What you need to know:
- I still have a sketchy memory of the day we were thrown out of the house and had nowhere to go for a couple of months.
- However, we soon re-railed but this time on a low-income neighbourhood characterised by high crime, despair and scarcity of virtually every resource requisite for basic survival and human welfare.
- These were the toughest years.
Kevin Otiende is the Managing Director at Calla Public Relations, a company he founded three years ago. After being employed for seven years, he left a very well-paying job to follow his heart.
Mr Otiende is a holder of Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Nairobi. He shares his inspirational career journey with Life&Style.
“My name is Kevin Otiende. I’m a Kenyan, born and bred in Nairobi. I’m a father of a soon to be a four-year-old girl. I was born in a very large family of ten children as the last of the ten. When I was born, my family resided in Buru Buru Estate in Eastlands. When I was about four, our house was auctioned over a mortgage default, and we lost everything.
I still have a sketchy memory of the day we were thrown out of the house and had nowhere to go for a couple of months. However, we soon re-railed but this time on a low-income neighbourhood characterised by high crime, despair and scarcity of virtually every resource requisite for basic survival and human welfare. These were the toughest years. To make it worse, we lost our mother under these circumstances.
But these surroundings, while compressing our survival, merely served to instill in my siblings and me the desire to work hard and have a better life.
That is how I always put all the effort I can and need in everything I do. I am very proud of the work and achievements of my siblings and their children. Looking back twenty years ago, suggesting we would be where we are right now would have been in the context of an overly imagined movie script.
Career-wise, I had a brief stint at Capital FM, where I was an online writer, soon after I joined the then CCTV Africa as an intern, where I gradually scaled up the ladder.
WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES
My years there opened my eyes to the world and the possibilities in my field. While I loved the thrill of journalism, I found it too linear for me. It was all about getting stories and ends with the story aired. It’s at this point that I made a point to shift to Public Relations, which is a much broader field.
I joined PMS Group as Head of PR, and while at PMS, I was involved in mega campaigns that impacted millions of Kenyans in one way or another.
Working in an agency was a spectacular career move looking at it in retrospect because while journalism opened my eyes, PR activated my mind to endless possibilities.
The opportunity to work with numerous diverse organisations, both local and international, involved in a wide range of definitive projects helped me learn something new each day and master the art of communication.
I left PMS to set up my organisation – CALLA PR. My daughter shared the name Calla, and I loved it. I presently serve as the Managing Director.
As Managing Director, I am responsible for overall business strategy, performance and ownership of revenue responsibilities.
In my career journey, the most valuable thing I remember and learnt highly is that thousands can do what I am pitching to do, so the question is always why am I different?
WHAT DRIVES ME
I am driven by identifying gaps, seeing the unseen and finding solutions. Everything that succeeds is premised on solving a problem and making life better.
In terms of drive for growth, two-pronged – always looking for solutions that are either not being offered completely or not being offered effectively as far as our discipline is concerned. I have learnt that in business, its swim or drown. You must continuously be on the move. I have also learnt this: never assume. And it’s always best to base your actions of research and intelligence.
We celebrate each time we win over a client. This year we marked our 3rd anniversary in business.
In terms of failures, sometimes I think when you start a business you place a lot of trust in people, and some will fail you. It’s in your interest not to be naïve and separate emotions from facts.
My principles – I uphold the highest possible degree of professionalism. This is what will earn you the respect of clients, peers and colleagues. I also have to deliver. No matter what, I must deliver.
In my career journey, the most important relationship is the one between God and me. I do not take it for granted because many are the times I kneel to pray for many reasons.
I am uniquely inspired by my daughter who’s growing up to be a brilliant young woman, and I cherish holding conversations with her which at this point, she may not know how these shape my plans.
I am also honored to have many senior leaders of top organisations who believed in me right from the start and continue to because we deliver. It is important to have networks. In our business, you only get about 5% of work out of publicly-advertised briefs, the other 95% are as a result of personal relationships and just being in the right place at the right time.
Growing up, I wanted to be the President’s bodyguards after I once saw President Daniel Arap Moi’s security detail, but my mama told me I couldn’t because I was born asthmatic which meant I couldn’t run fast or jump out of moving vehicles.
Then I was like if I can’t be them, I need a job that will bring me closer to the President, and I saw him mingling freely with journalists. That’s how I ending up in communication, but my family thought I would have made a brilliant lawyer.
My advice to the youth in Kenya and across the continent is, consult. Just consult. Find people you look up to and who would help you in decision making, and just learn from them. It does not hurt. And start as early as you can because of all the things you have, time isn’t on your side.
Allow me to advise the youth who come from the Eastlands area of Nairobi where I grew up and who I cherish so dearly. While the circumstances and situations may vary, I'd like to urge them to end the hand-out culture that can be classified as a way of life in these and similar neighbourhoods across the country. For example, I go to Eastlands almost every weekend. I can tell you out of experience that there's a lot of ''Give me a hundred, two hundred'' from almost every young man there. And that is no sustainable way to live. Just a week ago, I was delighted when a young man came to me and gave me a break-down of how much money he would make a day if I were to buy him a full wheelbarrow of bananas at the cost of Sh 1,200. By the end of the day, if he sells all of them he'd make another Sh 1,200, something that he had researched and found easily achievable. This is someone who at such a small cost, I would manage to sort him out entirely and he, in turn, would be able to take care of his family as opposed to that young man who wants to be given because it's there. We must learn how to earn an income by working as opposed to hand-outs.