Terry Mungai is a renowned entrepreneur in Kenya’s beauty industry. She runs a chain of salons as well as a training institute: Ashleys Hair and Beauty Academy. Terry is also the franchise holder, Miss World Kenya.
You were in the banking industry for more than a decade before you went into business. What inspired the move?
Good grooming and personal hygiene is a requirement in the corporate world, and as I went about my business, I noticed that there were few beauty service providers. Most of my colleagues went to the same salons or barber shops and often complained about the services given.
That was my drive. I aspired to join the beauty industry to change it. As it turns out, it happened earlier than I had anticipated.
The bank I was working for was put under a receivership and there was no adequate time to prepare for the shift, as such, the transition was quite hard.
Ashleys has grown from one salon to many branches, even giving birth to a training college. Did you envision being where you are today?
To be honest, I didn’t. When I started out, all I had was a desire to fill the gap and provide professional beauty services.
I am glad that we now have seven branches. The growth has given me an opportunity to help young people realise their dreams and turn around a profession that wasn’t respected to an acclaimed one.
What are some of the entrepreneurial skills that you possess that have propelled the growth of your business?
Hard work, integrity, focus and a desire to be the best.
What is the biggest risk you have ever taken and what was the outcome?
When I was starting out in employment, I was given a very good deal, all I needed to do was make some compromises, failure to do that, I would lose my position. I chose integrity over the job. Luckily, I got a new and better job a few months later.
Are there lessons you learnt later in business that you wished someone had told you when starting out?
I wish that someone had told me that business wasn’t as easy as some suggest. When I established Ashleys, my mindset was that being my own boss was synonymous to being free - I would report to work and leave at my own pleasure.
I, for instance, didn’t envision that on months when business was low, I would still need to pay bills and meet other expenses. The reality is that a successful business requires hard work and perseverance.
How would you compare your 20's, 30's and 40's?
I started raising my family while in my early twenties and founded my business in my late twenties.
I could therefore say that my twenties were years of self-searching and ‘wanting’ to be young.
Have you heard what they say about life starting at 40? I concur. My 40’s came with self-realisation and confidence I didn’t know could emanate from me. I am at a happy place now.
What would you tell your 22-year-old self?
I would tell her that things are not always as they seem. Some hard things don’t always stay hard.
You are the franchise holder of the Miss World Kenya beauty pageant, how would you describe the experience?
It has been a journey of joy, pain and sometimes anxiety. When I took up the license 15 years ago, the beauty pageant wasn’t as respected as it is now. Then, most parents wouldn’t even allow their daughters to participate. To get where we are today, I have had to make many sacrifices.
Let’s talk about the beauty pageant determinants: weight and height, to be precise. Don't such requirements imply inequality and the social construct of what 'beautiful' is? What is the worth of other characteristics then?
This is a very interesting question. What I have come to learn and accept is that if you enter into a contract with anybody, there are binding rules and regulations.
As a franchise holder, I have to abide by the rules given. However, what I really like about the Miss World pageant is that the selection of the ultimate winner goes beyond the physical appearance to what one can offer. Beauty with a purpose. My advice to young girls is that they are not merely defined by their outward appearance but who they are. Inner beauty shines most.
In the period you have been organising this beauty pageant, what highlights and challenges have have encountered?
When former Miss World Kenya (2010), Natasha Metto, won the Beauty with a Purpose crown for her humanitarian work in the eradication of jiggers in partnership with Cecilia Mwangi (Miss World Kenya 2005) it put Kenya out there.
As a result of her achievement, the then Miss World visited the country. Another great highlight is when we partnered with Smile Train, a charity, to provide corrective surgery for children with cleft lip.
In 2016, we started Mr World Kenya - ours was crowned Mr World Africa and came fourth in the world. Winning Miss World Africa twice in a row has been quite an achievement, and we can’t wait for the award to come home! The pageant has been marred by many challenges too, those to do with money especially.
There are many days that I have left the office dejected and in tears, wondering how I will get the winning girl on a plane to compete in the Miss World pageant.
Last year, having reached a dead end, I had to write an open letter to the president seeking his intervention. Thankfully, the Ministry of Sports and Heritage paid the participant’s return ticket.
Also, many times, I have had to ask for help or go deep into my pocket to pay for travel tickets for several people to support the participant - finalists from other countries travel with a delegation of more than 10 supporters.
Some say that success changes people. Do you feel that it has changed you?
Depending on the change being referred to, my response could be yes or no. For instance, my values and attributes haven’t changed due to the milestones I have made.
In that respect, success hasn’t changed me. Years back, I would empathise with the needy with just encouraging words, now that I have achieved some degree of success, I see such things on a different perspective. I package my words with actions – for instance, I have offered Ashleys Hair and Beauty Academy scholarships to needy students.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
I have received lots of valuable advice over time, but what stands out since I am a believer is to first seek God’s righteousness and everything else shall be added unto me.