The man who tamed Kenya's 'greatest corporate disaster'

jonathan ciano

When a Bible on business comebacks is finally compiled in Kenya, a special chapter will be reserved for Jonathan Ciano.
Just when some investors mentally went bonkers after the collapse of Uchumi Supermarkets in 2006, in came Ciano to revive what was clearly a done and dusted gone case.   

The pride of Kenya since it opened shop in 1975, the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) listed retailer went under due to mismanagement via among others; unbridled staff pilferage, greedy, myopic leadership and inappropriate financing that resulted in Uchumi kissing the Sh1.2 billion loss ceiling as debts climbed   the Sh2 billion Red Flag mountain.

Its 30-year history went down as “one of the greatest corporate disasters in Kenya’s independent history.”
Jonathan Ciano the ‘master of turnarounds’ was appointed the specialised receiver manager.    

Drawing from his 25 years experience that included turning around Kenya Power & Lighting, the masters graduate from the University of Nairobi used the government’s Sh675 million interest-free bridging loan to breath life into Uchumi Supermarkets

— then ‘the home of value.’

It was no kindergarten play
First off the shelf was strategy, leadership and culture change via rallying people to dedicate themselves to the ‘corporate core purpose’  besides a healthy relationship with employees, suppliers and customers.

Together, Ciano, who is “motivated by the debt I feel  I owe Kenya,” ensured they all  “pushed the ball to the right net.”
Second was convincing creditors to convert their Sh900 million debt into shares instead of knocking for settlement or the hammer.
Banks too had to back down on the suffocating Sh957 loan that triggered its collapse. It was no kindergarten play as it called for nudging things forward with a “velvet covered brick” leadership.

Five years later, Uchumi, under the slogan, ‘Uchumi ni Yetu’ a tap on nationalistic pride, saw it turn a Sh357 million profit and a re-listing into the NSE where its shares resumed trading in May 2011 and were ranked the best performer having appreciated by 156 per cent to Sh19.05 from Sh7.50 when it collapsed.

Targeted growth in sales was Sh21.2 billion in 2013 from Sh13.9 billion the previous year.
Jonathan Ciano, whose first Sh675 a month job was an accountant with Caltex Oil, was taught by his mum, that ‘hard work’ does not hurt.’

It has paid off in the end for the man who doesn’t like being called ‘Sir’ and who believes “a day has 24 hours. To get 25 hours you need the input of others!”