Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) outgoing CEO Geoffrey Odundo poses for a photo after the interview at his office in Westlands on February 21, 2024. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG


Geoffrey Odundo: His take on marriage and getting attention from 5 special women in his life

The Fat Lady has sung and Geoffrey Odundo’s bags are at the door of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE). It has been nine years as the Chief Executive Officer of NSE, and 29 years as an investment banker - 23 of those years in the capital markets. It is hard to tell if he looks relaxed and buoyant because he is leaving or if this is his default mien.

He sits back in his seat like someone with a light in-tray, shining his wide smile and heaving from his deep abrupt laughter.

He is satisfied with the work of his hands at the NSE, “like something has suddenly been lifted off.”

Next door, in a room with a band of fastidious suited posse, his successor waits (no, really, he came for a meeting) probably one of the last series of meetings he will hold before he closes the door to his office at the end of April.

He will continue studying for his PhD while he serves his other myriad responsibilities at the Central Depository and Settlement Corporation Limited, Africa Stock Exchanges Association, World Federation of Exchanges and REITs Association of Kenya, among others where he is a director or a board member.

Mostly, he will just be watching sports.

What mood are you in now that you are on your way out of the NSE after nearly a decade?

There is really nothing else to do, and that’s a good feeling. There is a sense of fulfilment, nothing weighing heavily on my shoulders, like something has suddenly been lifted off. I feel fairly satisfied and a lot lighter.

What’s this job been like for people who are not acquainted with it?

It’s a very technical field. So you have to be quite knowledgeable about this area because one of the things that you're dealing with is financial matters, investments and economic issues. Having a very universal understanding of these aspects is very important. One of the key intriguing issues is knowing how financial markets operate and how to manage them on a day-to-day basis because the markets are very dynamic.

And so it's quite intense in a way in that you have to respond to many issues, both internal, external and global. Global issues affect us every day. Economic matters affect us every day. So it's very dynamic. A day is never the same. There are difficult days, sometimes extremely difficult days. You get so stressed, you wonder whether there's anything else you can do. So we go through those cycles of very highs and very lows.

Geoffrey Odundo: Outgoing NSE boss speaks of money, raising only daughters

What's been your most challenging season?

When Covid struck in 2020. There was a shock in the market. The market started decelerating in a very aggressive way and we had to put circuit breakers continuously up to the point that it could settle. After that, we now had to transition. The government came up with all these health protocols, people had to go virtual and all of a sudden, we had to transition this whole market virtually.

When there are shocks and upheaval, markets tend to get very crazy swings. So we have to be on top of things. So it was quite a new development. My staff had never worked from home. I was wondering how they'll work at home, all these mechanics and everything. It was quite a challenging time. So for me, that was a real low and we're just thankful that we were able to come out of it.

What have been your lessons in the past decade?

I've learnt to be very patient and tolerant because, in a market like this, you're always facing the camera one way or another. When markets don't do well, you'll see high criticism every day. I mean, one time I woke up and found a two-page newspaper spread about the capital market and that the price of a share was cheaper than the price of a tomato on a Sunday. And my wife was like, 'Whoa, how are you taking that?' I told her I'm absorbing it like a man. [Chuckles] So I would say very intense.

I imagine it gets quite stressful around here, how do you handle that stress?

I let everybody go home, and then I scream. [Chuckles] One thing I'm grateful for is that I've been in the financial sector all my life, from insurance to asset management, corporate finance, stock broking and here. So I've always been in a high-stress environment. So it wasn't very new, I know how to handle stress. But what I also do is I take time out because, with this kind of work, you need it. So I'm very active in the gym. Also, I have learnt to disburse my stress to my team members and they're able to resolve those issues. I'm glad I have a great team.

What did you want to be as a child?

In Class 5, I wanted to be a pilot, a policeman in Class 7, and a doctor in Form 4. I even got the qualifications to become a doctor. I sat there and looked at one of the biology books and just took off. And what made me get interested in financial services was my strength in Maths, which I just gained towards the end of my O- levels. I ended up doing mathematics and geography in high school and economics and went to university and did mathematics and economics. So that sort of shaped my thoughts. And then I just love banking. When I go to the bank to get some cash and I see the tellers counting those crispy notes, it is a talent.

What did your parents do?

We came from a middle-class family. My dad started as a real estate agent, eventually heading the sales division of one of the real estate companies, Tyson Limited. We grew up in Nairobi's Eastlands but I never saw much of it. I was three years old by the time we came and lived in Nairobi West.

A great family. Nine siblings, one passed away a couple of years ago, but being the middle child in a family of nine, six years, six born, like Michael Jackson. [Chuckles]. My key mentors are my family members, and my brothers, who are very instrumental in shaping the early character development that I needed. It was a lot of fun.


My dad was academically oriented so guys had to read. He kept telling us, 'Guys, all the wealth you see around here is mine. I can blow it up in a second, so you have to figure out how you're going to get yours.’ That mentality sort of put us in shape.

So I must say I had a great childhood. I was an average student, I'm not a genius, I had to work hard. I've never been tired of pushing, I have to work hard to deliver. And that's what's driven me all along. My mom, who is 86 now, was a shopkeeper in Nairobi West. I worked in the shop from Class Five. Every holiday you'd work the whole day, no TV. Mom was very intense. One of the best moments I like about my mom is that she made me learn my mother tongue by forcing me to read letters from the village. If you made mistakes, you'd get pinched or slapped.

After over two decades in the financial industry, what has money taught you?

Money never sleeps, when you're sleeping, money is money earning itself. That the world revolves around the economy.

When did you stop worrying about money?

[Laughs uncomfortably] I don't think you can stop worrying about money. There's always that urge to look for more. I don't think there can ever be a point of satisfaction that you have enough. At some point in life, there should be an equilibrium because then one will suffer trying to chase for more.

I think I'm fine for now, after taking care of all the risks, anything is a bonus. But I think you can never stop worrying about it because there are so many other factors that can happen. You could lose it.

When did you attain that equilibrium?

[Laughs] I've not attained equilibrium yet. But I think I'm not too far off.

How many children do you have?

Three daughters. The first one is now 28 and married, so I'm a father-in-law. I got married at 26 or so. My second born is 25 and then our 15-year-old. One is a lawyer, one is a fixed-income trader, and works for a stock brokerage firm.

All from the same woman?

[Laughs] Same woman! I have been married for close to 30 years now. You know what I was told I would get when I was getting married? A hot meal and a white shirt. [Laughs] So that’s been my mantra.

Have your shirts remained white?

Very white. [Laughs] Marriage takes teamwork. I'm really happy to have had a great wife. Betty’s been an anchor to me, a full support system. So I just kept going because of that. So it's been a very strong relationship. Of course, marriages are very interesting, they have interesting twists, but I think you have to find a way of working it out.

What's been your experience raising girls?

I'm one of the luckiest men because I've got attention from five ladies in the house; my mother, my three daughters, and my wife. With girls, you have to be very patient and tolerant. Unfortunately, men get to be so protective of their daughters. So that's been a bit of a challenge as they're growing up because now they want freedom.

But the girls are good. My daughters are very good friends with each other. Of course, the competitive nature cannot be lacking, but they're very good girls. So they kept a bond, a very strong bond among themselves.

Being an African man in an African setting, have there been murmurs that perhaps you need to find a son?

I have a son-in-law. [Laughs] It’s not about the gender but the child that you raise. Look, I'm a very big champion of the girl child, in fact, here at the NSE, we are champions in the industry in terms of driving gender diversity and letting girls come to leadership. I mean, some of the greatest people in the world today have daughters only; Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton. So I don't think that's an issue anymore.

What's the one thing that has shaken you to your core?

The loss of very close people. My dad died when I was in my third year of university. We had a plan. I was also supposed to be in real estate because my dad was in real estate. When I came out, I tried to live the dream. I went and became the CEO of his company at 22. Of course, I fared very badly. I didn't know the industry. So that was a big hollow debt because this guy was a pillar and I wanted to emulate him and he had great dreams for real estate.

Further down, I lost my brother, I lost a great-nephew and more recently I lost another niece. So this continuous loss of people, loss of life at times can make you lose hope and you have to just keep living.

What advice would you give the chap taking over after you?

I think the advice I've given is that he's going to be rejuvenated. If you think you're tired, or you've not seen anything yet, you're going to feel a rejuvenation in your life. The stock market is a very rejuvenating place. I came here at the age of 47, I still feel 47. Nothing has changed. No part of me is weak.

What are you going to do after this place?

This has been a long time coming, I started preparing for it one year ago. I’m now studying, back to school doing my Ph.D. So that's quite intense. But I'm also looking at playing a bigger role in financial services, doing a lot more in the alternative investment space.

But immediately I'm taking a nice break just to unwind a bit and just to discover myself. I love sports. Oh my God, I love sports. I'm a very serious fan of football. I came from a private school that was very good at cricket. I can watch cricket the whole day.