There are two things that Mary Njoki holds in esteem above all, three that make her holy trifecta: I.) Thinking. II). God. III.) Rebellion. Mary, she tells me, means “rebellion,” a paradox because Mary has always been a good-girl name, besides the point, yes, but at the same time, the whole point.
Isn’t it why at 16, she had already finished school? Or at 19, was fit, fired up, and running next to the hamster in the corporate wheel? Or why, at 23, she founded Glass House PR, a pan-African PR firm headquartered in Kenya? “People would perceive PR as events, but it’s not. It’s more about strategic thinking,” she says. Of course, of course. The problem with interviewing a PR honcho is that one of you is dancing like nobody is watching and the other is dancing like everybody’s watching. It’s Jedi vs Padawan. Many a time, I prodded, inviting her to set a hare running but she was cautious—nay, strategic—as if to say that slander by the stream will be heard by the frogs.
At the Villa Rosa Kempinski, she gives the impression of a woman who cuts across the grass and couldn’t be bothered with the path. It is here that we engage in a pas de deux, the conversation meandering and idling as if we were family members scooting around a long-held grudge. In the end, it all felt like we had covered much, but uncovered even much less.
What’s the first thing you did this morning?
Meditation. Not the new age meditation, I call it thinking through different processes while involving God.
Define that for me…
Thinking. Meditation to me is thinking.
How did you think up Glasshouse?
It all includes God. I wake up and have different thoughts, but it has been 11 years. What inspired me to trust and why did I follow said conviction? Making sure I am thinking through certain processes with God.
Why is God so important to you?
I would not be where I am without God.
What’s it like being you?
Your questions are hard [chuckles] I wake up and think about the things that are to come, and probably go through a process of what has happened in the past, understanding the years and thinking about what is about to come. That’s called prognostication.
How are you a different Mary from the one that started 11 years ago?
I have grown as a person, from a professional, spiritual, and physical perspective. I feel like I always had the conviction, but I was very naïve.
Which is more important—intelligence or common sense?
It depends on where intelligence is coming from, but I’d say intelligence is more important.
How do you let your guard down?
When I am comfortable around people. But I have grown in wisdom, and I don’t think I have a guard anymore, whatever a guard means. I relate to different people differently, whatever the interaction requires.
Do you come from a family of entrepreneurs?
No. I did not even think I would be one.
Tell me about your childhood.
I grew up with a single mother.
Are you close to your mother?
I am close(r) to my dad now who is someone God has told me this is the one you should walk with. I guess I am a daddy’s girl.
What is the funniest advice your father ever gave you?
I had gone to a certain event and it was taking too much time. He told me to just leave the event since there was nothing else happening—it made sense later when I stayed longer and something I didn’t expect happened.
Do you remember the festivities period during your childhood?
I grew up in a village in Limuru. We would go to the cinema and the guy would interpret the movies…in Kikuyu.
What was your nickname growing up?
Katoi. I was very tiny and small.
What remains unchanged about Katoi since childhood?
Good question. My heart. It is still open to learning and people.
What’s your favourite childlike activity to do?
Oh, I love doing cartwheels so much!
What’s your favourite part about yourself?
I am very playful.
How do people show you love?
[chuckles for a long time] When someone corrects me, say I come here with a stain and someone helps me, I find it very beautiful. That’s love.
What’s something difficult you’ve gone through that most people don’t see?
I will call it an opportunity as well. I got into places where I needed to deal with reputation. I trended (on social media) in 2015 and 2018 and it was difficult to see people you thought liked you talking about you. I have been in a process of growth for the last 11 years, and this company has grown me. It became an opportunity to deal with reputations, and ask myself, “Why do I care so much about what so and so thinks about me?”
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I am playful. I have never shown this part of me, I come to interviews as a serious CEO, especially when I was in my 20s because I felt I was trying to prove something. Now I am not necessarily two-faced.
Your mind seems to be an active place, how do you silence it?
I don’t think you can, but it’s what you allow in and out. Which thoughts to stop, and which thoughts to allow, just like being in a traffic stop.
What matters way less than you thought it would?
Isn’t that a paradox?
Haha! I think PR should be authentic. PR is communication but when people see PR they think of reputation. What really matters is who you are.
What are the plans for the holidays?
No plans yet, they come as they go.
How does someone make your weekend better?
Give me space to go and think and meditate.
What’s your go-to meal after meditation?
Salmon. I am in love.
What was the longest day of your life and why?
When I was trying to think through something and I wasn’t getting through. The days when I try to come up with a solution for something and don’t get there.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
That I am growing.
Why is growth so important to you?
When you are faced with the same situation and react the same way, then you know you are not growing.
What is one lesson you’ve learned about growth?
To be honest with yourself.
What’s a lie you tell yourself often?
The days I would lie to myself were based on a lack of knowledge of life. There is much more because I am living my best self now. I have no time to lie.
Describe one of your happiest moments with your friends
I will sound like a very boring person, but being in a space where we are in fellowship with each other. I love having amazing and deep conversations with my friends.
Is it lonely at the top, as the cliché goes?
It depends on how you define the top. As I am becoming who I am, the more God draws people who are like me, and we are able to walk in that journey together. It’s not that I am at the top, it’s just a different space.
What is one question you’d want to be asked more?
What I live for.
What do you live for?
To become everything God said I am and to create a pathway for other people to follow.
What are you ashamed of?
I am no longer ashamed of it, but I couldn’t communicate properly in English. I was taught English in Kikuyu haha!
What’s one scary thing you’ve done lately?
Sky diving. We were in a very small plane and I thought they would close the plane’s door, and it had become very windy. The guy just told me we are jumping in the next two minutes! It was very scary but once you jump you overcome the fear, and float in the sky for seven minutes.
What’s an absurd thing you love?
Working in my room. In fact, on my bed. It’s a bad habit but I am okay with it. I wake up and just work, even at 2 AM.
What’s the soundtrack of your life right now?
Does it have to be a song? No? Growth, growth, growth in all things.
What will people mourn about you when you are gone?
They should celebrate that I came and learned and finished the work and created a pathway for them.
What’s the secret to life?
What should most people know about God?
Most people have been told God is waiting at the door with a big stick to cane you. He is not. He is God and you can access Him wherever you are. Everyone has access.
What scripture runs your life right now?
Jeremiah 1:5, that I was known before I was formed in my mother’s womb. Looking back and seeing there are things I picked up, from school, culture and systems. How do I go back to understand that picture that God had for me? Do you know what the name Mary means?
It means rebellion. Rebelling against the culture and systems that have been set by men. I understand who I am. If there are thoughts ingrained in people’s minds, I come to break them. But more so rebelling against anything that is inside of me that is an enemy of God.
Have you always been rebellious?
My life rebelled against culture without knowing. finished high school at 16, was working at 19, and founded a company at 23. The other day I was in Lavington at Jaffery Sports Club Ground where people walk and I was walking the opposite side, and people were wondering why I was going against the grain until someone else, an Indian joined me.
Are you happy?
When did you know you were happy?
When I started discovering God and the beauty that there is in walking with Him and having conversations with Him, which is meditation.