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Suzanne Kilolo: It is not enough to work hard, be seen

Friday April 19 2019

Suzanne Kilolo

Suzanne Kilolo is the head of investor relations at Centum. PHOTO | COURTESY 

JAMES KAHONGEH
By JAMES KAHONGEH
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For more than 15 years, Suzanne Kilolo has been working in the investment sector both locally and internationally.

Before joining Centum in 2018, the student of finance and financial law at the University of London had worked with giant telecoms Safaricom and Etisalat. She gives us a peek into her professional journey.

What are your responsibilities as the head of investor relations at Centum?

I am responsible for ensuring that the company’s business strategy and performance is widely understood by the investor community and our other stakeholders. I serve as the primary liaison between management, shareholders and the wider investment community. Investor Relations as a function integrates strategy, finance, regulatory, communications and marketing elements to enable effective communication of key messages between a business and its shareholders, investors and other stakeholders. These ultimately, contribute to the company’s agenda with respect to value maximisation.

Having worked for multiple blue chip companies across the world, how have the different organisational cultures shaped your career?

Every company that I have worked for in Kenya, Africa, Asia and in the Middle East has its own distinct culture. But the key feature in all of these entities is the diversity in the teams I have worked with such that any given issue generated multiple perspectives. For me, this has been an amazing learning curve which has influenced how I approach my work. These environments have been open, allowing everyone room to push boundaries in the quest to create and deliver innovative solutions to our everyday problems. At Centum we say, ‘we think big, enjoy ourselves, learn and teach’. I truly believe in this ethos.

What opportunities exist for young graduates at Centum?

We recruit talent straight from university through our graduate trainee programme. Our leadership development programme provides a platform that sustainably nurtures the company’s leadership pipeline for effective running of the business today and in future. These programmes are open for graduates with the relevant training.

What do you appreciate most about the need to have gender-inclusive workplaces and boards?

Women constitute a significant proportion of the buying power in any economy. Catalyst, an NGO that pushes for inclusion of women in leadership, estimates that women controlled about $40 trillion in consumer spending across the world in 2018. With such staggering statistics, therefore, companies must invest in a gender-inclusive workforce and leadership teams that reflect this. This way, they will be able to better understand and successfully compete for this market share. However, numbers alone do not translate to influence. Inclusivity should be across roles that yield power to shift and transform how organisations do business.

Do you have any personal attributes that you didn’t know about until after you started working?

I am a strong believer in the “learn, unlearn and relearn” slogan. I was quick to learn that change is a constant and that whatever skill-set and ideas worked for you before may not work in the present circumstances and that, if not rejigged, will most certainly not work in future. As human beings, there are certain intrinsic attributes that come to the fore when we are put in different situations at work and in life.

“If people don’t know you, they won’t elevate you.” How true/untrue is this statement in relation to your career journey?

The notion that all you have to do is to put your head down and work hard and that success will follow is a myth. The reality is that there is no purely meritocratic work environment. As a professional, you must have people around you who support your work and goals. Even as you work hard, you need to expand your skill set, performance record and target a wider audience. I have had the privilege of working with mentors and bosses who pushed me to stretch and set targets that at that time felt too steep. Today though, I am grateful to them for having made me to step out of my comfort zone.

Are you convinced that big businesses are doing enough to promote the entrepreneurial culture?

It is true that lack of capitation remains the biggest hindrance to young Kenyan entrepreneurs. There are, however, many corporates, both large and small, that are doing commendable work to promote the entrepreneurial culture through various programmes. But we cannot rely solely on corporates to do this. Everyone has a role to play. The government should, for instance, roll out a national curriculum that puts emphasis on financial literacy among learners from early on. Today’s youth are expected to make many complex financial decisions, yet many are unprepared to do this. With a curriculum in place, they will be able to make informed financial choices as they move into adulthood.

What more can stakeholders do to empower budding entrepreneurs?

There needs to be concerted efforts across the spectrum. The government should create an enabling environment through inclusive policy formulation and interventions. Other organisations should come in to help the youth incubate and grow their business ideas. Access to relevant information for start-ups is also key. We need to ask ourselves, do start-ups understand basic issues such as tax or licensing requirements? Is there enough knowledge about intellectual property rights? There has been a lot of discourse on these issues with some organisations playing a part in this space. Over and above everything, we must ensure that we have inclusive policies that promote practical and sustainable business initiatives.

How much of your time do you dedicate to your social life?

I am a strong believer in the importance of family life. I also have very close friends. Whenever I am not working, I try to spend some quality time with them.

Do you have targets in your career that you have not achieved yet?

My aspiration is to help a much wider array of organisations and even governments to successfully articulate and connect with their stakeholders to achieve their set investment goals in an inclusive manner. This is a continuous journey.

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