Beyond their jobs on the corporate scene, some executives lead vibrant lives as art collectors, artistes and musicians. Some are professional golfers, others chefs while others enjoy playing different musical instruments.
For these business leaders, hobbies serve as an escape from the pressure of career and business and the gateway to self-awareness. Even a way to ground themselves.
Frank Molla, for instance, is a payment technologist, a Rhumba dance instructor and a saxophonist. Stanbic Bank Group chief executive Charles Mudiwa is an art collector while Njehia Njoroge is a sailor.
For these executives, expeditions away from work are the life they enjoy most. The life that allows them to be their true selves.
Few engagements come close to the joy, the calmness and the level of reflection that the sea inspires in Njehia Njoroge, the founder of Sahihi Interiors. The high waters fascinate him.
Njehia has sailed in Italy, Spain, Greece, and the British Virgin Islands. He says: “My friend and I were to go to Tahiti but we had visa issues because of the pandemic. We will sail there in 2023.”
Sailing, though, is an expensive affair, he says. To hire a skipper (the captain) from abroad alone to take the team for world tours, Njehia and his fellow sailors would pay $5,000 (Sh600,000) as fees.
“The team leader always said we needed to have our own skipper that we could pay for the journeys.”
An idea struck. “I thought I would like to be licensed as a sailor and to be the team skipper.” Two years ago, he travelled to Houston in Chicago in the United States to take up lessons in sailing.
Today, he is licensed by the American Sailing Association (ASA), the only Kenyan, he says, with such certification. As such, he can sail in any of international waters.
“Had I not sailed before, it would probably have been difficult to go through the course. I was quite familiar with sailing, which made the training easier.’’
Next year, he will be in charge of a vessel in Tahiti with his friends. He is already excited about the voyage. “I just need to travel there earlier than the team to acquaint myself with the island.”
Njehia says sailing has taken him to some of the remotest parts of the world, including Cow Wreck, an outpost in British Virgin Islands. “The place is in the middle of nowhere. My friend and I nearly got lost while jogging.’’
The sailing expeditions, he says, allow them to discuss anything from family to career and business, spirituality, men banter and personal growth.
“As Christians, we reflect on the sailing journeys of Saint Paul [in the Bible] and come up with intentional conversations around them. We have been to places he visited such as Corinth and Athens. What unites us is to see a better tomorrow for our generation,” he says.
He notes: “Sailing is not a straightforward expedition. You are at the mercy of wind. Experiencing the power of the sun, wind, and water is unbelievable. You can go anywhere in the world for as long as you have supplies. With only a fishing rod, you are good to go.”
He adds: “The sea makes you realise how little you know about nature, about yourself and life.”
For him, sailing is an escape from the hum of career pressure that helps him to declutter. ‘‘It takes me away from the demands of the business which allows my team of 25 to take full charge of our operations.”
For Molla, the mix of East African, West African, South African, and global remixes of Rhumba transports him to another world. He developed this passion as a form of fitness and exercise eight years ago.
He narrates: “I used to travel a lot and felt I needed something that would jog my whole body.” It is then that he met in Nairobi Joseph Rogarow, whom he describes as “the king of Rhumba dance in Africa.”
“At the time I was going to a gym on Mombasa Road where I interacted with this kind of dance for the first time. The dance was intense with full body workout at high tempo.”
Soon, he was among those leading the dance from the front. After three months, he would join the training to become an instructor.
“I would dance mainly at Impala and Parklands sports clubs and at Weston Hotel where I did an hour each. To be able to dance as a busy professional you must make it a priority. You must make the time. It is never there.”
Besides instructing Rhumba dances, Molla plays the saxophone, a hobby he took up when his son started music classes. “He was playing the trumpet. To motivate him, I bought a saxophone and started training. After only one term, my son dropped music. But I fell in love with the sax and continued with my sessions.”
He adds: “I enjoy playing the saxophone. It allows me to relax and to live in the present moment. I am still learning it, though.”
Dancing, instructing Rhumba dances and playing the saxophone have come with a host of useful lessons about life, he says. “I have learned that in work-life balance, life comes first. Then balance in work follows. I have also learned that happiness is an inside job. Everyone defines their happiness in their own way, something we should embrace and respect.”
On the effect of his hobbies on his career, Molla says these have whetted his zeal and energy at work.
“I think these two trigger the feel-good hormone (dopamine). I always feel inspired and rejuvenated in whatever I do. After all, studies show that recreational dance relieves stress, improves relaxation and the overall well-being of a person.”
For this professional, feelings of stress, burnout and being overwhelmed are rare. Music to him is a breath of fresh air. “It is an opportunity to experience freedom and this comes free. I get more than what can be paid for it. I also do not earn money from these engagements.”
He has a word for other executives: invest in your balance in life.
“Do not be shy or too busy to bring out the child in you. Time should never be an excuse. Happiness is more like travel than a destination. You can choose to live your happily-ever-after on a daily basis. For me, music – Rhumba dance and the sax – are part of this happiness.”
Mudiwa is a passionate art collector, with a large collection of artworks from around the world, some bought by him and others gifted to him.
Anything that tells stories appeals to him. ‘‘I love books, music and art,” says the banker whose office in Westlands, Nairobi is a gallery of sorts, with artworks from Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Africa, from photographs to portraits and drawings. Some of these works have been commissioned by him.
To Mudiwa, collecting art is a way of understanding the culture of different communities. “It symbolises who I am and my aspirations in life. It also takes me to different places and moments in time, reminding me how I navigated both difficulties and celebratory events.”
He adds: “As a business, you operate in an environment of people with different beliefs and values. It is imperative for any business leader to possess cultural literacy by making the right adjustments.”
He also collects music wherever he travels in the continent, picking not only the traditional mainstream music and genres but also “unique pieces from very local artistes who have a lot of detail in their music.”
What then does his artwork collection say about him? “I am a humble man. I am also connected to my family. Art collection is also an acknowledgment of my life experiences, faith and hope for higher things.”
For his love of music, Mudiwa brought to Kenya for the first time American gospel artist Anthony Hamilton earlier this year for a concert in Nairobi.
“We wanted someone with a good following in this market; someone who could speak to a mature audience that enjoys his music.”