Ben Chumo: How four years fighting court charges cost me jobs and friends – Business Daily
Former Kenya Power managing director Ben Chumo. ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH BARASA | NMG
Former Kenya Power managing director Ben Chumo says he bears no grudges over his four-year ordeal defending himself against fraud charges that were eventually withdrawn last week.
It is time to let bygones be bygones, he says.
His woes started on a Friday night in July 2018 when he received a phone call. The midnight caller identified himself as a police officer. He thought it was a prank until the caller told him that they were waiting for him outside his house and he should open the gate.
On opening the gate, he was shocked to find a contingent of policemen. He was taken into custody where he met his former colleagues at Kenya Power.
“That was the beginning of a harrowing journey. It is a journey I would not wish for anyone,” Dr Chumo told the Business Daily in an interview.
He was taken to court the following Monday, charged with, among others, failure to comply with procurement laws in the purchase of transformers worth Sh400 million.
Four days ago, the charges were dropped after police failed to conduct further investigations.
He describes the four years as traumatic. His phones stopped ringing and most of his acquaintances deserted him. Dr Chumo says he understands them because of fear of reprisal and “that is how society reacts anyway.”
Soon after, invitations to seminars, motivational talks, and other forums ceased.
“It [the experience] requires a lot of support from family members, colleagues, and friends. Those who know me, stood by me,” he says.
Also, he decided to quit his job as a lecturer at Egerton and Strathmore universities.
“It [court case] almost put me down completely. I remember my daughter asking me a lot of questions. I lost opportunities,” he says, recalling that he had been shortlisted for a Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) job but was rejected by MPs.
When he appeared before the parliamentary Committee of Finance and National Planning in July 2018, he says he was not begging for the job, but to get an opportunity to clarify issues.
“I knew I would not get the job, I wanted an opportunity to tell my story,” he says.
Before the court case threw Dr Chumo into the limelight, he had steered the power utility company into enviable growth.
It is during his three-year tenure that Kenya Power’s profit grew from Sh6 billion to Sh12 billion, electricity connections to homes hit 5.5 million customers from 2.2 million, and thousands of households in informal settlements got electricity.
Dr Chumo had joined Kenya Power in 1986 as a human resource officer, rising to chief manager in charge of human resources, before taking over the corner office a decade later.
For 30 years, he stuck to one employer. Given another chance, would he be as loyal?
“I came from the village, a humble beginning, and rose to become the CEO of a blue-chip company,” he says.
“Kenya Power trained me, gave me a job, and allowed me to rise through the ranks. I did my Master’s and PhD while at the company. I trained at Harvard, and travelled the world because of Kenya Power.”
In one of his social media posts, advising new employees, he talks of tiptoeing to success.
“Do not enter with a bang, tiptoe in. If your performance does not match the bravado and bang with which you landed, the team will judge you harshly because you raised their expectations and failed to support it. If you tiptoe in, you don’t raise expectations, soon your performance will begin to speak for you, you’ll earn respect associated with your performance and not bravado. You’re better remembered for performance than anything else,” he says.
Now 65 years old, Dr Chumo looks back at a work-life dotted with successes but also controversies. Can he take up another role in public service if called upon?
He says yes, but if it does not come, he will continue serving “as a leader without a title.”
“I have a lot to offer and which I still do but it doesn’t necessarily have to be through an appointment,” he says.
Dr Chumo, who holds a doctorate in human resource management from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, says he is looking forward to going back to the lecture halls and supervising postgraduate students.
At his office in Nairobi’s Westlands, the fervent reader of leadership and governance books has a mini-library he calls his treasure. He has two other home libraries.
“When this place becomes messy (with a lot of books) I pack and take them home,” he says, adding that he has a habit of buying books from certain writers.
His current read? “The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organisations” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.
Away from books, he plays golf or jogs to keep fit.
“Many people get shocked when they know how old I am. I keep fit by jogging and eat healthy,” he says.