When Kenya’s most successful company, Safaricom, ventured into the Kenyan market, Esther saw a golden opportunity and sailed into the then little known telecommunication industry. Starting with one retail shop along Koinange Street 17 years ago, today, Esther is a renowned Kenyan entrepreneur in the telecom industry.
When it is all over, how do you want to be remembered?
I want my children to remember me as a role model; a hard worker who inspired them to be the best that they could be by showing them the way.
In the industry, I would like to be remembered for the key value that I impact on the people whose paths cross mine – hard work. I am a village girl that moved to the apex of her career through hard work. But I also want to be remembered for small things, such as validating people, complimenting people that deserve it. I believe change comes when you change an individual, and this change starts when an individual feels important.
If you went back to job searching, where would you want to get employed?
I would not want to get employed. The only reason I was in employment for 16 years was because the options that we had at the time were closed. I wanted to be in business. I opted to study Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Nairobi because in my head, really, a course in business would bring me closer to my goal. If I had the chances that young people have today, of exploring their options with the guidance of so much information and many people to look up to, I would never have gone into employment.
What key factors influenced the career decisions you made as a young adult?
Tough parents that instilled in me the importance of working hard in school. Good grades have always been very important to me. Then when I started my company, it also became my pivot, it moved me to want to achieve more and pushed me to do that which I had to do. Finally, my deep and abiding faith in God. It might not be overt, but being a Christian means that there are certain values which I uphold, which have been very instrumental in bringing out the person that I have turned out to be. Integrity for example and the trust in God.
What worried you the most when you were a university student?
I had a blast at university, especially coming at a time when we only had two institutions of higher learning in the country – we felt special and privileged and rightly so. I made the most genuine friends in my life at this point. Failure was my greatest fear. I could not imagine failing my exams because for us at the time, education was the only weapon that we had with which to rescue ourselves from poverty. Failing was and still is my greatest fear.
What is your advice to young people setting up businesses especially now when everyone seems to be trying to be an entrepreneur?
Certain characteristics make people better disposed to being successful entrepreneurs, such as perseverance and the ability to single-mindedly focus on achieving a particular goal. On average, Kenyan youth are gifted, that is why we read about inventions and innovations by young people quite often. But starting something is not the biggest challenge – putting in the long hours to see your vision come to life as well as sustain itself and even outlive you is the greatest challenge. It is important to surround yourself with people that share your vision. Learning how to make good decisions for your business is a skill that you learn over time. And remember to reach out to other people and ask for help.
What would you say is missing in terms of work ethic among young people?
This is a valid concern, unfortunately, but one that extends to the society in general. Integrity is hard to find in employees. A bank CEO friend often decries the number of young people whose jobs he has to terminate on a monthly basis because of integrity issues. And often when we meet in boardrooms, we find ourselves wondering whether our young people have really been made to understand the value of hard work. During my time in employment, rules were rules, but now you find that we have young people trying to flex what is not even flexible. Dragging deadlines and generally a mismatch of what is expected of them and what they believe they should be doing. Employers are willing to pay a premium and invest in employees who can truly deliver.
Do you offer internships to graduates at Samchi Group?
Yes. It is a continuous process throughout the year. We are very deliberate about giving opportunities to young people. One option is a physical delivery of applications at our offices, located at Barclays Plaza or sending an email to our HR: [email protected] Read and understand what our company does, and if it fits you, send your application – whatever field of study. I am also looking at formalising a mentorship programme that will target young people who have already made the first step of setting up a business. The programme will run between six to 12 months.
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs regarding tackling unforeseen drastic changes in business, good or bad?
It is never easy when starting out. Begin with what you can afford, do not wait for something immense to happen before you start. Manage your growth as you build your networks, your experience as well as your support system. You also have to be flexible and open-minded. Learn to keep your word, which is the way to gain people’s trust. When I set up my business, I was able to get goods on credit because people knew that they could trust me. Remember, if you put in effort, you will meet help along the way; it is not just money that can make you successful.
What advice would you give to your 25-year-old regarding dating vis-a-vis building a career?
Get your priorities right. Determine what is most important to you and the rest must align with that. Be very careful with the choice of partner because at 25, you are basically setting up your career and do not want unnecessary things to derail you.
Who was/is your greatest influence in your career life?
Richard Branson, CEO Virgin Group, and Manu Chandaria, the founder of Chandaria Industries, because they are very grounded and have values that I admire. Let me put it this way; I admire wealth that is value-based.