What CEOs love most about Christmas, and gifting

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Jubilee Holdings CEO Julius Kipng'etich. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU  | NMG

Dr Julius Kipng’etich

Dr Julius Kipng’etich, the group CEO of Jubilee Holdings, recalls the days when Christmas was about eating rice, a rare meal that most Kenyan families would only eat on special occasions. The holiday was about food traditions. Now not so much. The young generation with memories of exotic holidays during Christmas Day and New Year's. He talks of gifting as a father-of-two, working during the holiday season and how he finds time to wind down and be with family.

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What’s your typical Christmas holiday like?

We are still in the office. For the insurance industry, this is a critical month because, in January, that is when about 40 percent of business is generated. It shows a peak in business because we renew the insurance and receive customers.

Does it mean no winding down for you?

No. It’s not that tight, we just pay attention to it.

Do you still see value in Christmas?

Yes, I do! I mean, apart from the Christian aspect of celebrating the birth of Christ, there is also the goodwill aspect, which gives you time to reflect on your values and help others.

On a personal level…

I do a lot of giving during the season, especially to the less fortunate and family. It's also a time to wrap up the year, not forgetting that this has been a tough year with high inflation and taxes. A lot of people are going through a hard time and if you can give them a little cheer in the New Year, why not? Why not?

Have you started receiving Christmas gifts?

(Laughs) I have not received any, it's probably still too early. Though for us we have a policy of gifting as a blue company, one of the key things is we have a limit of $30. Anything above that is reviewed by the committee and probably gifted to charity. There is nothing wrong with gifting for this festive season, it’s a season of goodwill.

When was the last time you received a Christmas gift?

I do receive gifts. Probably not the big gifts. It’s not always about the value of what I am given rather it’s the thought that counts. I may not shout about it but usually I am always thankful to anyone who gifts me. I would always send an acknowledgement and if possible, reciprocate.

What is the most interesting present you have ever received?

(Laughs and pauses to remember) I was given a live goat at home, and I had to find out where to slaughter it. It was interesting because I had to call a friend who knew a friend to take it to the abattoir.

How do you remember your childhood holidays?

In my rural area, Iten. On Christmas Day, the focus was on the one time of the year when families prepared chapati and all those delicacies. In those days in the 70s, it was rare for a family to eat rice, so the Christmas treat was food. Oh my! The normal food was ugali, but on Christmas Day we had a choice of different foods, it was like we were on top of the world.

Sometimes I look at my children and wonder what I am going to give them that they have not seen. It is no longer about food for them, it is probably an exotic trip. Happiness is how you interpret things.

Do you have time to spend Christmas with your family?

You have to organise your life, not only during Christmas. For instance, I am at home most of the weekends and the evenings unless there is an event and if there is one I would always tell them to end it at 9pm.

You have to consciously create time for your family and balance it with work. It is an interaction, it may not be 50/50, but it depends. The best gift you can give your family is your time. Your family is also your workplace, basically, you have two families. If you have a happy household, you will also be productive in the working family.

You talk a lot about giving to others, do you give to your family?

Of course, I do. Most of the Christmas presents in my family are something they ask for. I rarely buy a random gift. We sit down at family level with my wife and daughters, and they would make a list of what they want. Because of the background management, we want to be intentional rather than you are buying something that won't have any use.

Most of the time, if we want to surprise them, it would be something they wanted but forgot to write down. If I am not so sure about which gift, I will give them cash or give them an allowance like my eldest daughter uses her credit card and buys what she wants. They are sensible children; they are careful about what they can spend.

What would you like to get for Christmas?

Oh my God...the biggest gift I want is either you help someone on my behalf, or you give me something I can share with less fortunate people. That makes my day.

Being in an office like this and being exposed to information, we have a serious income and equality problem in Kenya. A lot of people are suffering, it’s a good gesture if we can give them some relief at a time like this. God has blessed me in incredible ways, my appreciation is to appreciate others.

I love a very simple life, I don't like complicated things. I'm never negative about gifts, because that's the way people appreciate you, but I focus a lot on sharing.

I remember giving away a bottle of whisky that had been in my house for 10 years and I had forgotten about it. My gesture has always been to give.

The most touching gift?

I have received artwork on the meaning of Christmas from the children I look after. I did not care about the sophistication of the art, it was their way of saying thank you.

Do you find time for yourself?

At high levels, people find different ways to cope with pressure. You can manage it by going to the golf club, going out, cycling. For me, one of the things I like to do is talk to younger people, I call it 'reverse mentoring', I just listen to them pick up ideas and process them for myself. Usually when you talk about mentoring it doesn't have to be one way, it has to be you listening too. The best quality of a leader is to be a listener. Family time is also incredible therapy.

Do you subscribe to the view that givers should not be receivers?

No (pauses) I look at it like this, I don't want anyone to go out of their way to give me a gift. It's the thought process. Even a text message is a gift in itself if someone is wishing you happy holidays. A gift need not be monitored.

Christmas family tradition…

We donate clothes twice a year, during Christmas and Easter. When my mother was alive I used to give it to her to distribute in the village. If you were very loyal to her you knew a gift was coming from Nairobi. But now I give it to my cousins and he decides who to give.

We have then established a family custom of buying what you truly need. In any case if you need it you can always buy it.

Robert Gitemi Munene, CEO of Cytek Solar. PHOTO | POOL

Robert Gitemi Munene

Robert Gitemi Munene, is the CEO of Cytek Solar, a residential and commercial renewable energy solutions company. He is an electrical engineer by profession. He says his engineering background has had a great impact on my role as the CEO of Cytek Solar as he steers the company to provide innovative solutions at the cutting edge of technology.

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What was your childhood like?

Being the second born in the family, I had a simple childhood in a rural setting. From kindergarten to university, I went through public schools. Most of my time was spent on my education; Monday to Friday was school, Saturday was tuition and Sunday was church (for my father it was a choice between church and working in the shamba - so that's how I attended Sunday school, main service and afternoon service). Growing up in a rural setup, holidays were something to look forward to as an opportunity to visit relatives in the city.

What were your dreams as a child?

I was good at mathematics and always dreamed of becoming an engineer - I knew that engineers are wealthy, and of course, I dreamed of changing the identity and status of the family.

What is a typical Christmas for you?

A Christmas would not be complete without a visit to my home in the countryside to spend some time together with my family. We have a close-knit extended family, so it's a good time to get together and share our experiences of the year and plans for next year. Of course, some mbuzi and chicken pay the price. Marriage and children change the dynamic as we also have family holidays.

Do gifts have any meaning to you?

My understanding of gifts is that the spirit of the giver is very important, more than the value of the gift; and people rarely forget the gifts they have received. It's a powerful way of communicating - it says I value you, I appreciate you, I've taken the time to think about you, and I've taken the time and effort to get you something.

What is the craziest gift you have ever been given?

The craziest gift was an expensive phone I got from my fiancée before we got married - it could pay six months' rent in the house I was living in, and I wasn't even sure it was safe in that house.

When was the last time you got a holiday gift?

Today. I just received a thoughtful gift today from my digital marketer.

Do you give gifts to your loved ones every year?

I've developed a culture of writing a list of people I'm going to visit each Christmas and planning the budget needed. Now that I'm in a position to do so, it's grown to include my staff, who we've started a "Santa Claus" at their office, our clients, and at least one social responsibility activity in our local community, including visits to orphanages.

What gift would you like before the year ends?

The gift for me would be a holiday package for myself and my family. It would be to rest and get ready for next year.

Have you ever noticed that people intentionally do not give you gifts, assuming that you've got it all figured out?

Most people will sometimes have the idea that you have to give a lucrative, expensive gift to the CEO, which then limits them. But as someone who solves problems, offers solutions, gives to others and sacrifices for the greater good, I have found that gifts are very pleasantly surprising.

With such an office, do you find it difficult to spend time with your family?

The balance between business and family can be difficult at times, especially as I have been in a growth phase of the business where the demands of the business are greater. I have realised that I have to be conscious of making time for my family, even as the children grow up in a tech-savvy environment, and I have to provide the true north amidst multiple sources of information.

Do you ever get gifts that aren't for any special reason?

Friends and family have given me surprise gifts on several occasions. Most of the time it was from someone I had positively influenced. The most recent one was a gift from someone I had been a mentor to in high school and on campus a few years ago, who is now a professional.

What makes you insecure?

With the vision I have for the organisation, my insecurity is a feeling of inadequacy. My dream is to take the business to unprecedented heights, but I have learnt to take it one step at a time and trust that God will send helpers where I need them.

Did you have dreams of being where you are today?

Because I love solving problems and I'm solution-oriented, I dreamed of being a leader. I had an idea that I'd be on the corporate ladder but being in business has been even more fulfilling.

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