Harrison Muiru: ‘The one question I ask myself as a man in my 40s’

Harrison Muiru is the Group Managing Director of Smart Applications International. 

There is a phrase I love in the Star Trek movie franchise, about Captain Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru. It goes like this: It’s a test designed to draw inferences about someone’s character by giving them a no-win scenario and about how you, as a starship captain, face a situation when there are no good options. It doesn’t matter what you do, the simulation will throw the worst possible result at you. There is no cheat code. You can’t win, because the point of the test is to find out how you react to losing.

I imagine life to be a Kobayashi Maru. Your dreams, ambitions, relationships—everything really—you can’t use someone’s template. You wonder, what if I had picked the other road? So you wing it—leadership, fatherhood, manhood—there’s no formula.

Harrison Muiru, the Group Managing Director of Smart Applications International, has navigated his journey this way, seeking discernment but realising ultimately, we are playing with one hand tied behind our backs. He found joy where it matters: in his friends, wife, and three daughters—whom he witnessed getting birthed.

“That experience changes you,” he says, and I can detect the sunshine in his words—those same words that cast a shadow that further says, ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, but if you enjoyed the journey.

By the way, Captain Kirk was credited with “beating” the test, not passing it.

What’s a smart decision you made that got you where you are today? 

I moved from the electronics part of engineering to the computer applications part of it. That was seen as a weaker move, but over time I have seen the convergence of electronics and computerisation. I thank God for the wisdom to make those choices.

Would you consider yourself a computer geek? 

It depends. If you mean someone who likes sci-fi movies and occasionally reads about technology, then yes. But I also look at life wholesomely beyond what technology is, and its impact on society.

Not to be simplistic, but there are two camps, maybe three: Star Wars and Star Trek. What kind of sci-fi are you into? 

I found Star Wars too off, it stretched fiction too much. I am more of a Star Trek which I think has the right kind of mix. And the matrix too.

In The Matrix, Neo is given two choices: the red pill (of truth) and the blue pill (illusions). Have you had such a fork-in-the-road moment?

Several times. At some point in my career, I was seconded to head an operation outside Kenya, but I sought a middle ground where I opted to do it temporarily so I could do what I was passionate about here in Kenya.  

Was family part of this decision?

 A very strong part, and I hold it dear—both my extended and immediate nuclear family. But also the familiarity of the Kenyan context, and what we can do to move our country forward.

What’s one aspect of family you hold close to your heart?

Moments of interaction, around things like weddings, dinners, outings, and also sacrifices where people are sick and we come together to support each other. Family is what makes us, and without my parents, wife, and children, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What’s a moment you shared with your family that has stayed with you? 

The birth of my three daughters. I saw them coming into this world, and it has been indescribable and transformative. When you are there, you appreciate life in a new way.

Are you one of those strong men who enter the labour room? 

Yes, I am.

How does that change you? 

As men, we are very much involved in the provision part of the family and can be quite obscured from it; but it is only at that time that you can know how provision connects to this new life coming into inception, walking into the world to be their own person. Every birth is a miracle, and it makes you appreciate humanity differently.

After you became a father, what aspect of your life did you choose to focus more on—or less on? 

I chose to be a participatory father. And especially after my firstborn, I realised you can only learn on the job, and I encourage men to be in support groups, whether in church or close family. I take them to school, hear them out in terms of their experiences, and give them advice where required.

How are you raising your daughters differently from how you were raised? 

We spent a lot of time with my mom—my father was out there earning for the family; he was a reverend in the church. I try to participate in my children’s lives. In the 70s and 90s, it was about working hard, now it is about working smart—leadership, social awareness, communication.

What family ritual have you created?

On Sundays, we go to church together. We have lunch together and spend the afternoon together. When the weather is good, Saturday afternoons are reserved for activities like swimming or visiting family and friends.

You largely grew up with your mom, and now you are a father of daughters, making you surrounded by women from childhood. How does that affect your sense of manhood?

Interesting, no one has broken it down to me like that. We were three boys and two girls in my family, but I believe as a man you get to appreciate how our ladies think and you get to be more understanding of them. It has made me a stronger person as we are driving toward inclusivity and gender equality—and understanding how to navigate the strengths and weaknesses of said male and female genders.  

What’s your superpower as a dad? 

Making my children laugh. Dad jokes!

With all these women surrounding you, what do you do just for yourself?

I have my groups of men, the chama, and the boys and I make space for them. We hang out monthly, and all of us are fathers, what we are going through and our relationships and pursue common projects.

What’s the one question you are asking yourself as a man now? 

Finding balance in different responsibilities—we have a duty to the family, our society and our nation. Sometimes it can lead to a feeling of suffocation, so how do we manage those expectations while offering support to each other?

How would you describe your manhood so far? Has it been a burden or a launchpad?

I have gone through different phases, and I have decided to look at life through the lens of learning and continuous improvement. I do not regret being born a man and I continue to strive to be better.

Which is the easiest hat to wear: father, husband, CEO, or just a man? 

Haha! Tough question. But, father. But these children are highly conscious of themselves at an early age, it is challenging and you have to accept to be questioned and be ready to answer those questions. As a father, you don’t want to lose credibility because children learn trust from their parents.

What’s your insecurity? 

The fear of the unknown future and not being able to protect or provide for your family.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? 

A month or so ago. I was on a mini desert safari, with a camel in Morocco. It was a technology conference that I was attending on behalf of the company.

Was it something you always wanted to try? 

I challenged myself to do it, haha! It looked interesting at the moment.

Would you consider yourself a spontaneous person? 

No. I am quite analytical, but it has grown on me that life is for the living, and therefore, when I have these moments, I challenge myself and jump on the opportunities as they come by.

Group Managing Director of Smart Applications International Harrison Muiru at a past company event. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

If life is for the living, what is something you have been postponing that you are finally getting to do? 

I am taking a cruise and skydiving. My daughters love water, I call them aquatic. I am a fire spirit; I avoid water but I have to conquer that fear and take them there.

What have you finally come to terms with? 

Life is short. It has lessons, and if we take time to block out the noise and observe and listen to people and give them a chance, we find that life is quite abundant, and, in that abundance, life becomes fulfilling. That was my realisation when I got to the fourth floor, and has made me quite intentional about how I live my life and engage with the people around me.  

What has the 40s given you that the 30s and 20s didn’t?

They say life begins at 40 hehe! My 20s were excitable, being spontaneous and pushing yourself toward risks. In your 30s you are settling in, getting the foundations for family and career. When you get to 40, you already know this is your compass, and you are grounded in your decisions to be bold and intentional.

What would the impressionable Harrison in his 20s, tell the 40-year-old you now? 

Be more spontaneous and adventurous, and go for it, whatever it is. But he will also pat the 40-year-old and tell him, you’ve done well.

What matters more than you thought it would? 

Family, particularly marriage. I have quite a supportive spouse. In the initial years, you don’t look at it that way, but you realise having a close and supportive family makes you have other achievements in life.

How do people show you love? 

Haha! Is that on or off the record? I would say it is just recognising what someone has done or who they have been to you is more significant than the materiality of the reward. Sometimes we either forget or don’t pay attention.

What movies best encapsulate your life now? 

The Avengers. I am in a state of my life where I am in a lot of collaborations where I am either creating, enjoying, or maintaining. The realisation is that no one can do it alone and you need to not only have the right networks and relationships in place but also do your part in said engagements. I am also taking on bigger challenges at work, and even as a family—like Thanos in the Avengers series. You have one shot to do it and you better have the right team members and support structures to make sure it is a win.

Who would you, out of curiosity, be in The Avengers

Tony Stark’s Iron Man.

Are you smart or lucky? 

None, I am blessed. I believe that is a mix of providence, smartness, and luck.

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