C-Suite bosses chasing sanity

Consumer Options co-founder and director Jael Amara (left) and Visa East Africa GM Sunny Walia. PHOTOS | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • They eat well, stick to workouts routines and still fit in time with family. How do they do it?

Sunny Walia,
Visa East Africa, GM

Sunny Walia, the general manager Visa East Africa fondly calls nyama choma as ‘choma choma’. And that is what he wants to learn how to grill during his spare time.

“I like to cook. So any opportunity I get when I’m at home is cook for myself which relaxes me a lot. I cook different cuisines and experiment while in my kitchen which is like a small lab,” says Mr Walia who also likes to travel and enjoy global cuisine with his friends and family.

He experiments more with Italian and Thai foods but two weeks ago he went to a restaurant in Karura Forest with his personal trainer where he ate nyama choma.

‘‘Now, I would love to grill nyama choma like a pro,’’ he says.

Mr Walia who is a mechanical engineering graduate from Delhi College of Engineering (India) who also holds an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also loves watching movies on Netflix.

“I have a Netflix subscription, I was among the first people to sign up about seven years ago and I have kept it. I still have my US subscription which I’m able to stream movies from my phone into my television, so I do that. I also love like watching documentaries,” he says.

And if he has time on weekends, the general manager who has vast experience in payments and financial services sector, with seven years at Visa, also reads books and plays golf.

For him, he values fitness which he describes as comprising two components;  for physical fitness and most importantly for mental fitness.

“Being mentally fit and agile is a habit that I picked up from my current boss whom I have known for almost 10 years. I have learnt that working out a couple of times a week is critical for people who want to be on their ‘A’ game as you have energy to tackle complicated issues,” Mr Walia says.

In a week, he dedicates three days to physical workouts; Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. On these days, he wakes up at 4.30am – starting his training at 5am with his personal trainer for about 30 minutes or an hour.

“I live in an apartment within the hotel, so they cook a very solid heavy breakfast in the morning and by 7am, I’m ready for work,” he says.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, his day starts at 6am instead of 4.30am to give his body some rest and repair itself.

To him, all these activities are important in countering his job’s demands which have increased.

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Jael Amara,
Consumer Options co-owner

If Jael Amara, a 40-year-old co-owner of Consumer Options, a research firm, is not working, she is running marathons or travelling to clear her mind.

“I got into running 12 years ago. My sister introduced me to it as an alternative to going to the gym, cycling, and swimming,’’ she says.

And when she started doing marathons, she decided to combine it with travel.

‘‘I figured if I combined travel and running it would make a really good way of seeing the world,” she says.

To run the six major world marathons (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and the New York City) one has to ballot to participate. Ms Amara is no stranger to balloting. She has repetitively balloted for New York, Chicago and London, but did not get in.

‘‘I didn’t like the stress of balloting so I opted to run European races. Europe is beautiful and you don’t ballot to participate in the marathons,” Ms Amara says.

Of the world’s top marathons, Ms Amara has run Paris and Stockholm races.

In April, she ran in Milan with her sister and thereafter toured the glamorous French Riviera and Monaco known for its exclusive casinos, yacht-lined harbour and prestigious Grand Prix motor race.

Ms Amara running in a marathon. PHOTO | COURTESY

They also visited Nice and Barcelona and they both loved the food, sights and sounds, completing the epic adventure in Porto, Portugal. 

She says her university years, while studying at the Catholic University of The Sacred Heart, Milan in Italy, were the most interesting as she visited various exotic places over the weekend or during school breaks as intra-Europe travel is cheaper. 

Paris is one of her favourite place to run. From the music playing along the track, to historic buildings, to farms, tunnels within the city, there is no shortage of scenery to enjoy. She ran for three hours 50 minutes in Paris and hopes to do better in the New York marathon in November.

However, this upcoming marathon is not for adventure, she hopes to raise money for the playground and music room at Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital in Eldoret.

Training for a marathon requires discipline and Ms Amara runs every weekend for between 20 to 30 kilometres and prefers Ngong area. She is also one of the founders of Urban Swaras, a running group.

‘‘Ngong has this cold crisp air, you can find a climb, a downhill and a flat in Ngong. Also, it has got different routes,” she says.

She is also keen on music. One day, she says, she walked into the Kenya Conservatoire of Music and asked to be taught how to play the alto saxophone. She has since played the saxophone in bands, at weddings and in an orchestra.

She likens life to a scale that one has to find a perfect push and pull.

‘‘That’s how I have been able to fit all these activities into my schedule,’’ she says.

For her, 2017 is gone and she feels fulfilled with everything she has done, and she now wants to learn how to knit.


Simon Hodson,
Hemingways Collection, GM

Every morning, Simon Hodson, the group general manager at Hemingways Collection takes a superfood smoothie which has moringa, avocado, pumpkin seeds, coconut water and green apple. Then he takes a shot of wheat grass juice.

The 42-year-old eats clean, works out and spends his spare time “keeping his children happy and entertained and his wife on his good side.”

Juggling the pressures of work and a young family is not easy for many top executives.

One of the things the Nairobi-born and bred hotelier does to keep up with his energetic children and delay aging is Thai boxing, which he does two to three times a week, meditation and he is considering doing yoga for flexibility and core strength.

Mr Hodson’s days start at 5.30am with reflection and meditation, as well as playing and training with his two German Shepherds before the children get up.

For him, it is all about balance; having time for his wife, children and himself. He takes advantage of the mid-week gaps and slow times to be with the children for an hour or two before dashing back to work. He works for about 12 hours daily for six days.

Mr Hodson is also passionate about nature and clean eating.

‘‘I have 32 tree seedlings in my garden in Nairobi, from indigenous ones with medicinal value to exotic ones. I hope to transplant them soon to my dream garden,’’ he says.

He is also keen on culinary medicine, health through food, a branch of alternative medicine. He has five seedlings of Prunus Africana (locally known as mwuiri) which is good for men with prostate problems, moringa which he takes every day in his smoothies, as well as mangoes, avocado and hardwoods.

Simon Hodson during a Thai boxing training session at Ultra Fitness Gym. PHOTO | NMG

Twice a month, he takes a game drive with his family over a picnic breakfast at national parks with Samburu being his favourite park.

From a young age, Mr Hodson has been in the kitchen, inspired by his mother who was big on food as a healing agent. This is how he ended up studying hotel management and later moved into the kitchen as a chef before climbing up the ladder.

He emphasizes the importance of natural foods for those seeking a healthy body.

‘‘You cannot put junk in and not expect junk out. It’s about embracing a lifestyle choice which is also important for my children, because I want them to mirror me,” he says.

Inspired by his mother who was a farmer, Mr Hodson also has a vegetable patch where he grows kale, spinach, mchicha, managu, radishes, lettuce and other vegetables.

“I’m in a high-pressure, fast-paced job and it is a demanding phase of life and to be able to perform and have longevity which we all want, I need to look after myself,’’ Mr Hodson says.

Mr Hodson’s advice to other high-pressure job individuals, on how to balance relationship with self, family, nature, food and environment, with pressing time constraints is: “We all believe we don’t have time. But if we’re investing in work to get financial rewards or material benefits, surely it makes sense to invest in our bodies and our health by eating well.”

The former chef insists that more must be done to ensure the next generation learns the importance of healthy eating and super foods. 

Success, according to Mr Hodson, is keeping the learning process going to avoid getting stale in life’s journey.

“I realised very early on that if I wanted to progress and really have something unique to offer the industry in Kenya, I would get international exposure,” he says.

His first experience in the hotel industry was in 1994, at the Norfolk Hotel, before moving to South Africa for six years. He then moved to the UK where he spent 13 years. Mr Hodson says that a person needs more than one type of success.

‘‘Success at home and in the work place. More specifically, my success will be seeing that my children are where they ought to be and seeing them happy,’’ he says. 

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