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?
I started being an entrepreneur when I was very young. My parents owned a hotel in Nanyuki and I needed to make pocket money. So, I started a disco night in the hotel. I must have been about 15. I would have a disco night twice a week and I would charge an entry fee. That was my first job and business.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I have had so many really strong shoulders to stand on, I must say that. The person that I grew the most with, professionally, is Michael Joseph (former CEO of Safaricom). We had a very long relationship and I started [working] with him when Safaricom first came. He pushed us to our limits. He made us up our game. We had a very vibrant [relationship]. If there was one person that made me grow professionally I would say it was him.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I worry about my brands. If my client is going through something awful then I kind of tend to take on that worry. They are my partners, so whatever my client is going through transfers on to me.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I am resilient. I am a very good networker. I am a connector. My business is all about relationships; that’s all we have. So I am good connector… I generally connect with people at every level.
5. What are the best things about your country?
The resilience. I think Kenyans are the most beautiful people in terms of their spirit [and] the warmth. You know my children [aged 17 and 23] were raised by the same nanny. She is what embodies the Kenyan spirit. She is a strong, resilient, warm, loving person. That for me is what Kenya is all about.
6. And the worst?
I think what is very sad about our country is that we are still so tribal. We will come together at a time when we need to and then as soon as that crisis is over we then go back to our tribal cocoons. It’s sad. I just wonder when we will break out of that cycle because you see it from generation to generation to generation. That is the biggest problem that we have as a country. We need to get out of that.
7. Your future career plans?
My focus is going to be on making my brand an African brand. We are in the region already but, having travelled around Africa in the last two years extensively, I can see the need for an African PR brand. I want to take my seat at the table.
8. How do you relax?
I am one of those people who really enjoys the fruits of my labour. I love doing work that matters, but I love to enjoy what I have worked for. So I travel, I have the most incredible family and I spend a lot of time with them. We do lots of fun thing; we travel to lots of new places. My daughter and I are real adventurists so we are always looking for new places to go. I like massages. I love to spend an evening with friends. I am not a workaholic. I think I used to be but I am not [anymore]. I have now come to a point where I have realised that actually, if you have a passion for what you are doing you don’t need to spend the whole time doing it because when you are [doing] it you are going to do it very well. I love what I do. And money will follow that passion.
When am I off work I do lots of fun things. A lot of the things that I am doing now are meaningful things in terms of using the contacts that I have to create change, getting young people and mentoring them and recently starting my foundation which I am putting a lot of time and effort into. You know I am 52, I want to spend the next few years really making an impact on people’s lives.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
I would say to them that they should be confident enough to do it. Sometimes we hear a lot of talk… but when it comes to that moment of saying: ‘I am going to put myself out there,’ they panic. You have to be very brave and you have to go out there. You have to be prepared for failure, and it’s not the end of the world. I look at my journey and I have failed so many times. I left my job because I wanted to create my dream job and I did. I created not only my dream job, but I created my dream life. I think that is what is so exciting about something on your own… you are not only creating your dream job, you are creating a dream life [for yourself and] for so many others.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
What had happened before is that we helped to prepare the meal, other people ate it… and we didn’t even sit at the table. I think what we are doing now is that we are cooking it and we have brought our stool to the table… and we are taking our seat as global entrepreneurs [and] as a continent that needs to be watched. We are here because this is the best continent for investment, this is the best continent for human capital and we’ve got it going here.
It is so important that we take people with us, that the middle class expands and the way that some of us can help [to do] that is by creating this level of youth coming into entrepreneurship. If they sit there waiting for jobs, they are going to be sitting there waiting forever. Even if you look at every organisation in Kenya, how many people can they realistically employ? Governments need to really push this agenda of youth entrepreneurship. I am really keen on that. I am excited for Africa, I really am.
Gina Din-Kariuki is the founder and chairwoman of Gina Din Corporate Communications (GDCC), a professional communications consulting firm.