Inside Priscilla Muhiu's PowerPoint structured life

MYDAWA Kenya Chief Executive Officer Priscilla Muhiu during the interview in Nairobi on April 24, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

She comes blowing through the restaurant at 9 am like a hurricane. To match her ebullient manner is her screaming pink t-shirt, carrying her meal box that she dumps at the foot of her chair; she’s talking and freeing herself of her unzipped handbag, placed on the next table, tipped on its side like a doomed ship, it’s mouth open as if agape at the speed and energy of everything going on around it. As the voice recorder goes on, she takes to the interview like a duck to water.

She’s well-intentioned, good-natured, an open book, quick to laugh, her emotions climbing up to her face and spilling all over her, causing a wonderful mess of introspection and honesty. At some point, she grabs her laptop and opens her life’s plan laid out on a PowerPoint presentation, marked by years and tracked diligently: be a serial entrepreneur, a director, own two homes, a ranch, run a successful organisation, lead by empathy, impact 3 million people positively, mentorship, always be an empathetic human being, have three children by 36…

You can tell by now that Priscilla Muhiu, Country Director of MYDAWA, the online pharmacy, is uncanny and infectious. Her career—media Director at Newturn Ltd, Head of Business Development and Marketing at OLX Group, and General Manager at Glovo—has not been a journey of happenstance. There have been bumps and scars, plans that got off the rails. “But I’m here, and we continue forging ahead, we amend and accommodate, and we keep trying.”

Do you even remember the original question? Haha. It’s not what you have been answering for the past 10 minutes…not that I mind that well-delivered background…

[Laughs loudly] Oh no? Wait, I thought you asked me about my career up to this moment at my MYDAWA?

No, I asked if you have gleaned any interesting insights about Kenyans and their medicine consumption habits…

Oh. (Laughs). I heard my own things. [Dramatic deep breath] Well… let’s try this again. First, I’ve learned that 70 percent of our medication is imported; God knows from where. There are many counterfeit or expired drugs sold to unsuspecting people. I remember when I bought Augmentin [antibiotic drug], and when I peeled off the expiry date label, underneath was another label with the actual expiry date. If a drug is being sold at a great discount, ask yourself why. We also see drugs that don’t have 100 percent efficacy. 

Lastly, self-medication is a big problem in Kenya. You get joint pains, you get yourself Fansidar [used to treat malaria]. I’m a culprit, and because of that, I lost my gallbladder. That was in 2021. I used to ignore this pain in my tummy and instead took painkillers. I’d get relief until the next time it came back. This went on for five months until the pain was too much. I remember leaving the office in the morning, telling my colleagues, ‘Let me see a doctor; see you guys for the 3 pm meeting.’ I left the hospital the following week. [Laughs]. They found that my gallbladder was rotten and had to remove it.

How is life without a gallbladder?

[Laughs] It’s not as bad as it sounds. I just avoid fatty foods and alcohol. My body doesn’t digest fatty foods, so I get a runny stomach when I eat them. When I have one glass of an alcoholic drink, I immediately feel dizzy. So I just stopped. It’s been two years without alcohol.

Has your life changed dramatically from not drinking?

The quality of it, for sure. I no longer have hangovers. I used to get bad ones. I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a dancer; dancing kind of helps me keep my mind busy and focused on my life. Did I tell you that I have a work plan for my life? Can I show you?

Oh sure.

[Flips her laptop.] I must show you how I live my life from this PowerPoint presentation. [Grabs my phone] Sorry, that’s your phone. Where is my phone? Is it still recording? If you are wondering what that is, that’s my food. I eat breakfast like a king, then some lunch, then next to nothing for dinner.

You are a very high-energy person.

Oh, you can tell? When I go to the office, I’m that very jubilant colleague, saying hello in the morning to all. I don’t know if you’re familiar with colour energies, but I’m a sunshine yellow, which means I’m flamboyant and bright. I’m also green, I care a lot. I do these tests once every two years. I’m red now because of my job… 

Oh, here, my life plan. [Goes through the PowerPoint]. Here we have my life purpose, vision, roles, and values. I drafted this when I was at OLX in 2015. You see here, my purpose in life and the world is to be remarkable in all my roles and positively impact the people around me and beyond. I don’t want to lose sight of what is important, and I always seek to become the best version of myself. So, anything that doesn’t enable me to be this must go. Yeah. And then my vision, my end state, is to always have to learn. 

I believe I can learn from anyone, so I have a learn-it-all attitude and seek to improve myself continuously in all aspects of my life. Here was my vision of being a mother and wife…the wife part isn’t happening anymore; I left my marriage years ago… So ideally, if you look at my life from this document there are a couple of themes in alignment with my roles. I wanted to be a GM [General Manager] at 35. I became a GM at 37, so that was okay. I wanted to lead and develop a cohesive, high-performing team of professionals. By 35, I was doing that. 

You can see in this graph how I track my progress and review it every few months. These are my comments and recommendations… I’m the firstborn, so I can’t drop the ball. Well, I dropped the marriage ball, affecting my plans to have three children by 36. I’m 41 and have two children; I hope to still have that third child.

Why did you leave your marriage?

Troubles. [Nods, sombrely]. It was not bringing out the best version of me. [Pause] I went through a very difficult time. That’s all I can say; it was not easy. Sometimes, I feel like my self-doubt and low self-esteem came from that. But I’ve worked on myself. I’m surrounded by amazing people. And dancing helps me. I won’t get married again, but I will consider having a partner. If I don’t get a baby in two years, I will adopt.

Why is it important for you to have three children?

That’s the number I wanted. Ever since high school, I have wanted three children, maybe because we are three siblings as well? [Shrugs]

How was your childhood?

It was pretty good. My dad was very tough. The interesting thing, though, is that I used to be super saved when I was in high school. I was one of those Christian Union girls. I’d pray for hours; wake up at five and pray, pray, pray…then campus happened. [Laughs]. But that spirit never leaves you; I’m still spiritual. Be careful; if you ask me to pray for food, I will pray for hours. [Laughs]. 

Anyway, back to my goals here. I try to align them to my theme every day. How I do it is I imagine my funeral. What do I want my family to say during the funeral? I want them to say she was a loving and supportive mother, wife, and sister. So, I do things that enable that. More importantly, I want to impact the lives of three million people. I have mentorship sessions once every six weeks with my team, where we have specific goals. I review my own goals every quarter in an executive meeting with myself. Actually, I should show you something else. This is the long-term one. I have a short-term one...

MYDAWA Kenya Chief Executive Officer Priscilla Muhiu during the interview in Nairobi on April 24, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Why is it important for your life to be this structured?

Because, naturally, I lack structure in my life. If I don’t put structures, my life will quickly spiral into chaos. People who are a Yellow like myself are all over the place, I’m scatterbrained. I can’t focus easily, so I need something to keep me structured. To help with that, every day I identify the song of the day, and I play it over and over again, on repeat, because it keeps me focused.

What’s that song for today?

Today’s song was also yesterday’s song, a jam by Bo-Faya.

I read that before the dancing and all that, you were overweight. What do you remember about that girl?

She was sad. She didn’t like the person she was. She didn’t like this mark on her face [scar below left eye]. She used to look at this mark and cry. So she would cover it with a lot of makeup to hide what it represented. I wanted a perfect face. Now, I don’t cover it; I call it a beauty spot. [Laughs]

How did you get that scar?

[Uncomfortable pause] I just…got it. [Looks away].

What made you feel sadder, your weight or the scar?

You know, I’d sometimes blame my weight for my circumstances. I’d think I was being treated that way because of my weight and that if I improved myself, became a better cook, and kept a cleaner house, I’d be treated better. But it’s never about your weight. [Pause] When you lose weight, you lose it for yourself. I was 90 kgs, now I’m 73. My confidence is up, I feel good physically and mentally. I dance, I eat well. I’m lucky I found dancing; it has helped me a lot. It’s given me a lot of courage.

What makes you anxious now?

My firstborn son he’s autistic. He’s 16, and I worry about him. I think about his future; will I have to live with him forever? Will he ever become independent? Will he ever meet someone who understands him and loves him for who he is because he’s such a wonderful boy? Will he get married and have children? 

He’s very good at smelling scents, and I’m considering taking him to a cooking school. Should I set up a restaurant and set him up for life? I’m trying to teach him life skills right now because, education-wise, it’s been a challenge. My secondborn is eight. I think he has ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] and a bit of autism; he is a very brilliant boy. He was reading before he was two, before he could even walk. Here, let me show you a video of him reading. [Shows video]

It must be quite challenging to be a single mother raising a child with special needs.

Oh yes. But what has really helped me is the support system. When my son was being circumcised, my brother took over the process. I’ve had the same house help for 10 years; she understands him 100 percent. They are such good friends, and that helps a lot. 

Autistic children want consistency, no surprises, the same teachers, and the same environment. They don’t like change. For example, when I was moving out, I had to take a photo and give it to the movers to try and arrange the house the same way as the former house. I even had to look for a house with almost the same layout. 

He’s taught me to be very patient. We underestimate ourselves and our capacity to handle difficult and complex life experiences. I allow myself to feel the pain when I go through difficult moments. Some days, it’s all too much, and I allow myself to have a bad day. I tell everyone around me, ’It’s not my day today, but tomorrow might be my day’. And when something great happens at work, we pop a bottle of champagne and celebrate. You have to remember to celebrate your wins.

Is today your day?

[Sits up straighter] It is! I’m wearing red lipstick and a Christian Dior perfume. That’s how you know. [Laughs]

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.