David Osiany says adjusting to life after working in senior positions in government can be trying for some public servants. The perks and power can ‘‘shift what you believe in and how you see life’’ if one is not grounded, he adds.
Osiany was 34 when he was appointed Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) in the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development in 2021, making him one of the youngest State officers at the time.
‘‘By law, you are entitled to a driver, bodyguards and secretaries. But I did not make these assistants an obvious part of me. These trappings are fleeting. But they can easily exclude you from the people you represent and serve,’’ he adds.
At the end of his term, he returned to Crestwood Marketing and Communications, which he had set up in 2014, and settled in seamlessly.
‘‘Adjusting to something you expect is fairly easy. For me working in government was a platform for impact on a national scale. It is a joy to be back to where it had all begun,’’ he says.
Not so for some public servants who often get sucked into the life of privileges ‘‘because it is everything to them. Some colleagues have confessed about struggling to adjust.’’
Having come from the private sector where ‘‘I had a fairly comfortable life’’ allowed him to transition to public service and back to business without a culture shock.
‘‘I was accessible by both the staff and outsiders as much as possible. My Christian background was critical,’’ says the chairman of Crestwood.
One of the ways he believes he impacted public service was by starting ‘‘Biashara Tuesday conversations’’ on social media.
‘‘I would invite CEOs of government parastatals under the ministry on a live forum to share with Kenyans what their departments and organisations were doing.’’
He was also involved with developing the SMEs policy ‘‘that will be there for a lifetime.’’
On what working in public service has revealed about him, Osiany says the experience broadens one’s perspective about the country and how it runs.
‘‘It stretches you to your best abilities if you go in to work. It exposes you to the brilliant minds in government that are often not recognised. Recognition goes to the bosses rather than the people who run the engines of public service.’’
He adds that from the inside, some things are different. ‘‘Processes, for instance, are not as simplistic as they seem from the outside. You imagine you could get some things done quickly but later realise there are procedures.’’
One of them is decision-making, which is guided by processes, procedures, rules and regulations. He says these pieces move slowly, an experience that has taught him patience.
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‘‘You may know the most direct route to a solution, but you need to follow the guidelines. A tender may be rejected if it is submitted in a brown envelope instead of a white one. Or when the pagination is wrong.’’
He argues that it is not an ‘‘entirely bad thing’’ and that eliminating bureaucracy must be mirrored in a society’s character and values. He is alluding to integrity.
‘‘Our systems still struggle under the weight of graft. If you removed these processes and procedures, abuse of power is likely to happen. We must first align our integrity systems and make them solid. This way, we can trust that a leader’s decision is objective and good for the organisation and country.’’
He admits, though, that it is easier to abuse power in government than in the private sector. ‘‘There are those who go in to pursue power and position for the sake of acquisition.’’
To what extent did this environment change his leadership style, if at all?
Osiany says his service in government borrowed heavily from the skills learnt in business. Yet, the going was not always a pleasure cruise. Some of his progressive initiatives were resisted.
‘‘Some CEOs were reluctant to engage in our live social media discussions on SMEs. It was fear of the unknown because the government had not accepted such models of communication. It takes time to change a culture.’’
Overall, he learned management styles from different public servants he interacted with, ‘‘some that I abhor and others that I adore’’ but all of which have shaped how he is running Crestwood.
To him, leadership is about humility, openness and honesty. ‘
‘There are times you lead from the front, other times from the side and sometimes from the back. Humility teaches you that you do not know everything and that you cannot be everything. It teaches you to handle power without losing your head.’’
It is also as much about systems as it is about individuals.
‘‘It is people who create systems and work within them. Ministers such as Prof George Magoha, Fred Matiangi’i and John Michuki demonstrated that individuals can change how systems work.’’
Osiany believes Kenya has solid structures and only needs ‘‘honourable and patriotic men and women who are true to duty’’ to take the country forward.
To be impactful in government, he says one must define their purpose.
‘‘Do you want to be remembered as the biggest thief? As the guy who spent time impacting people, policy and profession? Or as the guy who came and vanished?’’
If where Osiany is at 36 is a product of ambition, it is also a result of premium mentorship.
He has been mentored by highly placed individuals, namely Raila Odinga, Julius Kipngetich, the CEO of Jubilee Insurance, and Amnesty International’s executive director Houghton Irungu.
‘‘Houghton would take me with him to meetings and teach me work ethic, how to conduct myself and how to write,’’ he recounts.
He describes himself as a ‘‘proper entrepreneur’’ with investments in the service and manufacturing industries.
Crestwood, which he hopes to build into a regional communication powerhouse, speaks to the values, art and communication that he espouses as a person.
‘‘Having been in the SMEs space, I know how vast opportunities are in our country, especially in value addition, which is my heartbeat.’’
His vision? ‘‘I want to build a business with a legacy of excellent turnaround, great work ethic, amazing values and a blend of great humans and great work.’’
On a personal level, he now appreciates more the time he has with family. ‘‘It was crazy [working in government]. I had an excellent workaholic Cabinet Secretary [Betty Maina]. This made our team incredibly busy. I would be out of the country for long and miss my daughter. I do not take it for granted that now I can dash out and pick her from school.’’
Osiany is married to Syombua Osiany, a media personality. She is in charge of the daily operations at Crestwood. The duo met as interns at Royal Media Services.
‘‘Marriage is a blessing if done with a friend. She is my accountability partner who fills voids in me and keeps me grounded. My wife understands my vanities and tempers them down,’’ he says, confessing his obsession with cars.
Would he work in government again? Osiany says he is a servant. ‘‘I would take it up honourably knowing that it is a place for service for impact.’’