Profiles

Kennedy Osano: The Women Who Built Me

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Kennedy Lanaya Osano, Group Head of Treasury at Avil Shield Group at his residence in Nairobi on January 13, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

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Summary

  • On January 5, 2009, I stepped inside Diamond Trust Bank as a messenger with big dreams. Eleven years later, he is the Group Head of Treasury at Anvil Shield Group. He says he succeeded because someone cared.

“On January 5, 2009, I stepped inside Diamond Trust Bank as a messenger with big dreams," wrote Kennedy Lanaya Osano in a recent LinkedIn post. "I had a mop, a bucket, and very stubborn ambitions.”

He was hired immediately as a messenger/cleaner. He was from the village, an orphan, coming to the city to seek fortune and shift his destiny. Somehow, things started changing for him as he mopped and cleaned the banking hallway, dressed in his ill-fitting suits, borrowed from his elder brother.

Eleven years later, he is the Group Head of Treasury at Anvil Shield Group.

How did he do it?

“People saw me, that's how,” he says. “Many people. They saw me and they held my hand,” he told Jackson Biko at his residence in Nairobi.

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What made you take a job as a messenger, you could have walked away?

A woman did, my girlfriend then. I was dating a girl from a rich family. She lived in Karen {Nairobi}, and I was an orphan from Nyanza. She was in Catholic University and I knew she’d meet boys there who would take her out while I sat pretty. I had enrolled for a Diploma in Journalism, distance learning at the University of Nairobi. So my motivation was to get a job to earn money to be able to take her out.

But the bigger story is that when I applied for the job, I’d thought it was for “administrative assistant” which doesn’t sound like a cleaning job. (Chuckles)

My roles were to clean, ferry letters between branches, make and serve tea, wipe desks, and windows. I was from the village, I had never seen floor tiles in my life, never been to a bank, or seen many cars, but I was hoping I’d get a big bank job. I’m the last born, my sisters always made tea, so here I was going to make tea and clean in a tie and suit. What if my friends saw me cleaning? What if my girlfriend from Karen learnt that I served tea in a big bank? (Pause)

So, a fork in the road...

Yes. The other reason I took this job is because of another woman called Marion Wanjiku who was then the branch manager at Diamond Trust Bank. When she noticed my disappointment at finding my roles, she called me aside after the interview and said, ‘what options do you have? Do you have a father?’ I said no. ‘A mother?’ I said no. We were standing outside Nakumatt.

She said, ‘Let me ask you, when at the end of the month you go into that supermarket to buy bread, do you think the teller will think you earned that money serving tea?’ I stared at her and then she said, ‘you can decide now if you want to be a burden to society or to contribute to society.’

I took the job.

A quick one, what happened to the Karen girlfriend?

(Laughs) After I got the job, I moved from my brother’s house to Kibera so that I could have privacy with her. But I could tell coming to Kibera wasn’t something she liked doing. I wouldn’t either if I grew up in Karen. Anyway, she got pregnant with someone else and married him. I on the other hand finished my degree in Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing.

I think an important part of your story is about people who were instrumental in your growth. What did you learn from them?

I owe everything to Marion Wanjiku. Everything. Often, we become who we are because people “see” us. Marion saw me even when I hadn't seen myself. She challenged me to want more, and more was to be a bank teller, which I became. Then she pushed me to be a front officer. She pushed me to get an undergraduate degree. Whenever I could whine she would tell me ‘nobody owes you anything here, not us, not the world. You push.’ (Chuckles)

Biko, when I became a teller, I had never seen so much money in my life. Guys had Sh15 million in their accounts and the most I had seen was Sh5,000. It shifted my scope of life.

The only car that I’d ever seen in my village belonged to the District Education Officer and we could only see it once, during Education day when he came to school. But here was Marion, a very young lady, driving a big car, running a big bank, she inspired me.

She sounds awesome...

She is. She also fought the work battles I couldn’t fight. I then moved to treasury in 2013. A year later, I was promoted to Assistant Manager Treasury. Then I went to Credit Bank. In 2020 May, I moved to Mayfair CIB.

From Marion, I also learnt that being a leader doesn't mean you have to be a boss. She also taught me humility and patience.

Then there was Archana Behal, Head of Trading at Diamond Trust Bank. She gave me the confidence to get into treasury. She also trained me, taught me the value of relationships. People give you a deal not because of the establishment but because of your relationship with them. When I was sick in 2013, I hit my head and developed a clot in the brain, she was humane towards me the six months I wasn’t at work.

She taught me to look at people as humans, not for their commercial value. Then there was Caroline Nooseli, Head of Cash at the same bank. She once told me, ‘don’t sit and expect me to train you. Don’t sit expecting the organisation to give you a chance. Prepare yourself for that chance to come. Learn what you don't know.’

Biko, am I talking too much, will you write all these down?

Please go on…

Then there was Lilian Ngala, Head of Human resources for Diamond Trust Bank. When my ambitions were higher than the organisation, Lilian told me that it’s good to be ambitious but company policies come first. However, if you think that your ambitions are now bigger, go and sow somewhere else. She is the first person to ever say I had “presence.” I had never even heard of that word. (Laughs)

She also taught me not to play the victim. The world will conspire against you, people will not want you, but it is upon you to succeed.

Then John Muli, the current Head of Treasury for Credit Bank taught me the power of social capital. That you need to go and create networks. Lastly, Azmina Mulji, the former head of HR for Credit Bank. Azmina was a mother. I remember when I went to her when my wedding engagement broke up, and I was suicidal.

She asked me a question; ‘do you think your ex-fiancée is whining the way you’re whining here? Stop whining and go be a better version of yourself than she knew. Get a better education, better clothes, a better house, a better car. Better you. Don’t come back to my office as a victim!’

I enrolled and finished my Master’s degree and then, I bought a Mercedes Benz. (Chuckles)

Of course. The best or nothing...

(Laughs) Pamela Mutembei Njuguna, the former head of business development, Credit Bank always taught us to give everybody a second chance. Then Nahashon Mungai, the director at Standard Investment Bank, is a guy you can go to with any problem. Any. And you come back with a solution. All these people taught me that you are never enough.

Correct me if I’m wrong but poverty seems to have been your greatest driver to make it. You look like you are on your way to financial independence. What happens then? Will your fire die when poverty or the fear of it stops being a motivator?

Let me tell you about poverty, Biko. I've been very poor. I’ve worn one short to school for four years. I’ve gone to bed without food. I made a pact with myself, that as much as I am alive, I’m not going to be poor again, whatever it takes.

I didn’t have any other choice but to succeed. I got a daughter when I was 16 years and I promised myself that my daughter will not go through what I did. I have a brother called Felix Osano. I have never known a more ambitious person in this life. When things didn’t go our way when our parents died, he kept hope. I don’t want to be poor ever, Biko. (Pause) There is a Luo word to describe it that I can’t use in your newspaper.

No, use it.

Ofuo. To mean, poverty is stupid, it’s disrespectful. It has no dignity. It takes away your personality, your confidence. You remain useless. Because I know what poverty is, I’m trying to help as many people as I can. I have a mentorship programme for young people. If you come to my house on a Saturday, you’ll find many boys from Kibera slums. I call them my corporate babies. I also contribute to my former primary school —Tulu Primary School in Nyakach —where children sit on the floor. I want to help them get an education because that’s the only shot they have. This is my next level, fighting for others.

I might be overreaching here, Kennedy, forgive me. But I get a feeling that you’re a guy full of character, or presence if you will. You are good with people, but you've had a rotten luck when it comes to women.

(Sighs) You are right. But now I’m dating this lovely girl called Sunshine. [She made an amazing smoothie]. But I have not been lucky because of me, not the women. First, I never grew up in a family setting. So, I don’t know what it is like to be part of a good family. I read it in books, I see it on TVs.

Second, not having parents takes away your dignity. Being an orphan is tough, you are always second or third or last. Nobody prioritises you. What happens when you start making it? You strive to tell the world that ‘I’m no longer the same.’ You overcompensate. You become extravagant with your emotions, with your money, with your time, all to prove a point.

But soon you realise you’re alone. Anybody cheering you up was either a user and the people who love you truly you’ve left them behind. You want to be loved again, to be appreciated, you don’t want to be poor because nobody loves a poor man, not even bed bugs. (Laughter) When have you seen a poor man complaining about bed bugs?

When you think of poverty, what smell do you attach to it?

Cabbages. The smell of cabbages is a trigger for me. There are not many rules in this house but one is cabbages can never be cooked here.