Nairobi, Kenya — Equity Bank's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Managing Director James Mwangi, has been voted the 2012 Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year at a colorful ceremony held in Monte Carlo, Monaco over the weekend.
He was selected as the first business leader from Sub Saharan Africa to win the award in its 12-year history, from among the 59 finalists from 51 countries, each of whom had already been named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in their home country.
Mwangi said that the award was global recognition for Africans who are embracing the power of entrepreneurship to change the economic and social state of Africa, and he acknowledged the branding potential the award presents for Kenya.
"This award is all about this country. The photo in the World Entrepreneurship Academy is of the Kenyan flag and you can't have an entrepreneur who has no base of operations," he said.
"We have a great country and now our flag and country is branded. This is even better than athletics because this is what is driving the world," he added.
In nearly 20 years at Equity, Mwangi has led the Bank from a technically insolvent building society with an asset base of Sh28 million to become a leading all inclusive commercial bank with an asset base of over Sh220 billion, while being listed in the Nairobi and Uganda Securities Exchanges.
Returns for Equity Bank have grown from a loss of Sh5 million in 1993 to a profit of Sh12.8 billion in 2011 and the bank is now home to nearly 8 million people accounting for nearly 50 percent of all bank accounts in Kenya.
The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award is the first and only truly global award of its kind and the prestigious honor celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic business in more than 140 cities in 50 countries.
Chair of the judging panel Ruben Vardanian said, "Not only has James really transformed people's lives across Africa by offering them access to funding that they have never had before, Equity Bank continues to grow quickly through a strong financial performance."
Global Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young Jim Turley added that "James epitomises the vision and determination that sets entrepreneurs apart is very worthy of the title Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012."
Mwangi's role as Chairman of Equity Group Foundation (EGF) was recognised by the judges and played a huge part in him securing the award.
The foundation has identified six program areas that include education and leadership development, agriculture, financial literacy and entrepreneurship, health, innovation and environmental sustainability.
Among the social programs supported by EGF is the Wings to Fly program and it may be the foundations greatest contribution to Kenyan society.
The program provides a Sh10 billion scholarship fund that targets 10,000 academically gifted children from financially challenged backgrounds with a comprehensive secondary school scholarship and leadership program.
EGF has also partnered with the MasterCard Foundation to form the largest secondary education and leadership scholarship program in Africa and they've implemented a Sh1 billion financial literacy program in Kenya aimed at providing one million women and young entrepreneurs with entrepreneurship training for 13 weeks.