It’s time to unleash potential of African women
Posted Monday, July 30 2012 at 17:47
If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning. Aristotle Onassis
If there’s ever a prize for the world’s manliest company, Ndume Ltd. in Gilgil, Nakuru County would be a frontrunner. From its location right next to Kenya Army’s Western Command, home to the Infantry’s 5 Kenya Rifles, to its name “Ndume” (meaning a bull) to the statue of a strong muscular ox in the courtyard; everything about this manufacturer of agricultural equipment growls testosterone.
Founded in August 1959 by Mr F Rames-Taylor and a total staff of 40 men, it now occupies 62,000 sq. ft and employs more than 150 staff. This is a company for the man’s man.
There is nothing soft, gentle or fuzzy about Ndume. All their equipment is strong, functional and precise, characterised by angular frames, primary colours and simple, easy to assemble components.
So durable are Ndume’s products that one rarely, if ever, sees any of their equipment rendered useless even by the most rigorous engagement.
Ndume is a prolific equipment manufacturer; it revolutionised local cereal production by developing robust air seeders and strong chisel ploughs.
Still, for all its power, precision and simplicity, the absence of women on Ndume’s premises slowly, but surely becomes evident after a little while.
Establishing this male-dominated company was no accident; it was a deliberate founding policy that’s perpetuated till this day; Ndume is unapologetic about their masculinity, seeming destined to continue in this way for the foreseeable future.
In contrast, for as long as residents of Njoro knew her, Kelleni Lugaziva Irangi was either in her shop, home or visiting families near and far.
Conservative and petite, Mrs. Irangi —fondly known as Mama Jane – was always joyful and solicitous; rarely would visitors to her shop leave without having merchandise ‘pressed’ into their hands.
This charity, combined with feeding steady streams of guests in their home must have driven her husband Ernest Irangi, leading distributor of East African Industry products, to distraction.
After Mr Irangi passed away in the early 2000s, Mrs. Irangi continued to operate the shop even in light of her entrepreneurial handicap – giving away merchandise is no way to grow a business.
Inevitably, with time, the stock dwindled, leaving empty shelves.
This did not stop Mama Jane from opening the shop.
Whenever the doors were open, there would be numerous people passing through on various missions; greetings, in search of counsel or assistance.
Mama Jane graciously accommodated them all; to many residents of Njoro, she was the town and the town was her, bare shelves notwithstanding.
When Mama Jane died in 2009, the shock on the town’s population was palpable. Those first to hear the news were hit by disbelief, unable to coherently relay the information to others. It took a long time for Njoro to come to terms with the loss.
The impact of Mama Jane’s death was fully felt during her funeral. Reliable sources estimated the number of mourners at more than 3,000. Given Mama Jane’s profile, this was not surprising.
What shocked Njoro residents was the crowd diversity; busloads from as far as Lodwar, entire church congregations, business people, farmers, politicians and members of associations she was not formally a member of. For a small business operator in an obscure rural town, this turnout was spectacular.
It was then that many realised that while Ernest Irangi may have been an innovative entrepreneur, Mama Jane’s ability to network was critical to his success.
More than just being a pretty face, Mama Jane was the foundation on which the business and society in Njoro were built.
Male leaders of family business need to appreciate women in all their beauty.
In addition, they need to understand that the women in their organisations offer more than basic support; they provide the foundation for the family, give businesses a human face and positively impact surrounding society.
Finally, leaders of family business should recognise that without women, money, efficiency and results by themselves have little meaning. I rest my case.
Mutua is a Humphrey Fellow and a leadership development consultant focused on family businesses. His firstname.lastname@example.org