‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same ten questions to business leaders across the continent.
Dr Eddah Gachukia, founder and director of the Riara Group of Schools
1. What was your first job?
Teaching after I graduated from university.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My father. He encouraged me in school to a degree that was quite unusual for an old man in the 1940s. I am very proud of my father. Very few people took their kids to school those days. I went to school learning with adults.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
When children play and one falls, is injured and has to be taken to hospital. This business, if you want to call it that, is very delicate. We are dealing with children.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
My faith; faith in God [and] in things I have not seen. Faith that is not shaken. In business you fail a lot, let us not imagine that success is always a graph going up. Sometimes you don’t succeed and you have to go back to the drawing board. I believe I am also good at mobilising our staff to deliver excellent services. My husband and I decided that we will have only one standard: excellence.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
This is a lovely country. Kenya is great. There is a lot that is discouraging in Kenya, like corruption [and] violence against women, but we have developed. The new constitution guarantees freedom for everybody. Today we can talk about any subject on earth; there was a time we had to look behind our shoulders before we said anything. I think the best thing about Kenya is the new constitution.
6. And the worst?
Corruption. I would like to see a Kenya without corruption, especially by the people who should know better – the people who are so advantaged that they have access to the resources of a nation. That is the wrong group of people to be stealing. Our incapacity to fight corruption is what I find very disheartening about our country.
7. Your future career plans?
I will do what is necessary, whatever it takes to strengthen Riara. I will do anything that is required to grow Riara. At the moment I enjoy mentoring and motivating our staff to work towards the attainment of our dream for excellence.
8. How do you relax?
I normally have a very long day; by the time I get home sometimes it is 8pm. I lie in my bath for one hour, I love that. I do exercise three times a week with my husband. One day we walk, the other two days we have a trainer. We are old and our work involves sitting a lot in meetings mentoring and offering strategic advice. I also enjoy reading my bible. I find it encouraging and through prayer I set myself for the day or for the night. I also really love talking to my grandchildren and reading books.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
I would like to excite them to take up opportunities around them. They should go for it. Do something. Reject idleness. I think idleness is the largest enemy of youth in Africa.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
Africa must commit to invest in education. An education that is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic, but one that is purposeful, practical, experiential and analytical. We need education that empowers children to think critically. Africa must continue to invest in education. Simultaneously, Africa must begin to put up industries.
Dr Eddah Gachukia is the founder and director of the Riara Group of Schools. Gachukia acquired a small kindergarten 40 years ago which has grown to include two primary schools, a girl’s secondary school and a university in Nairobi, Kenya.