have completed a very complex acquisition in Tanzania through the purchase of majority stake in Serengeti Breweries,” he says.
He also names the relaunch of Tusker, setting up a canning line at Kenya Breweries, and putting up packaging infrastructure in Uganda as his other defining moments at the firm.
“I am leaving at a time when EABL is one of the most capitalised businesses at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE),” he adds.
But it is his being at the centre of a major talent shake-up which saw an increase in the number of senior managers seconded from Diageo that may have defined his management.
The company appointed Tracey Barnes in January as the finance director, Pennefather James (group strategy director) in October, and Abbey Mark as group compliance and ethics director from Diageo.
Mr Adetu has headed EABL since July, 2009, when he replaced Gerald Mahinda after serving as managing director of Guinness Ghana Breweries Ltd.
He defends the changes at the firm, maintaining that Diageo is still committed to seeing the company in the hands of East Africans.
“We always want the best and most capable people managing our business because we have a responsibility to our shareholders.
“The bottom line of these changes is that we don’t want the business to be compromised in any way,” Mr Adetu says.
He says he is excited about his new position in his home country and reckons that he has had an amazing career since 1985, when he graduated as a chemical engineer.
He started his career as a management trainee at John Holts Ltd in Nigeria, then moved to Coca-Cola in 1992. He rose from sales person to marketing head and eventually became the general manager.
“I remember when I was marketing director for Coca-Cola in Nigeria. I was the first African to be named marketing director in 1998.
“I had my first experience in general management at Coca-Cola West Africa, based in Ghana. I then moved on to become the managing director for Guinness Ghana Plc.
“And I was also the first African to manage that business in 2006. It was from Guinness Ghana that I came to EABL,” he says.
Asked about his view of the business environment in Kenya, Mr Adetu singles out the taxes.
“Already, the tax levels are very high. If these brands are overtaxed, the risk is that consumption levels will drop and the result is that the government will not get revenue anyway.
“But the truth of the matter is that we can only dialogue with the government. It has the final say,” he notes.
He reckons that his successor, Mr Devlin Hainsworth, will have his work cut out for him. “In a business like this, you are always having more to do and there is no way I will clear everything that is on my desk.
“I am sure when Devlin comes in, he’ll find things in the tray waiting for him as he focuses on wrapping up our strategies here,” he says.
Mr Adetu also expects Mr Hainsworth to continue driving investment, expanding into the region, and firming up the company’s distribution network.
“I also think he will put a lot of horsepower behind the spirits agenda to ensure that the company nets higher margins and sales to contribute more to the bottom line,” he says.