After finishing his MBA in Harvard, Adan knew that he had to come back to work in Kenya
In spite of the many modernising challenges that African culture has undergone and continues to face, it has managed to retain its dominant sense of deference and respect for elders and their wise leadership.
The most visible exposition of this has been in political leadership. The scepticism with which Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi's anointment of his youthful successors was greeted - ostensibly because he really wanted to retain control via a pliable successor - diminished what was in actual fact an epochal transition in attitudes towards the youth.
The business community in East Africa has been slow to accept youth in the ranks of leadership of our flagship businesses. It can be argued that even in Western economies, as indeed in the more traditional Asian economies, the acknowledgement that youth is not a handicap to managerial expertise is a very recent phenomenon.
In this light, the decision to ask East Africa's CEOs in this year's survey whom they see as the Business Leaders of the Future was timely and yielded some intriguing results. Adan Mohammed's meteoric rise to the post of managing director of Barclays expectedly led to his top ranking in this inaugural category. The ranking also reflected the enormity of the task he faces at Barclays and the confidence his employer has placed in his abilities.
Adan's stellar career began in his school days in Mandera. Born in El-wak, Adan was the top student at both primary and secondary school and was one of only two at Mandera Primary School who made it to high school. From Kangaru Secondary School in Embu, where he obtained three A's in his "A" Level exams, Adan proceeded to the University of Nairobi from where he graduated in 1989 with a first class BCom degree. He then joined Pricewaterhouse Coopers who sent him to London for training as a chartered accountant, but later changed his focus to consulting and was posted to Shell in Nigeria for three years in this capacity.
Adan then resigned to pursue an MBA with the objective of further sharpening his skills. He went to Harvard Business School in 1994 as one of only 700 of the 10,000 who had applied to join the prestigious institution that year.
The decision to go for an MBA was also strategic. Adan felt a need to preserve his competitive edge in an environment that favoured networking and connections as a means of moving ahead. Coming from Kenya, Adan felt that he was at a natural disadvantage in this regard.
After finishing his MBA in 1998, Adan knew that he had to come back to work in Kenya, not just out of patriotic duty or longing for home, but because he believed that this was where the bigger opportunities lay and where he could make a bigger impact on his surroundings.
After considering a number of possible opportunities with leading businesses in the region, Adan joined Barclays Bank in October 1998. He was tasked with rationalising the group's head office structure and, after nine months, was appointed to the post of finance director.
Adan represents a crop of young local professionals who are increasingly making an impact on the corporate sector. Among his contemporaries heading major corporate institutions in East Africa are Richard Etemesi and Kitili Mbathi, who head Standard Chartered Bank and Stanbic bank respectively in Uganda, and Mbuvi Ngunze, the managing director of Hima Cement in Uganda.