Jeddidah Thotho: A Visionary Leader Transforming Kenya's
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African CEOs - Profiles - August 7, 2023

Jeddidah Thotho: A Visionary Leader Transforming Kenya’s Leather Industry and Empowering the Next Generation

In the dynamic world of business, exceptional leaders are a rare breed. Jeddidah Thotho, the former Managing Director of Bata Shoe Kenya PLC, defies the norms of ordinary leadership. Not only has she left an indelible mark in the corporate sphere, but she has also emerged as a prominent advocate for change within the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), where she holds a significant position as a Non-Executive Member of the board.

Revolutionary leadership

Collaborating closely with the Ministry of Trade, Jeddidah’s focus revolves around driving initiatives and reforms in Kenya’s leather sector. Her ultimate goal is to harness the potential of the entire leather value chain, from skin tannery to finished products, thereby bolstering the manufacturing sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to a remarkable 20 per cent by the year 2030 – an ambitious target she passionately refers to as “20 by ’30.”

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Economic Survey 2023, the manufacturing sector has experienced a gradual decline, with growth decreasing to 2.7% in 2022 from 7.3% in 2021. This presents a hazy image of the industry’s participants and the government’s lofty goal to have it contribute up to 20% of the GDP and provide at least one million jobs yearly by 2030.

This downward trend highlights the urgent need for revitalisation. Jeddidah says despite Africa boasting 20% of the global livestock population, only accounts for a mere four per cent of leather production.

As it stands, Kenya ranks fifth among African countries in terms of livestock holdings, trailing behind Chad, Sudan, and Tanzania. However, Jeddidah has set her sights on a groundbreaking objective – to position Kenya as a hub for leather value addition across the continent. If her vision becomes a reality, the current value of leather products produced in the country will surge from Ksh. 10 billion to an impressive Ksh. 45 billion. Furthermore, the export value of these products is expected to soar from Ksh. 0.6 billion to a staggering Ksh. 30 billion. Achieving this paradigm shift will see the percentage of leather product exports skyrocket from the current four per cent to a remarkable 40 per cent.

Jeddidah’s ambitious plan also entails a significant increase in employment opportunities. It is projected that the number of direct industry jobs will triple, creating a workforce of 60,000 employees. In a recent interview, Jeddidah emphasised her unwavering passion for the transformation of the leather industry, driven by the knowledge that these initiatives will unlock thousands of new job opportunities for the country’s youth.

The backstory

Before assuming her role as the first female Managing Director of Bata Shoe Kenya PLC in February 2020, Jeddidah had already demonstrated her exceptional leadership capabilities as the company’s Commercial Director since 2019. Notably, she steered the company through the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the safety of both customers and employees with commendable empathy and efficiency.

Under Jeddidah’s guidance, Bata Shoe Kenya PLC experienced rapid expansion into export markets across Eastern, Southern, and Western Africa, encompassing countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Nigeria. This marked a significant milestone for the company and showcased Jeddidah’s prowess as a leader.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Corporate Finance from St. Mary’s University in the USA, Jeddidah has amassed a wealth of experience throughout her career, equipping her with the skills required to become the thought-provoking leader she is today. 

She began her professional journey at John Hancock Life Insurance Company as a Marketing Representative before joining Sears Holdings Corporation, a Fortune 100 company based in Chicago, USA, where she served as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for an impressive decade. 

Her tenure at Sears Holdings Corporation was followed by a short but impactful role as the Director of Marketing, Programs, and Planning. In 2010, Jeddidah returned to her homeland, Kenya, where she immediately made her mark as the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Deacons East Africa, overseeing a diverse brand portfolio operating across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Brands such as Woolworths, Truworths, Mr Price, and Adidas flourished under her guidance.

The years that followed only strengthened Jeddidah’s reputation as a seasoned industry professional. She held the position of Director of Retail at Deacons, managing international franchises in East Africa, further expanding her expertise in the regional market. Jeddidah’s exemplary track record caught the attention of Liberty Eagle Holdings, where she assumed the role of Commercial Director for internationally renowned brands such as Subway, Yves Rocher, Mango, and Pizza Hut operating in East Africa. For close to two years, she successfully navigated the complexities of the franchise business, solidifying her reputation as a cutting-edge and accomplished executive.

In addition to her remarkable achievements, Jeddidah’s influence extends beyond her immediate roles. She currently serves as a Non-Executive Board Director on the Famous Brands Board, further attesting to her expertise and leadership acumen. Moreover, she is a devoted mother of two and is committed to inspiring the next generation, particularly in terms of female empowerment. Jeddidah actively mentors young girls, encouraging them to discover their purpose in life and unleash their full potential. Her dedication to nurturing future leaders exemplifies her commitment to building a better society.

Jeddidah Thotho’s impact on the manufacturing sector cannot be overstated. Her visionary leadership and unwavering dedication to the transformation of the leather industry in Kenya are reshaping the landscape, propelling the country toward becoming a hub of leather value addition in Africa. With her remarkable ability to drive change and unlock opportunities, Jeddidah Thotho has rightfully earned her place as a thought leader in the manufacturing sector. As Kenya’s manufacturing sector looks toward a brighter future, it is leaders like Jeddidah who will guide the way, inspiring innovation, growth, and empowerment along the journey.

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