Profiles

When is money enough? A banker’s view

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Kariuki ngari StanChart CEO and Managing Director. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

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Summary

  • Kariuki is the son of a teacher, a farm boy at heart, having grown up in the countryside.
  • His banking career spans over two decades, most of those with StanChart.
  • The Nairobi Marathon did not happen this year because of coronavirus, but Kariuki set a personal target to run 100 kilometres in October. By the time you read this, he would have met that target.

Kariuki Ngari is in love again. With running. His doctor is not too pleased, though. He told him to stop, that running will ruin his poor knees.

"I said no way," says Kariuki, who is the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank.

"We will replace the knees if we have to."

Kariuki is the son of a teacher, a farm boy at heart, having grown up in the countryside. His banking career spans over two decades, most of those with StanChart.

The Nairobi Marathon did not happen this year because of coronavirus, but Kariuki set a personal target to run 100 kilometres in October. By the time you read this, he would have met that target.

He met JACKSON BIKO at the River Cafe in Karura Forest, Nairobi, after his Saturday 10km run, and after launching a Sh15 million StanChart partnership with Kipchoge Keino Foundation to support upcoming athletes experiencing hardship due to the pandemic.

***

You're 54 years old. At what age or phase in your life do you feel that you liked yourself the most as a man?

You very well know the problem with that question Biko. (Laughter) If I say my 30s then it will imply that I don't like myself now. But some of the most important decisions of my life I made in my 20s when I faced a decision to either join a particular bank - that was offering me more money- or StanChart.

I will never forget my mentor's advice; don't look at an offer for today. In three to five years, which company will look better on your CV; the one offering you more or the reputable one offering you less?

I decided at a very early age not to go for money but stability and growth. Also, I like the guy I was in my 20s because that's when I got married, choosing to settle down. I think if you don't make the right decisions in your 20s, you'll end up grappling with other issues.

Also, 20s are great because we are looking ahead. There is nothing to see behind.

Are there certain vital skill sets that help you in leadership at work that you find completely useless at home?

You can be authoritative at work but you can't at home. You have to negotiate with your wife and children. (Chuckles) Sure, you negotiate at work but there comes a point when you have to say, 'come on guys, I think we've debated this issue long enough so this is the direction.' You can't say that at home.

Growing up, I never questioned my father or mother. But our children question us and we can't just put our foot down.

Who's the head of your house?

(Laughter) That's a nice one. Nice twist. I don't know...it depends. Some things my wife does, some things I do. But I find it more consultative and over time, we've been married now 24 years, the roles are defined nicely whereas at the beginning there was a bit of push and pull.

What has surprised you most about being at the top of the corporate food chain?

The level of responsibility and how much is expected of you, especially by the teams that you lead. If I take 2020, for instance, this has been a very unique year. We had great plans, we started the year with confidence, hope, and a great strategy.

Then everything went belly up and everybody is looking at you for answers, but you don't have the answers. That has surprised me.

Where does that place you as a leader when everybody is looking at you for answers you don't have because this situation you are dealing with is unprecedented?

I think it develops you further. It makes you realise that first of all you're a human being and you have limitations and that you will not always have the answers. So it forces you to consult other leaders or you read about how other leaders have handled a situation like that.

You have been a banker for many years, what lessons have you learned about money?

Oh Biko, lots of things. First of all, it's not your money unless it's in your account. You have to remember that. Two, one has to be careful about worshiping money. Use it to build yourself and people around you because you'll leave it.

Everybody leaves their money behind. The more you make, the more you leave in bank accounts, assets and people fights will start over it. Lastly, money shouldn't make you what you shouldn't be.

Have you cracked the whole notion of "enough money?" Is there something like enough money or are we all set on a rotating hamster wheel?

It's an interesting question that you ask because you see people with very little money who are doing a lot and then you see people with a lot of money doing very little. Money is very personal. You can use the money for the greater good or your selfish ends and to corrupt society. What is enough? That's a very personal decision.

You mentioned that your dad passed away.

Yes. Next month will be the 19th anniversary.

What kind of impact did he have in your life?

Humility. He was a very humble guy. He was a lay church leader then he became a canon. So I watched his Christianity that was very strong, traits that he embedded in the eight of us. I have seven sisters. I think that's something I admire.

Should your father come back today, and you had one question to ask him, what would that be?

Are you proud of me? I would ask him that with a smile because I think he'd say he's very proud of me. He left me with few cows and now I have many cows. He didn't leave goats behind, or sheep but now I've got many goats and sheep.

I take this as a challenge for myself and how I'm bringing up my children; after I'm gone, will they look back and say they built on what I left behind? We inherit, we do our bit, and we exit. Like what Shakespeare said, “all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players”.

How did growing up as the only boy in a family of seven sisters shape you?

Interestingly, I don't know how to phrase it in an answer. First, I don't have any other situation to compare it with, I don't know the experience of growing up with brothers.

But in our household, there was always equality, especially in education. Chores were also equally divided, although some of my sisters would argue with that assessment. (Laughter) I looked after cows. But my mother - bless her soul - gave all of us equal chances.

What does a 54-year-old who runs a major bank and runs 100kms a month as you worry about?

Nothing. (Chuckles) Worry is the wrong word, I guess. My children are adults now and worries reduce when they are adults. My daughter graduated in May, a thousand miles away, and we attended the graduation virtually.

I wonder now what happens to them. I look at the world, there are no jobs. You think about such things. I'm coming to the end of my time, so what difference have I made? When people - leaders - come back 20 years today what will they find that I did? I think about that.

I don't want people after me to spend time fixing what I messed up, I want them to build on what I started.

In what environment do you find yourself most vulnerable?

In an extremely competitive environment. In my stint in Singapore, where I was for a few years before I moved back home last year, I encountered a lot of competition.

When was the last time you cried?

Biko, we agreed on no hard questions. (Laughter) The passing of my sister many years ago. That and during my stint in Singapore. It was very stressful. You were waiting to hear I cry every day, weren't you? (Laughs)

Maybe. You have been married 23 years, advice this man here [David, unmarried PR guy in his early 30s seated with us] about marriage?

[To David] Make sure you fall in love and you're compatible but do not be carried away by the passion of love. Because that wears out. Compatibility doesn't mean similarity, though. It means your beliefs are not day and night, otherwise everything will become a fight and that's what wears the relationship down.

On a happiness scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you now?

I think I'm 9. I'm very happy. Look where I have reached from where I have come from, a little rural village, a little rural school. I appreciate the journey.