Profiles

Priscilla on fitting in ‘Big Tech Shoes’

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Ms Priscilla Muhiu, the general manager of Glovo Kenya. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Ten minutes into our chat with Priscilla Muhiu, the general manager of Glovo Kenya, the talk gravitates into colour energies.

Ten minutes into our chat with Priscilla Muhiu, the general manager of Glovo Kenya, the talk gravitates into colour energies. There is red, yellow, green, and blue.

The 38-year-old is certain that her energy colours are yellow and green. Yellow, because she is a radiant person whose entry to a room will be noticed by everyone. And green because she is a people person. “If you show me how a job impacts people, I will love it,” she tells Elvis Ondieki at her office in Westlands.

But had everything gone to her plans as a high school student, she wouldn’t be talking about e-commerce and technology. She would have been a doctor, injecting people somewhere and probably just radiating white as her energy colour and not her preferred green and yellow — which are incidentally the Glovo brand colours.

How does one move from studying food science in university to heading a tech firm?

When I was in high school, I loved sciences so much so that in my KCSE I scored straight As in maths, biology, chemistry, and physics.

I wanted to do medicine because it’s a science and I love dealing with people.

The only problem is that at that time I was narrow-minded. I didn’t think about a backup plan. Unfortunately, I missed my dream course by a point. My father could not afford a parallel programme, so that was that.

I had to settle for the second option (food science and technology) I chose in high school as my preferred university course. It wasn’t something I gave much thought to back then because I knew that for me it was just medicine.

When I went for my internship, I realised food science and technology weren’t what I wanted to do. It was more individual than team-based. I did a couple of odd jobs and then I bumped into marketing. For some years I worked in marketing, rising from an intern to a marketing manager.

Then when I got to a point where I was not learning anything new I decided to target the tech space when it was nascent. To cut a long story short, I joined Glovo in 2019 and I was leading the marketing efforts in Africa. In July 2020, I became the general manager for Glovo in Kenya.

Do you now feel you’re at a place where you’re challenged enough?

Yes, I do. I feel like I have a huge responsibility to take care of my team, making sure they feel like Glovo is the job of their lives; making sure that I am supporting their careers as well.

Having worked at OLX, Sendy, and now Glovo, would you call yourself a tech girl?

I’m not a techie but I love the tech industry for its dynamism. For instance, there is absolutely no way we can have structures that make us take five days to make decisions. We usually make decisions on the spot.

That’s what I love about the tech space; the dynamism. You move very fast and then you fail fast. If you’re failing, you fail immediately. Then you learn and you go on. There is no time to overthink.

And there is this line my management team likes using: ‘We always ask for forgiveness and not permission.’ What it means is that in the event you can’t reach me for whatever reason, and you don’t know what decision to make, you make the decision then ask for forgiveness if it fails as opposed to waiting for me to permit you. That’s our policy.

We were given a brief saying your hobbies are dancing and travelling. Why those two?

I had been struggling with physical activity before I came across dancing and I can’t imagine missing a class. If you go to my calendar, it’s already blocked. Right now if you try and put anything in the slot, it auto-declines. Everyone in the company knows that you cannot book Priscilla’s dancing class time.

I think a couple of gyms have gone with my money because I was paying for sessions but not attending. But I found that dancing makes me happy. I enjoy doing it and at the end of the day, I’m sweating like hell. So, I go to dancing classes four times a week. What I like about it is that we do a proper routine.

If it’s a song, you do a routine, you practice for two hours and then do the final video.

As for travel, I like beaches. I like travelling, learning about new cultures, meeting new people, and such. But because I have small children, it’s been a challenge for me.

Ah, family.

I’m a mother of two boys but I also have one boy I live with. So, I am a mother of three boys. My boys are 13, 11, and 6. They are the reason I wake up every morning.

There must be a lot of chaos in that house.

Yes, you can imagine. Especially the eating part. My food bill, you don’t want to imagine. Food is my biggest expense every month.

My shopping is like Sh30,000 a month because I buy bales and bales of unga. We don’t cook one packet of unga wa ugali twice.

But motherhood must have taught you something about management.

Yeah, patience. Motherhood changes you. You tolerate things that, before, you probably wouldn’t. For me, it’s patience and being caring. By that, I mean that the same way I’ll take care of my children is the same way I’ll take care of my team.

During this Covid time, I have had to do sessions with people individually; not for work but just to know what was happening in their lives and if there was anything I could do to help.

I also started doing the same thing to people who don’t report to me. I call the sessions ‘Coffee Catch-Up with Priscilla’. I like to ask this question: ‘If you were the general manager today, what would you do? What do you think is missing?’ Then they give me a lot of insights in terms of what can be improved.

Are you reading any books at the moment?

I’m reading Africa Rising, a book about African consumers; understanding them better. My previous book was Atomic Habits. It’s the best book I’ve read in a while. It’s about how habits can influence the outcome of your life, and understanding how you can change bad habits into good ones.

Glovo aside, what app can’t you live without?

It’s WhatsApp. I can’t imagine. Even for the office, we have WhatsApp groups for various tasks. It’s the one app I have to go through every day.

Do you ever wonder where you would be if you did medicine?

Yes, I do but I am happy where I am right now. Back then, if you had told me to do anything else, I would have been like, ‘No, I want medicine.’ And that’s probably the reason why I had a moment of confusion, moving from one career to another, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Looking back, the only thing I wanted was medicine but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve. My dream is to uplift other women. I look for opportunities to talk to women about my story because it’s been an interesting journey.