Mary has over 13 years’ experience in branding and marketing strategy within local, regional and international arenas. Besides tourism, she has also worked in the banking and travel industries, where she led the growth of some of the country’s leading institutions, among them KCB Group and Gulf African Bank through the development and implementation of business strategies, new products and marketing campaigns.
What key decisions did you make which you would say delivered you to your current position?
My first important decision was while I was in university. Many wait until they graduate to look for jobs. I did not wait because I knew after graduation, if I did not have a place to stay, I would have to go back up-country, and there was nothing much happening there.
I purposed to send out at least a 100 job applications before my graduation. I got my first job, with Kenya Commercial Bank, a day after my last paper at the university.
The other key decision was to register for a CPA course at Strathmore University during the two-year break after high school. This gave me a very firm introduction into the career that I am in today. I also looked for holiday jobs during university breaks – I never wasted a holiday. This set me up for the job market because by the time I graduated, I had accumulated tons of relevant experience.
What did you learn from your first job?
My first permanent job was at KCB. I learnt numerous customer care skills and the experience humbled me and taught me to never judge a book by its cover.
Working here also introduced to me, first hand, what it really means to be in the environment of public service. The bank took me through training and mentorship, learning from other people’s experiences, a factor that really improved my mindset about life.
Speak to a young person who is keen on marketing and strategy.
How you start off does not really matter. Life is a journey, be open to figuring out what you have and what you want to achieve and direct your efforts along these lines. My background is in economics and sociology, so my introduction to marketing was during my holiday job at Consumer Insight. My career has become a journey where I am now utilising all the skills that I have learnt along the way, in school and outside it.
People skills are very important from the outset because you will need to work with others to succeed. You also need to have the ability to identify an opportunity. Sometimes we just have a small window of opportunity to attain something, so you need to be able to spot it and exploit/take advantage immediately.
Does Brand Kenya Board offer internships to graduates?
Yes. We involve young people through two frameworks: industrial attachments, which target those still in school and wish to get some experience. The attachments run for three months. Internships run for a maximum of one year, and our target is those who have completed their studies and are in possession of a degree.
For industrial attachments, we receive applications on a rolling basis, and one can apply through our human resources department via email, through our website or drop the application at our offices located on the 4th Floor of the NHIF building. Internship positions and all other open vacancies are usually advertised in the newspapers and on our website.
Our core is branding, we therefore hire a bigger number from the marketing field, but we also have opportunities from time to time in other departments like Finance, HR, Procurement and ICT.
What are some of the things that you got wrong as a university student?
I missed out on the fun side of university life, going out with friends for instance, because I took life too seriously. While education is important, do not be too hard on yourself, even fun is part of human development.
To be a CEO at 34 means that you have been focused on building your career all through. Do you find time to socialise?
I have a very limited social life. I have had responsibilities from a very young age – I first became a manager at 24.
I had to work long hours and sometimes even over the weekends, so my carefree attitude had to go because I had to be always careful about what I did. I matured faster.
This kind of schedule sometimes pushes my friends away. I have had to find a way to balance my work and life over time. So far so good.
Where did you do your (first) internship? How did that experience prepare you for the professional that you are today?
I was at Consumer Insight for three months. This is where my love for marketing started, so I can say that this holiday job was very pivotal to the changes that came along my career path. Viceroy brandy had just come into the Kenyan market at the time and I was hired to undertake product activations to increase Viceroy adoption on the market. It was a very successful activation. I learnt a lot from this and I carry the experience with me as I market Kenya.
What, according to you, is the greatest challenge of young women in leadership positions in public service?
Women leaders face many challenges. It is even harder when you are young and in an influential leadership position.
In such situations, you are watched and put through stricter procedures, given less room to operate and are constantly monitored on the social front.
I however wish to encourage other women to remain strong, firm and to keep their eyes on their set goals.
What is the greatest challenge that comes with your job?
Branding is a new concept to many African nations, and since our economies are still factor-driven, priorities such as infrastructure, food, healthcare and education take centre stage, leaving branding on the periphery.
However, we have seen that perceptions about a country have economic consequences which in many cases wash away investments and gains in key areas. It is on this premise that we have taken on the initiative to sensitise the public and private sector on branding matters to consolidate support for it and make it a mainstream agenda.