James Wahome has been with Distell for 12 years, strengthening brands under its portfolio. But it’s the growth of the Viceroy brand — Distell’s flagship brand — that his greatest achievements might hem on.
He has played a pivotal role in promoting the success of Viceroy, which was introduced in the market in 1998 and is currently sending 50 people to Cape Town in a campaign meant to reward its faithful consumers.
His PR people were initially reluctant to sit him down with me for an interview. They said his age (53) might not allow for this kind of a personal interview; that he was ‘private’. They prepared a list of ‘safe’ questions for me as a guide for the interview, which I dutifully ignored.
I was pleasantly surprised when we finally sat down at the Serena Hotel to discover that Mr Wahome was anything but private or closed. He was open and relaxed and quite forthcoming.
You don’t look anything like you age; you are quite trim and fit. Genes or what?
I tell you what; I once dyed my hair to look young and youthful. I was attending a friend’s wedding – rather a renewal of vows. I liked that whole dyed hair look and I kept dyeing my hair after that.
But then this time when I was participating in the Kilimanjaro marathon, which is one of the best marathons because it’s organic and the whole community is plugged in on it, the villagers cheering by the roadside kept urging me on saying, “Mzee, utamaliza…mzee, endelea hivyo hivyo.” And I thought to myself, “Who is the mzee? My hair is black, I look young.” (Laughs)
After that I stopped bothering with dyeing my hair.
You run marathons at your age?
Yes. I have been running marathons for 13 years now.
Half-marathons, I suppose?
No, full marathons.
Yes! (Smiles). I started running 13 years ago when I was weighing a crazy 85 kilogrammes, which was bad for my height (5’7’’). I started running at Parklands Sports Club. I have grown as a runner over time. It’s a central thing in my life.
I belong to a running group called The Urban Swaras. We think of ourselves as sports tourists and often run in Karura Forest, Kerio Valley, Arboretum and Sagana.
I run five days a week, with weekends when I do the long run – 30 kilometres. I do all marathons; in fact I will be attending the StanChart full-marathon.
What time do you think you will do?
Maybe 4:08mins? [He finished it in 4:16]. But I don’t run marathons because of time, I run to finish them and to enjoy them. Time has never been my goal.
You have a son, is he as physical and health conscious as you are?
My son is 24. He isn’t fit. I used to run with him, but he stopped, he’s grown a bit chubby. (Smiles) I’m trying to motivate him to get back.
My daughter, 21, doesn’t run but she is fit. We normally do walks together with my wife.
How does running impact on your day-to-day life?
Positively! It keeps my mind fresh, offers me clear thought. When faced with difficult situations I always come up with solutions after or during my run because it frees me of clutter and gives me clarity.
Do you run with music on?
No and I don’t encourage anyone to do that. Music distracts plus it’s not safe. You need to be in touch with your surrounding.
What kind of a runner are you and does that pace reflect in the kind of man you are in life?
I don’t run at anyone’s pace. I run at my own pace. When you pace yourself with others, in life and on the track, you can’t fare well.
You can’t compare yourself with others because everybody has a different pace. The goal is to finish. It doesn’t matter who finishes first. I’m an endurance runner, in my life I have also endured some very difficult times, you have to keep keeping on.
Do you find that running helps with your libido, especially at your age?
[PR lady protests to the question] No, it’s OK; I think it’s a fair question. Running makes the body active; it improves your sex life. The major causes of divorce in marriage stem from the bedroom and if I wasn’t exercising, if I had continued with my former lifestyle, I think by 50 we would be having separate beds.
Do you partake of booze?
I drink red wine moderately. I also love good food. I love to engage in barbecue with friends and family. I like to discover new restaurants.
Given your consistency and passion in good health, are you one of those annoying people who are obsessive with what they can’t eat because of calories?
No. Things should be done in moderation; you exercise so that you can enjoy good food. I will eat just about anything. I think it doesn’t serve any purpose to let exercise and good health make you an outcast in a society. Besides nobody wants to host anyone who is fussy about their food.
Trick for those who want to lose weight is to avoid carbs and exercise. Generally, I go easy on carbohydrates.
Your people are big on potatoes, must be hard to avoid that.
(Chuckle) I enjoy in moderation, but fortunately in my family we are bigger on rice.
Would you say you are happy in your life right now?
Yes. I think I have discovered late that we have few years to live and not to lean too much into the money-making ventures and simply enjoy the other simpler pleasures of life. The real danger is society stressing in acquiring investments and forgetting to actually enjoy your life until it’s late.
What are your greatest regrets so far?
Not discovering running earlier enough in life, you know, and not discovering my passions early enough. I love travelling. Also there is a wasted period in life during my teenage when I wasted time finding my identity.
What’s on your bucket list?
I want to do the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, a 56-kilometre run dubbed the world’s most beautiful marathon that stretches from Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. I will do it in the next two years. I also plan to do the Comrades Race, one of the world’s top ultradistance races, an 89-kilometre race stretching between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa.
What’s your greatest extravagance?
Shoes. [I look under the table]. Running shoes, rather. Good shoes are great companions when running. It protects you. A good shoe will cost you something like Sh16,000. I buy my shoes when I travel, great shoes can be found in the UK or in Japan. Generally, there is no limit on how much I can spend on quality running shoes.
Is there anything you are running away from in your life right now?
Impatience. It’s also one of my weaknesses. But I think as you become older you become less impatient.