‘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.
Eva Muraya, CEO, Brand Strategy and Design (Kenya)
1. What was your first job?
When I was 11 I baked cakes so that I could make money to buy my needs for boarding school. I used to sell them at a local pub.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I would say my mentor Ann Moore, the former chair and CEO of Time Inc. When I spent a month job shadowing her she was able to really show me a realm of branding that I hadn’t understood before. I spent a month [in 2006] with her in New York and that birthed my intention to diversify my business. She made it look possible and she made me understand that you could achieve [a lot] through networking.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Expansion. I think I am very clear that this business has the potential to influence many African entrepreneurs. I am not afraid of the boundaries that separate us as Africans. I am sure that the services I offer here are relevant in Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. So the thing that keeps me awake is seeing us influence significantly a change of attitude towards the power of brand for enterprise development. I often ask myself how many Africans have understood that brand is the business of business because of the work that I do. That keeps me up at night.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I have a lot of risk appetite. I work very hard and I apply my creativity. I am also not afraid to work my network.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
We are an amazing people. We are so gifted, we are so talented, we have an amazing work ethic, we are creative, we have a lot of resources and we have amazing levels of harmony… The fact that we are the economic hub of the region makes Kenya stand head above shoulders on many others.
6. And the worst?
The worst thing is the level at which we allow politics to influence our ambition. Sometimes we are too afraid of our potential. So the fear of what we could be as a nation keeps us caught up in analysis that paralyses action. The other thing is we can be very comfortable with mediocrity… we don’t want to demand more from service providers and others, and that just makes us not realise our potential. So if we had an engine that could drive at a speed of 220 we are quite comfortable to be driving at 42.
7. Your future career plans?
I will definitely teach. I will probably teach brand communication. I am so passionate about branding. I will also spend time farming and I will also put my hands around real estate, which I have already begun to do.
8. How do you relax?
I go to the theatre… and I listen to all genres of music. I am a musician. In my yesteryears I was a music director and taught at the St. Andrews Church Choir for three to four years. In fact, I was Kenya’s national best actress in 1985. For six years of high school I won a theatre award every year.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
They must not be afraid of hard work. There is a culture that I see among the youth where they want a microwave experience of success. Hard work is inevitable but you need to be smart about it. I think they should focus on stretching themselves and competing against themselves. They should have a mindset where we are unapologetically African. We are a beautiful talented people and we have our contribution to make to the world and nobody should convince us differently. We are not coming in from an inferior perspective. Our youth should learn from the world’s best and make the best out of Africa for the world to see what our potential is. If you are an entrepreneur, be absolutely the best entrepreneur. Whether entrepreneurs or not, what we must do is be different, and be different consistently.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
Africa must get to a place where we are not caught up in our history. We are so caught up talking about how we have been corrupt, misappropriated resources and other ills. What we need to do is stop doing those things. Stop being corrupt, start having visionary leadership, focus on technological readiness, create business sophistication, offer global education, be concerned about the energy and the health of our citizenry, build strong institutions and promote and communicate brand. What is so… difficult about that?
Eva Muraya is the founder and CEO of Brand Strategy and Design. The group offers various services under four companies: BSD (brand strategy management), Whiteboard (advertising), Avid PR (public relations) and BrandQuad Africa (brand training). In 2008 Muraya was a co-recipient of the inaugural Goldman Sachs-Fortune Global Women Leaders Award. She was named as one of Africa’s Top 60 Most Influential Women by Women, Inspiration and Enterprise (WIE), and in 2012 Muraya was among 100 women nominated to receive The International Alliance for Women (TIAW) World of Difference 100 Award.