By Prudence Minayo
Benson Wairegi (Born in 1953) is ranked among the best CEOs in Kenya. A professional accountant, he was at the helm of Britam Insurance for almost four decades steering the company into a multi billion firm. Currently, Britam is a conglomerate with branches in Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, and Rwanda. Benson is credited with the transformation of Britam from a small home service insurance provider to what it is today. Britam offers a number of financial products and services including, asset management, life assurance, health, insurance, banking and property.
Here is the story of the ex-Britam CEO as told by WoK.
Background and Education
The former Britam CEO life story begins in Kigumu, Murang’a county where his upbringing was at best humble. His father was a carpenter. He was a pupil at Murungu Primary School and he remembers going to school without shoes. After completing primary school, he went to Ichagaki Secondary School, the same school where Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi attended.
While the school had a boarding option, his father could not afford. Instead, he rented for him a house close to the school. He would carry a bucket of water from the school and use it to cook. At times, he had food and other times he didn’t. When he was in Form 2, he expressed his dissatisfaction with attending day school and asked his father if he could afford to take him to a boarding school. A cousin of his, who had a job in Narok, offered his help and that was how he went to boarding in Nyeri High School.
Afterwards, he joined the University of Nairobi and successfully completed his Bachelor of Commerce degree which was followed by a Masters degree in Business Administration. He also has an honorary doctorate degree from Kenyatta University.
In June 1977, a week after completing his final exam, he got a letter of appointment from Pricewaterhouse as an audit trainee.
In 1980, he joined Britam as a Chief Accountant and rose two CEO two years later. In 1984, Kenyan regulators, issued a directive for all foreign-owned insurance companies to sell at least 33.3% stake to Kenyans. Mr. Wairegi took out a loan and bought 3.3% stake at Britam and encouraged other Kenyans to also buy shares.
When the ex-Britam CEO took over the hot seat, Britam was a struggling micro-insurance firm facing insolvency. It had only Ksh5 million in its accounts and he went on to transform it to a financial collosus controlling kshs130 billion in assets.
In the same year, Benson Wairegi was chosen as the CEO of Britam. In the course of time, his initial stake has grown from being valued at less than a million to more than a billion. He also has shares at Equity Bank and other investments worth billions.
High and lows
While at the helm of Britam, he had his own shares of highs and lows. One low moment was when they launched the low cost Linda Jamii medical cover in partnership with Safaricom. The cover went under after only two years, something he attributed to not having done enough research to make sure the product was commercially viable.
There was also the scandal involving the Rawat family. The Mauritius government seized all assets owned by the family over claims that they were operating a ponzi scheme. The family owned a stake at Britam.
In the financial year ended June 2020, Britam also made loses amounting to over one billion Kenyan Shillings. This did not deter the then CEO who believed that it was just a season and would soon pass.
Britam has overcome the challenges and still stands strong as a leading insurance provider in the country. His term as Managing Director of Britam ended on December 2020 and he officially stepped down on January 2021.
“After 40 years here… the first thing (I will do) is sit back and think what next. (I will) spend time with family, I have golf to play and there are friends I have missed because I have focused on this business all these years. There’s no urgency to do anything, just taking stock before I decide what to do next,” he told Business Daily.
In May 2021, Benson Wairegi stepped down as a board member of the company. By this time it was reported his stake at the company was a little over 4% and valued at hundreds of million. He also has stake in Equity Bank having invested in the financial institution when it was still a building society.