Man about town

Wakiaga: Why industries will miss her leadership

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KAM’s outgoing chief executive Phyllis Wakiaga. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Phyllis Wakiaga has a leadership presence that it would be hard to talk about the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), without mentioning her name.
  • As she exits KAM, her charisma as a superstar CEO may become a tough feat for the incoming boss to emulate.
  • The CEO who wears Ankara coats, which is quite uncommon, joined KAM as the head of policy, research and advocacy in 2013, and later took over the leadership mantle in 2015.

Phyllis Wakiaga has a leadership presence that it would be hard to talk about the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), without mentioning her name.

For close to a decade, factory visits, press conferences, newspaper commentaries, trade and investment talks always had a permanent fixture that was Ms Wakiaga.

As she exits KAM, her charisma as a superstar CEO may become a tough feat for the incoming boss to emulate.

The CEO who wears Ankara coats, which is quite uncommon, joined KAM as the head of policy, research and advocacy in 2013, and later took over the leadership mantle in 2015.

“It is time for me to exit and pursue other interests,” she says, adding that she will be taking up a new role from July in Africa Advisory at an international organisation.

“I shall also take some time to finalise my PhD research and defend it as I plan to graduate in December,” she said.

A lawyer by profession, Ms Wakiaga is pursuing a PhD in leadership and governance.

She says her journey at KAM has been an interesting one.

“When I started my career, my major challenge was balancing my young family, my job and my studies. This can be challenging and requires a lot of discipline and a solid support system. But I had great support from my board, team and family,” she said.

As one of the few women CEOs, and just in her 40s, her advice to young women aspiring to be top executives is simply to acquire knowledge and competence, saying it is the best investment one can make.

“Knowledge will help you in making great strides in all the areas you are passionate about. Most importantly, self-discipline and responsibility shall steer you to the right path,” she says.

What she likes most about the industry now is that more women are taking up leadership positions than ever before.

“Unfortunately, the game is already rigged, particularly on what is expected of women in leadership and their ability to hold such positions,” she said.

She said it is important that women are not bound by defined spaces because it ensures that they shine in their talent and skills to make a difference.

“This concept continues to be demonstrated everyday as more women take up C-suite roles, more so in traditionally, male-dominated sectors, such as manufacturing. According to 2020-21 Board Diversity & Inclusion Study, female representation in C-suite roles in Kenya constitutes 37 percent compared to 21 percent globally,” she said.

Ms Wakiaga said KAM started the Women in Manufacturing Programme to provide a space for women to venture into the manufacturing space.

“We aspire to see more women participate in the sector in senior leadership roles, as owners and founders, and for young girls to see themselves as future industrialists,” she said.

The executive says there were times when the issues she wanted to change took too long to materialise, but she remained steadfast adding that this taught her to be patient and resilient.

“I have learnt that challenges fuel you to become innovative, how to seek alliances to make things happen. I am also an optimist and a believer in God’s timing and provision,” she says.

With a big presence almost everywhere, one wonders if the advocate of the High Court managed to achieve the work-life balance that evades many career women.

She says she kept her weekends, especially Sabbath, for family and church. This, she notes, helps her to live a balanced life and make time for family and friends.

With technology taking a toll on most people’s lives and relationships, the CEO says she prefers leaving her gadgets on the kitchen counter to allow her quality time with her family.

“Keep gadgets out of the bedroom or else you will tweet and chat the entire night and for the rest of your life,’’ she says.

Ms Wakiaga says being a CEO means serving your stakeholders, and in her case, KAM members, the board, government and other partners, as well as her team at the organisation.

“It also entails being able to grow the business and drive change in an ever-changing business environment,” she says.

As we head to the August 9 general election, Ms Wakiaga says the future will require the economy to be at the heart of politics, to address the challenges that hold the country back from achieving its full potential.

“The political economy is at the heart of what we do as KAM as we engage in policy and regulatory reform to improve the business environment and create opportunities for Kenya to create jobs,” she said.

Perhaps as a show of support for local industry, in an interview with Business Daily four years ago, Ms Wakiaga said she liked wearing African attire.

‘‘I have resolved to stand out in my African attires as a statement of pride,” she said.

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