Steve Okeyo's international career that led him back to East Africa

Saturday March 10 2018

Steve Okeyo with the wax figure of Bob Marley at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in Amsterdam. PHOTO | COURTESY

Steve Okeyo with the wax figure of Bob Marley at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in Amsterdam. PHOTO | COURTESY  

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Steve Okeyo, 47, is the director for regional sales and operations at Safaricom and a trustee of the Safaricom Foundation. He joined the company in April 2014.

His professional life spans commercial and general management for international projects in multinationals across different industries.

Okeyo was born and raised in Homa Bay on the shores of Lake Victoria, where he received his early education before proceeding to Ol’ Kalou and Nyandarua in central Kenya.

He holds a bachelor of arts degree in Sociology and Geography from the University of Nairobi, a masters in business administration in Marketing from the United State International University, Nairobi and is a graduate of INSEAD business school in France (Executive Leadership).

He lives in Nairobi with his wife and two children.

Okeyo’s corporate journey started at the Coca-Cola Company in 2004 as the market operations manager working for several years directly and indirectly with 27 countries in Africa.

He later became head of customer and commercial leadership, with his main contributions being in Kenya, Mauritius, Reunion, Angola, Uganda and Tanzania. This job called for extensive travelling across the world and he built expertise that earned him a promotion to general management as country manager for Coca-Cola in Uganda, where he led the business through a period of resurgence and innovation for three years. 

When he left the beverage industry in 2010 he moved to cement and construction, which although dominated by engineers, he thrived as a commercial director at Lafarge for Bamburi Cement in Kenya in charge of sales, marketing and customer service and later at Hima Cement in Uganda, serving eastern DR Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and northern Tanzania.


What is your off-duty passion?

I am passionate about access to quality education. I spend some of my free time on projects to improve school facilities in Ol Kalou and Homa Bay. I prefer not to say much about this because as charity work, it is more satisfying in not talking about the help we give others.

If you had not gone into sales and marketing what would you be doing today?

I would have been a social worker or a professor of either of my favourite subjects; archaeology, anthropology, sociology, geography, history or even economics.

What signifies your personal style?

I am perceptive, modern and approachable.

How do you manage your wardrobe?

I am conservative and for formal wear I stay on the narrow path of dark suits for office and official meetings, weather permitting. My shirts are white and occasionally light blue; black or brown shoes and my ties are a variety of textures, widths and colours.

On weekends I prefer khaki slacks and boots. In hot weather, I switch to jeans, round-neck T-shirts and rubber shoes. For the cold season, I have plenty of coloured sweaters and winter jackets.

Where in East Africa are you most likely to be found on your day off?

Either in my rural home in Homa Bay, on a golf course in Nairobi, or relaxing with my family at home. Once in a while, we spend two nights in the Maasai Mara, Nanyuki, Naivasha or somewhere at the Kenyan Coast. We go camping at least once every three months, and this reminds us just how much we do not need all the things we tend to accumulate in life.

What is your best destination in East Africa?
Homa Bay County. It takes a one-hour flight from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to get there, have breakfast at the Hippo Buck hotel, then hop onto a waterbus ferry for a tour of Rusinga, Mfangano and Takawiri islands in Lake Victoria. You can enjoy white pristine beaches and having travelled the world, there is nowhere like it.

I also like Lake Kivu in Rwanda and never tire of the beach life in Mombasa, Malindi or Lamu on the Kenyan Coast.

What is East Africa’s strength?

I am happy to be back home where there is great optimism and the sun shines every day. I have worked and travelled widely in Europe, North America and Asia and realised that African professionals have a lot to offer if they seize opportunities that go against the grain.

Do you have a must-visit list?

Yes, Cape Verde, Senegal, Botswana, Finland, Cuba and Chile.

What is the most thoughtful gift you have ever received?

A cruise for my wife and I across the Caribbean Islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, St Barthelemy, Saint Maarten, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Puerto Rico.

What is the best gift you have given?

I give books. I recently gifted my two friends books by Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari; Homo Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind and its sequel, Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow. I highly recommend both books.

What was your last great read?

Bamburi Cement, Memories of the Past, Challenges for the Future. It is not available for sale.

What is your favourite movie?

Karaba la Sorciere, a 1998 French language animation by Michel Ocelot about Kirikou, a child who saves his village from the diabolical designs of a powerful witch. It is an adaption of a West African folk story with a universal message of good triumphing over evil. The graphics are amazing by the standards of that time.

What is your favourite music?

Anything African, world instrumental or European classical, and for the latter, my favourite Tchaikovsky is the 1812 Overture. The piece commemorates the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte during the Russian Campaign. It is loud, majestic and emotional and you can follow each of the 15 battles through the movements.

What is your favourite food?
Ugali, fried fish and traditional vegetables.