Any catalyst should be efficient and stable to be implemented in practice. This requirement is particularly valid for manganese hydrogenation catalysts. While representing a more sustainable alternative to conventional noble metal-based systems, manganese hydrogenation catalysts are prone to degrade under catalytic conditions once operation temperatures are high. Herein, we report a highly efficient Mn(I)-CNP pre-catalyst which gives rise to the excellent productivity (TOF° up to 41 000 h−1) and stability (TON up to 200 000) in hydrogenation catalysis. This system enables near-quantitative hydrogenation of ketones, imines, aldehydes and formate esters at the catalyst loadings as low as 5–200 p.p.m. Our analysis points to the crucial role of the catalyst activation step for the catalytic performance and stability of the system. While conventional activation employing alkoxide bases can ultimately provide catalytically competent species under hydrogen atmosphere, activation of Mn(I) pre-catalyst with hydride donor promoters, e.g. KHBEt3, dramatically improves catalytic performance of the system and eliminates induction times associated with slow catalyst activation.