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 very first job was actually selling vegetables because my mother had a kiosk. She would take us to the kiosk to work after school. I must have been around seven. My father also had a little restaurant in town so during school holidays we went and served. I started working at a very young age
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
The one person who has had a really big impact on my success is Vimal Shah [founder and CEO of Bidco Oil Refineries]. He took me under his wing. He used to sit with me and take me through management lessons and tell me what to do to grow my business. He always looks out for me, and always wants to show me how I can I do better and improve. He is always rooting [for me]. He is one person whom I have always felt has my back. I have a lot of respect for him.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I haven’t had a chance to worry for a while. I think I worry more about my team than anything else. I am not happy when my team is not happy. I always want my team to be working at optimum. So when I realise that there is some conflict or somebody is going through an issue that bothers me. We have a very family-like culture at PMS so I always want my people’s things to go right so they can work at optimum.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I think first and foremost is hard work. I am very hard working. I am very committed. When I focus on a goal, I lock target; it’s very hard for me to unlock until I have succeeded. I have that zoom factor. Once I focus, I go. I will do anything to get there.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
Kenya is just the best country in the whole world. We have got fantastic weather. I have been to many, many countries and there is no place like here. The people are friendly, happy and welcoming. Even more importantly we have got something called peace that many people take for granted. I don’t know how to explain freedom, but for me freedom is being in Kenya. Freedom is just being home. Every time I travel I am just dying to come back home.
6. And the worst?
The worst is poverty. It really pains me because I think it is something that can be dealt with. If we deal with poverty, everything else will be dealt with… from health, ignorance… It is a chicken and egg situation because how do you break out of poverty unless you give people awareness of opportunities? I also don’t think that becoming a social welfare state where people are getting handouts is a solution. It is just about getting people equipped to make the best of what they have because everybody in Kenya is walking on gold. How do we get people to mine their gold? To see these opportunities and actually seize them [and] to have faith and confidence and the belief that ‘I can do it’? I believe it will all start with our education system.
7. Your future career plans?
I want to transition PMS Group to a point where I have divested enough and I have enough investors in the business that I feel that I am not so needed. I want to get to a point where my input is needed at maximum 30%. I have always wanted to write but I haven’t done it because I keep finding excuses. I would like to set a deadline and just write. Thereafter I would want to do more around education. I always wanted to be a teacher. I love kids. I wanted to have many children [but] I only had three (laughs). I wanted many, many children. My outreach for many years has been focused on women but I am starting to branch out to children. I want to adopt one school [and] use my savings, not start some foundation, to transform it. Then I will measure the results and see if I can replicate the same elsewhere to help more children.
8. How do you relax?
I play golf but I am useless. What I really enjoy is going to the gym. It really gives me that Zen. I love music and I love dancing so I will always look for every opportunity, everywhere, to dance. I am a party girl. I am a people person [but] I don’t like crowds. I prefer small groups. In small groups I thrive, I have a fantastic time [and] I unwind. I enjoy doing these things with my kids.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
I want to tell the young people Africa’s time is now. We are so lucky because we understand the landscape. Foreigners can see the opportunities but they don’t understand our landscape. We just need to see the opportunity and seize it now. Don’t wait for tomorrow. It’s going. So please, can the young people of Africa make sure they seize the opportunity and keep it in Africa.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
By unleashing the power of the youth. The future is in the young people. Everyone today who is 30 and under; those are the people who own Africa. It is their collective efforts that are going to change this world. These people succeeding, each one at a time, is what is going to change Africa. The first thing is to make them believe they can and that is social cultural change which is already happening. Second is having role models. Take the case of Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi who was a village boy and is now a global icon. You don’t need to meet him in person for you to be inspired. Any boy in the village can understand that [they] don’t have to have been born rich and taken to the best schools [to believe that] I am good enough and I can achieve anything.
Joanne Mwangi is the founder and CEO of PMS Group. The group has four subsidiaries which offer a wide range of agency services including advertising, public relations, event management, trade promotions, consumer promotions, trade merchandising and marketing strategy development. The group has worked with some of the leading brands in East Africa including British American Tobacco, Bidco Oil Refineries, Safaricom, Reckitt Benckiser, Uchumi Supermarket and East African Breweries.
In 2010 PMS Group became the first woman-owned business and the only one since to be voted number one in the Top 100 SMEs competition in Kenya. Mwangi beat women entrepreneurs from 75 countries in 2009 to emerge winner of the Organisation of Women in International Trade Woman of the Year award. She has received numerous other awards.