Occupying two CFO posts before the age of 35 and now working 18-hour days managing the finances at an airline recently rocked by scandal, Andrew Ssekamwa FCCA has had a career that may be comparatively short but has been undoubtedly eventful.
Speaking from Entebbe in Uganda, Ssekamwa is nine months into a stint as chief financial officer helping rescue the national carrier, Uganda Airlines. The company has not had a happy recent history. A government audit for the year ending June 2021 revealed it had racked up a loss of UGX164bn (US$43m), showed no evidence of year-end stock taking, and owed UGX16bn (US$4m) in invoices that had gone unpaid for over six months. Senior managers and the board were subsequently replaced.
The objective is to break even within three years
On arrival, Ssekamwa had to produce a budget within three days – a true baptism of fire – which the airline needed to secure its next tranche of government funding. Next, following his successful budget delivery, Ssekamwa turned to the training and recruitment of new finance staff (the team has grown from six to 15), crafting a performance reporting framework and a plan for the future. He is currently working on the controls architecture and risk mapping, a job which he says will ‘play a big role in the implementation of controls’.
The objective is to break even within three years. That means multiplying current revenues of around UGX148bn (US$39m) a year by at least six. The airline is looking to expand its fleet of six aircraft over the next 10 years with a mix of mid-range, wide body and freighters. The strategy also involves establishing new routes. Mumbai and Lagos opened this year, and there are more in the pipeline.
For nine months, Ssekamwa has been working very long days, sometimes 18 hours or more, seven days a week, with occasional breaks for a spin class or time with his two young sons.
While he initially met with some resistance to the changes he initiated, he laughs it off. ‘What keeps me going is the fact that I can use my experience to make a difference,’ he says.
CFO, Uganda Airlines
CFO, I&M Bank, Uganda
Head of finance, Movit Products, East Africa
Finance manager, Standard Chartered Bank
Audit and accountancy roles at SABMiller and PwC
‘I’m starting to see a change in the business and the staff, and the impact we’re having’
Despite the huge workload, Ssekamwa seems comfortable with the technical aspects of the job. His biggest challenge is stakeholder engagement, which is improving but, he says ruefully, ‘not where I want it to be’. The airline is fully owned by the Government of Uganda, with the National Planning Authority playing a key role in strategy formulation, and there are also regulators to liaise with, so it’s a complex mix.
Overall, though, he is optimistic. It may be early days, but the board’s show of confidence in his work is a morale booster. ‘They do appreciate, already, that some things have changed around the organisation.’
He adds, cheerfully: ‘The fact that I’m starting to see a change in how we are operating, a change in the business and the staff, and the impact we’re having, that also keeps me going. There’s at least some light at the end of the tunnel.’
Full of drama
Ssekamwa’s career began straight out of Makerere University with PwC in Kampala. After three years with the Big Four firm, he joined brewing giant SABMiller in South Sudan. When war made it too difficult for the drinks maker to continue, he moved to Standard Chartered Bank, working in Uganda and Tanzania where, among other things, he formulated business plans and strategy.
Two years later he was on the move again, joining cosmetics manufacturer Movit, before returning a year later to financial services with a post at local bank I&M, where he was chief financial officer. He stayed there for almost three years before Uganda Airlines beckoned.
‘I think on my feet, I like challenges’
It has been a career full of drama. During his time in South Sudan, he was held up at gunpoint while out for a day’s fishing. The episode ended harmlessly (‘it is one of my most exciting memories’) and it all added to the learning experience. But it was his time at SABMiller that was his most formative experience, where his foremost characteristics became clear.
He says: ‘I think on my feet, I like challenges. And I really push hard to see that I actually get things done – and done right first time.’
Movit was another big learning experience, Ssekamwa says, and it clearly played to his strengths: as business development manager, he assisted in growing the business in Nairobi as well as unearthing new sources of shea butter on a tour in the distant north of Uganda. He explains: ‘It expanded my knowledge of how to do product research and market sizing, identifying key competitors and the levers to make a product work.’
‘They develop your skillset so much that you can just plug in and play anywhere’
His first CFO role – at I&M (formerly Orient Bank) – not only saw him celebrated as Young CFO of the Year and strategy execution award winner at the annual Deloitte/ACCA Uganda CFO awards, but also completed a family double. His older sister Lynn Nampiima, also an ACCA member, who encouraged him to go into accountancy, had previously worked there as a finance manager, though they didn’t overlap. ‘She was relieved she didn’t have to work for her younger brother,’ Ssekamwa quips.
That easy ability to switch sector is something Ssekamwa attributes to his ACCA qualification and early PwC training. ACCA, he says, has ‘a lot of depth’ and ‘sets you on a stage that’s international’. As for PwC: ‘I was really challenged. They develop your skillset so much that you can just plug in and play anywhere.’