How Joanne Mwangi stepped off the corporate ladder to venture out on her own

But Mwangi says she was optimistic during the early stages because she had enough money to keep her going for at least six months. However, when her savings dwindled she went into “panic mode” and contemplated going back into formal employment.

“One lady, who was also an entrepreneur, told me not to quit before 18 months. In my mind I figured I still [had] 12 months to hang in there. It wasn’t yet time to give up. Of course, there is no magic to 18 months, but it gave me an end date. On the seventh month I got my first good deal.”

Handling the success

Deals starting flowing in and so did the money. This became Mwangi’s next big challenge. At 26, she was dealing with being an employer and managing millions of shillings in the bank. The business, she says, was operating matatu-style, referencing the chaotic public transport vehicles common in Kenya.

“It was total confusion. All of a sudden I was dealing with money yet I had no real financial background. I was mixing my personal money, the business money, everything. It was a complete mess, but in this hot mess I was learning.”

A major challenge Mwangi faced, and one she thinks many entrepreneurs encounter, is limited management capabilities. Quoting American author Stephen Covey of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame, Mwangi says many entrepreneurs spend all their time chopping the tree and have no time to sharpen the axe.

“It was a struggle. I wasn’t improving me.” She overcame this by attending trainings, reading management books and eventually going back to school to study finance.

“I realised the heart and soul of your business is the finances because business is about making money. I had to learn. In school I hated maths, [but] today it is my favourite,” says Mwangi. “After learning all these things it gave me the confidence that I had what it takes to run the show.”

Succession planning

Three years ago Mwangi made a deliberate decision to reduce her involvement in the day-to-day management of PMS. She started delegating more work and took the company through change management training.

“[My team] were used to Joanne being mother hen. I told them I will be coming in to sign cheques, to review proposals… but day-to-day operations, I don’t want to know. At first it was not easy for me because I was so engaged in PMS. I felt like I was becoming irrelevant. The good thing is I could now focus on strategy.”

Doing this, Mwangi says she was able to discover new lines of business and ways to further expand the firm. Her sights are now set on expanding PMS across the continent through representations, partnerships and by riding on the back of current PMS clients who are expanding regionally.

“At a pan-African level, one of the things we need to embrace more is mergers. I would rather have a small percentage of a massive pie than 100% of a little queen cake,” says Mwangi. “We need to combine forces.”

Moving forward, Mwangi says her ultimate goal is for PMS to go public or merge with another entity.

“I just feel that it would very wrong for me to keep holding on to the company and not allow other people to come in and bring in their strategies and knowledge. That is what will keep this company forever.”