Profiles

Building a legacy at 37

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Leon Kiptum, country manager of Chipper Cash. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • He wants to be remembered for something more than just having built companies.
  • He wants to invest in people and create a chain-reaction, people investing in other people.
  • He wants to do things that are not defined by the bottom line or turnovers.

What does Leon Kiptum, the country manager of Chipper Cash, a financial technology company that builds software to enable cross-border payments, want? He wants to be remembered for something more than just having built companies. He wants to invest in people and create a chain-reaction, people investing in other people.

He wants to do things that are not defined by the bottom line or turnovers. He wants to raise his two boys to be virtuous and to be men of integrity. He wants to continue mending the complicated relationship he has with his father, stitch by stitch. He wants to be a better golfer (who doesn't) and we suspect, to read and write more poetry.

Most immediately, in this time of when some businesses have collapsed, he wants to build Chipper Cash. He had a Zoom call with JACKSON BIKO.

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Do you sometimes wonder what would happen if you packed a bag and sneaked out in the middle of the night and started a new life somewhere far under a new identity?

(Laughs) I think it’s one of those things you ask yourself once you cross the 35-year mark. Questions like, where do I want to go? Who am I? Did I take the right path in life? Do I want to do something else with my life?

Yes, something like this or a variation of it must have crossed my mind, but I think what stops me is that I have a family. I have thought of relocating during this Covid season given that it has shown us that we don't have to live in this city, we can get the same job done in someplace that isn’t Nairobi, like Lamu or Malindi.

Do you want to do something else with your life apart from what you are doing currently?

No. From as far back as high school I wanted to get into corporate even though I thought I’d be a lawyer. I ended up taking a course in commerce because I wanted to be in business but then I realised that just being in business isn’t enough, I have to get in and influence things. I became a manager early in life, at 24, and I have had the good fortune to make a difference in people I have interacted with in business who in turn have influenced others. So in short, I think I’m doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

What’s your biggest life question currently, at 37?

What will I be known for? Will I just be someone who went through school, attained a job, raised a family, and died? When I’m 50 and I’m to turn back to look at things I have achieved, what will others say about them?

What’s the one problem in your life that remains unsolved?

(Laughs) At this moment? None. But there was a problem not so long ago but I’m currently on the journey of solving it. I had some unresolved issues with my dad.

For the longest time, we didn’t talk but now we are solving it even though it’s not 100 percent resolved. We are speaking now and based on where the relationship was a few months ago, that’s a big step because there didn’t seem to have been a solution in sight, mostly because nobody wanted to solve it.

Was the solution because one person swallowed their pride or was it a product of time?

I guess both. For me, it was a time element. It had been so long since I sat on the same table and had a meal with my dad. You will understand the kind of generation those men—the Baby Boomers — came from. They didn’t negotiate, they simply told you to get lost. (Laughs)But then I thought I’m about to hit 40 and this mzee is headed to his 60s so why sit on this for any longer?

Besides being a mzee from the old school, I felt like he could outlive me in being silent. (Laughs)

Did you find that swallowing pride comes with some freedom or relief?

Indeed. Because there was always this thing hanging over my head, this unresolved issue. It’s a relief because now we can have a conversation as adults and not as parent and child. Also, I constantly thought about what if something happened to him in the period we were not talking.

How are you and him alike? Do you see some stuff in him that makes you go, Oh, I'm like my father!

Definitely! I saw certain similar traits in him that I have when I was much younger. One example is that he’s very bold. He will speak up anytime, anywhere and he never tames his word. I’m sort of like that as well.

Do you have children?

Yeah! Two boys, six and a year old.

What do you want them to learn from you?

Values, sound values for sure. I would like them to learn the premeditated and non-negotiable values. There are things that I decided at a young age, lines that I never cross. I want them to learn the rules of life, that there is a way to live with yourself and the friendships you form and how to maintain them. Values of respect for people enough to earn their respect. My question has always been; will the boys become the full version of themselves and have the confidence to explore their full potential?

What are these lines that you wouldn't cross at any cost?

Integrity from a more financial perspective. That’s a line I never cross.

When were you last very scared?

Wow! (Long Pause) Two months ago, my son fell off the bed and within a few minutes his head was swollen. We Googled and the results were scary; things like brain damage. It was during curfew so we couldn’t leave the house until morning to see the paediatrician who referred us to a neurosurgeon. He’s fine now.

You haven’t mentioned your mom…

My mom is a professor at the University of Nairobi. She’s been the greatest inspiration. We call her superwoman because she has beat many odds to get where she is. She’s a force to reckon with in the education sector. I don’t have words to describe how amazing she is, the kind of decisions she made around life and career.

My friends, at some point, called me mommy’s boy. I think we might need a whole different interview about her.(Laughs)

They say we either marry our mothers or someone the complete opposite of. Who did you marry?

(Loud laughter) I married my life partner. My wife is pretty much the rock in my life in more ways than one. I can get pretty rogue so she remains my anchor.

I needed someone strong-willed and focused. She always knows what she wants in life. I married someone closer to who my mom is.