CAROLE: I don’t micromanage, you either swim or you sink

As the representative of the interests of private businesses in Kenya, Carole Kariuki holds a position coveted by many.

Carole Kariuki, CEO, Kenya Private Sector Alliance. PHOTO | COURTESY 

IN SUMMARY

  • PROFILE: Carole Kariuki is the chief executive officer of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), the umbrella body representing and championing the interests of all private businesses in the country.

Choose your passion, don’t go for positions

As the representative of the interests of private businesses in Kenya, Carole Kariuki holds a position coveted by many, especially young girls who look up to her.

However, her advice to aspiring CEO’s especially girls, is that: “Never go for a position. Go after your passion instead. It might get you to a higher position or a lower position but you will have followed your calling. Positions are just driving licences that get you to do what you need to do,” the 42-year old counsels.

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She joined the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) in 2005 as a policy program manager, working with five other colleagues as the only staff members in the organisation. She took a two-year break in 2008 and returned in 2009 as the acting CEO, a position she was confirmed to in 2010.

“I’m very fortunate that I came into this position when other women had already charted the way,” she said of her career. “It’s not completely easy but I think the next generation will have it easier because we are here,” she added.

Before joining Kepsa, Kariuki had worked for Barclays Bank of Kenya, and Sagamore Institute for Public Policy Research, in Indianapolis, Indiana, US where she acted as a liaison between Kepsa and the institute before formally joining the latter.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Sociology from the University of Nairobi and a Masters degree in Public Administration and International Affairs from Bowling Green State University, US, and several professional courses on public-private sector dialogue, global leadership and private sector development.

She also serves on eight boards such as the Kenya 2030 Water Resources Group, Nairobi Centre for International Arbitration and the National Council of Administrative Justice.

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What’s your off duty passion?

Hanging out. I really love to go out — especially with friends who are not from the office — for some outdoor activities like road trips, live concerts and watching plays in the theatre. My friend June Gachui is one of my favourite artistes because she is not just a singer but an all-round entertainer.

What’s your typical day like?

I don’t have one really, all my days are different. But I normally wake up at around 5:40am, do a quick 10 minutes run and head to the office for some regular 7:30am meetings with staff. The rest of the day is unpredictable.

How do you manage your wardrobe?

I prefer to wear bright colours more often because I’m mostly the only woman sitting at a board meeting, so I cannot look like the men in their dark suits and ties.  

How do you unwind after a busy week?

Unwinding is more of a daily thing so I try to exercise a lot. I was more of a runner before but I have had to cut on that recently as I slowly shift into regular use of the gym.

Where would you be found on a Saturday afternoon?

I am really into beaches. So I really love Watamu in Kenya’s North Coast but in East Africa, Zanzibar has my heart.

What’s your leadership style?

With me you either swim or sink. I don’t believe in micromanaging people. I believe once you’re given a job you know what to do, so do it. If you have a problem consult and move on.

Do you sometimes get bored by meetings?       

I do. But my meetings are all different everyday. Initially, I struggled a lot with the many meetings I had to attend in a day because I’m not naturally an extrovert.

You have been at the helm of Kepsa for quite some time now. What is the single achievement that you’re most proud of?

Bringing Kenya’s private sector under one roof. This is definitely a very tough task for anyone anywhere in the world. So being able to bring at least a representative of every sector of the economy into Kepsa and steering the common movement remains a major milestone.

Any regret?

More like lessons learned. Before, I used to be troubled by dissenting voices in matters that I didn’t expect there would be dissent. It troubled me a lot until I learnt that if you want to be liked, be the ice cream man.

Is that the best advice you can give?

Yes, but just one of them. I think the most important one is learning to reflect at the end of every day and ask yourself; ‘Did I focus on my mandate?’ That way you will not be afraid of what people will think or tell you.

What was your last best read?

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson.

Do you cook?

I steam and grill a lot. I like salmon with vegetables but mukimo (a traditional mash of potatoes, choice vegetables and cereals) made by my mother remains my favourite dish.

What is a constant in your fridge?
Fresh fruits, vegetables and yoghurt of course!

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