Joanne Mwangi-Yelbert is not only self-driven, but also wears many hats.
Aside from being a mother and chairperson of the Federation of Women Entrepreneur Associations, she is the chief executive of Professional Marketing Services (PMS Group).
Her work is notable in the branding of renowned names such as Two Rivers, Del Monte, Thika Greens and the National Treasury’s Integrated Financial Management Information System.
Ms Yeblert, 50, is the founder of PMS Croup, an all-round agency that handles marketing, advertising and public relations for its clients, among others.
Her intention of starting the company 22 years ago was simply to meet a demand for integrated marketing services in a market that was at the time dominated by a handful firms and make just enough money to foot her bills.
“When I left the corporate world in mid 1990s, I identified a gap in the market and decided to open my own agency,” says Ms Yelbert who holds a bachelor’s degree in economic sociology from the University of Nairobi.
Armed with a rich background in managing brands and her Sh850,000 sacco savings, she set up the business at Riverside Drive in Nairobi.
For a significant period of time, she operated solo and had to juggle being the office messenger, the driver and managing director of the company.
She recalls days when she entered the office early, to wipe dust off the desks, then proceed to Industrial Area to drop off documents.
Overwhelmed, she sought the services of accountants to manage company finances on part-time terms.
“Hiring finance managers on temporary basis proved untenable for the business and I had to rethink this particular bit going forward,” says the former Colgate-Palmolive brand manager who divulges that from the onset she desired to be in an environment that allowed her to interact with people.
In order to balance the business books, she had to take a pay cut to earn Sh30,000 monthly salary as her finance manager, whom she hired on permanent basis, earned double her salary.
Preoccupied with making first impressions, Ms Yelbert had spent a huge portion of the capital on high-end office furnishings. It soon hit her that she needed to first identify, establish and maintain relations with clients to remain relevant in the industry.
“By the time I was getting my first LPO I hardly had any money left. At the time I was doing my master’s degree at the USIU and could hardly focus in class,” she says.
Her three classmates — former Retirements Benefits Authority chief executive Edward Odundo, former New KCC managing director Kipkirui Langat and Jane Mwai — noticed her distress and helped her raise Sh150,000 which enabled her to meet her business obligations at the time.
But it is a stint at the Standard Group #ticker:SGL as an advertising agent (her first job) that she credits for her resilience, which has seen her wade murky business waters.
Today, PMS Group has not only created employment for more than 800 individuals, but is the only Kenyan firm to bag three awards at the Kenya Top 100 Medium sized awards to date.
The awards include being the No. 1 enterprise, the best in the service sector and with Ms Yelbert as the top entrepreneur in 2010.
The Top 100 survey is an initiative of Nation Media Group #ticker:NMG and audit firm KPMG.
A Top 100 mid-sized company is one which ranks ahead of its peers in terms of revenue growth, profit and returns to shareholders.
On the wall facing her desk at her Jamhuri Park office off Ngong Road, she has had the phrase “1.2 billion, it’s not just a number” inscribed. She explains that the figure is her turnover target for this year.
She says integrity and commitment to work are the secret ingredients for the success of the company which she hopes to hand over to a younger person.
“We always inform our clients from the onset in case they want something done and we feel we cannot execute,” says the mother of four who discloses she studied marketing out of idleness and peer pressure.
Going forward, she plan is to expand her business in regional markets such as Democratic Republic of Congo that are thirsty for integrated marketing services but nobody seems keen on operating there.