Kenya Airways top investors oust lone female director

Saturday October 5 2013

Kenya Airways shareholders during the airline’s AGM at the Bomas of Kenya last month. The airline’s only woman director lost her seat. Photo/Diana Ngila

Kenya Airways shareholders during the airline’s AGM at the Bomas of Kenya last month. The airline’s only woman director lost her seat. Photo/Diana Ngila 

By SIMON CIURI, [email protected]

Major shareholders of Kenya Airways have ousted its only female director after denying her support in a recent election of board members.

This has seen the national carrier join firms like East African Portland Cement, Housing Finance, Express Kenya, Scangroup and Olympia Capital that have all male directors.

Results of the election held on September 26 at Nairobi’s Bomas of Kenya show that Mrs Salma Mazrui-Watt garnered 364,268 votes against Dr Kamau Thugge, the principal secretary of the National Treasury and Vincent Rague who received majority votes.

With 364,268 votes or 0.02 of Kenya Airways issued shares — a pointer that Mrs Salma Mazrui-Watt, 45, who has been in the carrier’s board since 2010, did not receive the support of the Treasury and Dutch airline KLM that own 57 per cent of the carrier.

Dr Thugge was appointed in his capacity as the principal secretary, which has a 29.7 per cent stake in KQ, replacing Joseph Kinyua who was recently named the Chief of Staff.

He and Mr Rague each received 924 million votes, according to a notice issued by Kenya Airways. Corporate governance observers view the presence of women on company boards as being key to business growth besides the advantage of injecting diversity.

“Having women in the boards of companies is simply good business sense,” BrainTrust Strategies, a research firm, said in a recent study of corporate governance among NSE firms.

“Mixed board may temper risky investment moves and increase return on equity because of the presence of the women who would be averse to risks that are unjustifiable on a rational business assessment.” The change comes at a time women’s role in boardrooms of NSE-listed firms remains muted.

A study by the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) says that 34 per cent of the 57 companies it examined at the Nairobi bourse do not have a woman on their boards.

KIM blames reliance on old-boy networks for directorship appointments. The under-representation of women has also been caused by the requirement that one has either previous boardroom or executive experience, especially that of CEO and chief financial officer.

At present, only three women — Maria Msiska (BOC Kenya), Ada Eze (Total Kenya) and Nasim Devji (DTB Bank) — are CEOs in publicly quoted companies.

The KQ board has this year changed face with the appointment of three new directors tapped by principal shareholders. KLM in July appointed chief operating officer Pieter Elbers to the board following retirement of CEO Peter Hartman, who has been a KQ director since 2007.

Cyrus Njiru who have been replaced as PS in the Transport ministry is expected to cede his position to Nduva Muli, the new principal secretary.

The new directors are expected to shepherd the recovery of KQ that posted a loss of Sh7.86 billion in the year to March compared to a profit of Sh1.66 billion last year, which was a 57 per cent drop from the 2011 numbers.

This story first appeared in the