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Martin Mugambi: How A Scholarship And A Chance Meeting Made Me The CEO OF Citibank

Martin Mugambi is the CEO and managing director of Citibank East Africa.

This is his journey as told by WoK:

From St Mary’s to the USA

Mugambi’s journey to the top began when he completed his primary and high school education in 1988 at the prestigious St. Mary’s School, where he served as head boy.

During his time there, St. Mary’s had the privilege of hosting the daughter of renowned American banker Thomas Labrecque, the man who would later become CEO of Case Bank – ranked as the world’s largest bank by market capitalization.

Labrecque’s daughter would later play a key role in Mugambi’s future career.

After his high school studies, the Holy Ghost Fathers who ran St. Mary’s school awarded him a scholarship to study for his undergraduate in Duquesne University in Pennsylvania, USA.

There, he graduated with a degree in International Business in 1994.

But, despite having a scholarship, it was not all roses and smooth sailing.

It was hard work. I had to engage in side hustles, such as delivering pizzas, working in restaurants, washing dishes, etc. That’s where I learned the benefit of hard work and being responsible for your achievements in life,” he recalls.

Night classes

Mugambi graduated in 1994 and started a career in a consulting firm at Pittsburg.

After some time, he enrolled for an MBA at Duquesne University, an achievement he considers one of the greatest highlights of his life.

I financed myself for my MBA. I attended night classes, working during the day as a consultant for two years,” he proudly shared in a recent interview.

His efforts paid off when he graduated in 1997 with a Masters in Finance. By this time, Thomas Labrecque was the CEO of Manhattan Chase Bank.

Recalling his meeting with the banker’s daughter at St. Mary’s, Mugambi wrote to her requesting an interview with her father.

Despite the fact that Chase Bank only recruited graduates from Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard, he was invited for an interview, which he aced and started a career with the bank’s New York branch in 1998.

“Looking back, it was just an opportunity where someone opened the door for me,” he recalls.

Future wife

Over the next two decades, Mugambi worked at Chase Bank’s branches in New York, Johannesburg, and London, where he met his future wife.

Around this time, he felt an urge to return to Kenya and consequently applied for a position with Citibank, which was looking for associates to join their African program.

In Choosing Citi, I wanted to work with an international bank that served in Kenya. The choices were Citibank, Barclays, and Standard Chartered,” says Mugambi, who hails from a family of 5 siblings – all of whom have Masters degrees.

He landed the job with Citi Bank and was posted to work in Tanzania for a year.

His next stop was at the bank’s branch in Johannesburg, where he rose to become the managing director after 13 years.

In 2014, he was appointed as Citibank’s CEO in Zambia, a role he held for two years.

Last Dance

In 2016, Mugambi had an urgent issue that needed to be attended to in Kenya.

He consequently resigned from Citibank and joined NCBA as the bank’s Group Executive Director.

After working at NCBA for two years, He rejoined Citibank in April 2019 as the CEO, a role he holds to date.

Referring to lessons learned from his journey, Mugambi underscores the importance of taking calculated risks in one’s career.

The transition from NCBA to Citibank taught me the importance of taking calculated risks in one’s career. Don’t be comfortable. When a comfort zone sets in, that’s an enemy. Risks propel you to the next level,” says the father of two.

Speaking about his next phase in life, he says he might consider donning a half jacket and joining the fintech industry in future.

That might be my last dance. But I still have some runway in finance,” he says.