Dr Betty Gikonyo, co-founder and CEO, Karen Hospital (Kenya)
Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
1. What was your first job?
My first job was working with the Kenya Railways and Harbours just before I joined university. I was a clerk. I was earning KSh. 700 (US$8) which was a lot of money coming from the KSh. 20 ($0.20) I was often given as pocket money while in school. It was so much money I did not know what to do with it.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I would say my husband [Dr Dan Gikonyo]. We met before we became doctors and we have walked the same steps together. When we were students at university we read for exams together, we went to internship together… I would say being able to discuss with Dan about medicine, about prospects for post-graduate studies [and] prospects for starting a hospital has had great impact on my career. I would say we have mentored each other. He is a very positive person and he is very encouraging. Dan is one of those men who does not pull you down. He allows you to make mistakes as you progress in your career. He was the cleverest student in class and so nobody would intimidate him. I think Dan is very confident. He is not threatened. He knows that when I shine it doesn’t take away light from him.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Different times come with different things to worry about. The financial obligations are what preoccupied me [in the past] but not anymore because we have paid off our KSh.700m debt ($8m). For me the financials: the payroll, the suppliers and the bank debt… kept me awake not in a bad way but because I am alert to the great responsibility that was weighing down on my shoulders. In as much as I work with Dan, we have separated our responsibilities. He takes care of the clinical issues and I make sure that the business side is working. If I had a choice I would prefer to be on the clinical side because I am a doctor and that is my comfort zone. I am a perfectionist in some way and I don’t like things not going right. I want suppliers and staff paid on time. When you run a hospital you never run out of people who need your services but sometimes your clients do not have money.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I work hard and I am persistent. When I want something I go for it. I will not stop until I get it. I don’t necessarily step on people’s toes, but when I see an obstacle I look for ways to overcome it rather than turning back. I have that resilience and tenacity. I am not being arrogant but I really believe in myself. I believe I can succeed and that when I take up a responsibility I can do it. I am also good at convincing people to come on board and join me in executing an idea or supporting my cause.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
God has given us a very beautiful country that has literally everything that a human being could want. Kenya is the Garden of Eden. We have a sea, we have a desert, we have mountains and hills, we have the Rift Valley, we have wildlife and a wonderful climate. Kenyans are very good people. When you get them to come together they are able to move even a mountain. I appreciate the colonialists [because today] we have a highly educated population. If you want heart surgeons they are here, if you want great bankers and IT innovators they are here. Kenya is a country that is endowed with so much human resource.
6. And the worst?
I think corruption. We have grown it and it has permeated the society in such a bad way. I have this theory: from a scientist’s perspective, I think corruption is a mutant gene. When people are born they are born with it. Corruption starts right from the house when for a child to clean his own room he has to be paid. It sounds so simplistic but that is where it starts.