Aug 29

The Kenyan homecomer who built a $800m asset management firm

Kenyan homecomer Edwin Dande has achieved global recognition after starting an investment management company that currently manages assets worth about $800 million. Below is his story

I hold a BSc. In Accounting from Monmouth University, an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and I am also a CPA.

I started off my career at KPMG New Jersey as an auditor where I learned financial statements analysis and detailed quality work. After KPMG, I took a path towards Investment Banking at Lehman Brothers, a career line which proved to be my real break. As an Associate in Investment Banking, I had to put in extremely long and hard hours – I honestly don’t think there is any other profession that works as hard and puts in longer hours than junior bankers do.

As a summer associate, working for almost 40 hours continuously was not unusual. I could get called to work on a Saturday afternoon to analyze a transaction and prepare a presentation for Monday morning, leaving that Monday morning to go to sleep having delivered the presentation to the senior banker who was scheduled to go meet a client. Banking taught me how to execute & get things done and how to deliver exceptionally high-quality work that one can genuinely be proud of.

Consistently executing with speed and precision over long periods of time sets you and your organization apart. When you bring that kind of culture and work ethic to a region that still sees connections, cartels, and kickbacks as the competitive advantage, you can grow very fast and do very well, because clients still want the best execution if they can get it.

I really love finance and investments, with a keen interest in the valuation bit. I was intrigued to learn while at Wharton that any investment is nothing more than a series of future cash flows, and once you reasonably estimate the amounts and timings of the cash flows, you can come up with a valuation to inform a decision as to whether to invest or not. At Cytonn we emphasize that our analysts must approach investment decisions from a fundamental detailed analysis point of view, a culture that has enabled us to pick the best investment opportunities for our clients. Beyond technical skills, I also love general management. There is something fascinating about identifying a problem or opportunity and putting together a team and going at the problem until it’s solved.

After my Investment Banking career in Wall Street, which ended in the thick of the global financial crisis, I came back to Kenya in 2011 where I headed the investment management arm at Britam before leaving with a team to set up Cytonn. I was part of the founding team that saw an untapped opportunity in alternative investments, especially in the investment grade real estate. ]

While building an Investment Banking career has been very satisfying, it has not been without its challenges. Career wise, adjusting into Wall Street was a very big challenge – whether its skin colour, accent or culture, I just did not fit in. That sense of being a third-class team member eats into confidence, which can be very debilitating. I however, wanted to do it as I had the skillset and the few people who encouraged me to stick it out made all the difference. My challenge was not technical; it was social capital.

Even with the challenges, both in starting the career and in setting up and running Cytonn, I find deep meaning in the work I do, in two ways: From a micro level, financial security is important to everyone. When we deliver above average returns to our clients, we are giving them some edge in their financial security relative to their peers. From a macro level, as an investment manager, we are always allocating capital to good businesses, which funds their growth, creates jobs and uplifts the standards of living.

Today, Cytonn Investment manages assets worth about $800 million (Sh80 billion).