Tell us about yourself, your background and current “station” in life.
I am the first born child in our family, which lives in a rural setting. My father was a teacher and as some may know, in those days, teachers were seen as the cream of society. So my family was viewed as belonging to the elite in that environment.
I graduated with an Education degree from the University of Nairobi in 1976 and taught briefly at Cardinal Otunga High School, Mosocho, before joining the Civil Service as an economist/statistician. While working in the Civil Service I was sponsored for post graduate studies in Economics at University of Nairobi and York University in Canada.
When I resumed work, I a changed situation from what I had left and that despite my education I wasn’t getting what I expected. I resigned and joined the NGO sector, what with a more attractive pay than the civil service. However, I soon found the job not as fulfilling as I had expected. I later left to join The Daily Nation as Senior Writer, where I rose to become Business Editor after a short time.
It is at the Daily Nation that I ran a weekly column, Business Tidbits, which opened a number of pathways for me one of which was the position of CEO at small enterprise development NGO. I would later become the Executive Director and CEO at the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM), the first “non-retired” CEO of the institute by that time.
While the work at KIM was fulfilling the institutional culture placed a lot of inertia in forward movement which was at variance from the business culture I was used to.
Thereafter I had a stint on consultancy despite the Moi-era challenges, international pressure, economic stagnation and political upheaval. I would later take a contract as Head of Corporate Planning at Kenya Wildlife Service at end of whichI secured a years’ consultancy assignment in Tanzania with FAO/World Bank in an integrated rural development project. I have been in consultancy ever since, mainly focusing on strategic management, monitoring & evaluation, research and capacity building.
On occasion I do teaching at university. At the back of all these, I am always, writing or editing.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t know. However, I have always been writing and telling stories since my primary school days. I used to get top marks for my essays. I won a national prize for essay writing when I was in form three and a regional prize when I was in form five. These prizes encouraged me to consider writing as a vocation, reinforced by encouragement from my teachers.
How did you develop interest in writing and what was your first published item? Where was this published?
In the 1960s & 70s Drum was the most popular magazine in the rural areas. I started writing letters to Drum Magazine when I was in primary school. I was most excited when Drum first published one of my letters, though some of my teachers and fellow pupils seemed to celebrate this more. And thus, my interest in writing was ignited.
When did you write your first book and how old were you? What was the title and where was it published?
After form six (aged 18) I wrote a play, A Proud Madman, which I submitted to Heinemann. After several months, I was a response with the comment, “very interesting but we cannot publish it in its current form. Did you try it on stage? May be you should try putting your thoughts into a novel.”
Despite the regret, I was most encouraged.. I subsequently started on several novels, but none of them, except one, was ever completed. I hope to complete all of them one day as they still have portent ideas.
Hare and her Lazy Friends – a children’s book released in 1989 by Heinemann (now EAEPL), was my first book. It has sold widely in East Africa, including Sudan and has been translated into other languages, including Kiswahili.
My first novel – The Sting – was published by EAEPL in 2011. It has been received well.
What subjects do you focus on in your writing? Why?
I focus on three main areas: children, society and business – Children’s books, because children inspire me; I always get touched seeing young children reading enthusiastically or watching cartoons — I guess there is a child in me that loves kid stuff. Secondly, I am always enthralled by philosophical and social issues. I have never stopped asking ultimate questions; social matters excite me and in my novels I seek to explore and share some of my notions about reality and human foibles. Finally, my working and teaching experience has exposed me to a wide range of business ideas and paradigms. My view is that the mercantile/enterprise culture has been the engine of national and human development. I seek to help catalyse development in Africa through my business writing.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I get my ideas almost anywhere. Chatting with folk in the villages, observing streetwise teenagers, talking to my clients, listening to my friends and family members, reading, in seminars, and more.
Tell us aboutbook titled Management Gems for All Time.
a.Where and when was it published?
Management Gems for All Time, was published in Canada in September this year (2012).
b.What inspired you to write this book?
My readers. Most of the material in the book has been adopted from some of my newspaper articles, which were published over several years. When I stopped doing the newspaper column a lot of people kept asking “what happened, why are you not writing any more?” Others suggested that I compile the articles into a book. I bought the idea.
c.What would be the take away for someone who reads the book? How would that help the person in their day to day life? Give a concrete illustration from the book.
Different people would love different ideas in the book. There is material for the novice and the seasoned mind.. Two areas in the book that I have got most responses from, and from where I have clinched several consulting assignments, are the sections on people and change management. However, since the book was published someone has called me to say that reading the first chapter on Self-Management has transformed his life. So there is a lot, and at least something for everyone regardless of their station in life.
You have written a lot on the subject of management much of it drawn from your experience in the business world, as a manager, including CEO and consultant. You are also well-travelled, both as a student and professional.
a.On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best) how do you rate Kenya’s management sophistication compared with other countries across the world?
On a global scale, we are at 4. However within the African context we are at 8-9.
Though a number of our enterprises, especially the transnationals, strive to maintain world class management practices, a big section of the public sector and many local companies are riddled with nepotism, autocracy and failure to keep up with emergent trends. However, most of the African countries I have visited are way behind Kenya in skills and enterprise development and hence managerial sophistication.
We live in a global village and competition remains stiff
a. What kind of preparedness does Kenya need (from a management perspective) to increase its regional and global competitiveness?
Targeted and meticulous development of technical, corporate leadership and managerial skills, strategic adoption of modern and appropriate technology, capped with ruthless professionalism.
b.How can this be achieved? Through the education system? Professional training? Or what?
Vision 2030 is a good start. We now need a comprehensive and effective policy framework on education, training, investment and trade. Education and training should be better geared to industry and national development needs. Stronger public-private-partnerships should be developed to tap into the abundant human resource – especially the youth – for optimal national productivity.
There are often accusations of nepotism in the Kenyan workplace.
a.Given your experience, how real is this?
This is very real. I have suffered from it and I have written about it.
b.What are the impacts (first negative and second positive, if any at all) does this have on our management effectiveness?
Nepotism, and its more virulent cousin – tribalism, undermine meritocracy and promote mediocrity and ultimately strangle competitiveness. I am not aware of any positive impacts of nepotism at the institutional or national level, but it is apparently beneficial to those who practice it.
What is your take on the notion of knowledge society? And how prepared is Kenya as a country to attain that status?
A Knowledge Society is one that creates, shares, and uses knowledge for the prosperity and well-being of its people. Of course, knowledge has always been a key factor of production, and an engine of economic and social development for all societies, including Kenya. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are now facilitating a rapid globalisation of economic activity. In an increasingly global economy, innovation, which fuels new job creation and economic growth, is becoming the key factor in global competitiveness. Knowledge is now the key resource. In view of the rapid change in the knowledge base, people at all levels in a modern knowledge society will need to be lifelong learners, adapting continuously to changing work environments and emergent socioeconomic models.
Creating value is about creating new knowledge and capturing its worth. Kenya is an increasing user of modern knowledge, but its role in the creation of that knowledge remains insignificant. Even the access and sharing of existing knowledge remains dismal. Given that most of the accessing and sharing of knowledge is now Internet based, having a society that is ICT savvy will go a long way in developing a knowledge society; hence the creation of the envisioned ICT City in Konza is a move in the right direction.
Reading culture and knowledge capture and retention are seen as attributes for global competition in modern times.
a.What role do you see a reading culture playing towards the attainment of a knowledge society?
Sharing knowledge is one of the pillars of a knowledge society; and this is best achieved through reading. People who do not read have limited scope for sharing knowledge, and thus cannot be good citizens of a knowledge society.
b. On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best) how do you rate Kenya’s reading culture?
It has been at around 1 for a long time. However, things are slowly changing. Kenyans are beginning to read more. The unprecedented expansion of universities has also made its contribution, though there are issues of quality and relevance. In urban places, we are now getting to 4 on the scale. However a large segment of the rural population is still close to 2.
Kenyans largely read to pass examinations and once they are out of school, they hardly read anything apart from newspapers. With the advent of vernacular FM radio stations, most rural communities have relapsed in their reading; as the demand for newspaper reading has tended to decline.
d.What can be done to improve the country’s reading culture? What is the role of the education system in this? What is the role of leadership, corporate, political, community and otherwise, in this?
As I mentioned above, Kenyans’ reading culture is on an upward swing, partly due to socioeconomic factors. As they say, “necessity is the mother of invention.” In the past, many Kenyans have done well without much reading. Things are now changing. Jobs are hard to come by and the need to do anything for a livelihood, even if that means reading is becoming obvious each passing day. Those who wish to stay ahead in the corporate world or in entrepreneurship realise that reading pays. With the advent of ICT and social media the young do not want to be left behind with reading being at the core. However there is need for policies and programmes that support the reading culture. The creation and support of ICT villages is one strategy that can encourage the youth to read by easily accessing the Internet and sharing ideas with other members of society. The education system should also inculcate a culture of reading for life rather than for just passing exams.
What are your future writing plans? Any projects in the works that you would like the audience to know? When can we expect another book from you?
I am currently working on a management textbook. This would be a sure way of sharing ideas I have with those who only find time to read for examinations. However, my primary reason for writing the textbook is the realisation that our students are still largely dependent on foreign books, which tend to give benchmarks and theoretical frameworks that are far-removed from our reality. These not only alienate our scholars but also tend to give a general impression that such texts can only come from outside Africa. I expect to complete the book in a year’s time.
On the subject of writing, reading and knowledge preservation:
a.What message do you have for writers?
Keep at it though returns have been discouraging. I particularly encourage those writers who are reconstructing our distorted and disjointed history for posterity. It is critical that we truly know whence we have come. Proper recording of our artefacts is essential. The entertainment industry is now becoming ripe in Africa and good writers are needed to not only exploit this opportunity but also portray our peoples and the pertinent social dynamics correctly.
b.And what would you say to readers?
For Kenya to become a viable nation in the 21st century, it has to be a knowledge society. Conventional functional literacy is not going to be adequate for living and working productively in a post 2030 Kenya. You will need to read more to stay afloat.
c.How about for managers and corporate leaders?
Management of change and innovation are going to be the twin pillars of successful management in the 21st century. Change is not only constant but will become more rapid. Innovation is about new ideas on how to do things better and/or faster. If you cannot innovate your prospects remain slim. Management must strive to facilitate continuous injection of new ideas into the workplace to enhance their products and services, including creation of such new products and services.
d.And for political and community leaders?
Kenya’s political leadership has glaringly lacked nationalism, patriotism and integrity since independence. It is sad that most of our so-called political leaders are opportunists who seek to hoodwink the people for their own selfish ends. Reform towards better living for our people should be the guiding principle for leadership and their followers. It is high time we truly embraced servant leadership, leadership that is about progressing Kenya to prosperity and greatness rather than using political office as a channel for robbing fellow Kenyans.
Do you have any final closing thoughts?
Ideas are the engine of human development. Kenya, as a nation, must strive to generate ideas that can be saleable to the rest of the world. Sale of commodities and labour alone will leave us marginalised in the new global arena.