One late afternoon, Kenya Bankers Association chief executive Habil Olaka took the stairs to his 13th floor office at International Life House in Nairobi after a lengthy lunch meeting.
He, along with other tenants slowly ascended the dimly lit stairway. He had barely made it to the sixth floor when Dr Olaka felt a sharp pain in his chest.
He stopped. His heart was thumping and his forehead was dripping with sweat. He was breathless and stayed motionless for a while before slowly continuing his journey to his office where, upon arrival, he slumped into his executive chair and remained speechless and immobile for 30 minutes.
“It was a wake-up call that I was unfit and in extremely poor health. I had previously been taking the lift all the time and never thought about the damage I was doing to my body. I always used the car for my errands and hardly walked to any destination,” he recalled.
Dr Olaka has programmed his Apple smartwatch which is synched to his iPhone to register his movements which it analyses into a health fitness report including his heart rate, blood pressure as well as time taken up and down the stairs.
That was six years ago and was the last time Dr Olaka took the lift. He has also taken to walking across town for some errands as opposed to his traditional past when he would drive to every destination.
Starting his day at 5 a.m, Dr Olaka first goes through his emails and responds to them before preparing for the day. He heads to the table for a ‘full’ breakfast comprising of fruits, porridge or tea, githeri, eggs or meat or any balanced diet that his wife, Catherine chooses.
With his iPhone beeping by his side, Dr Olaka says social media is central to his work and family life where he and his wife, Catherine, a human resource professional, uses to converse with their two children, now away at university.
“We have agreed on the specific times to log into our family WhatsApp group where everyone is online since we no longer enjoy quiet evenings regularly. My daughter is in UK while my son is studying computer engineering at another university,” he says.
Dr Olaka is a familiar face on television screens, local and international, mainly articulating the social, economic and policy development agenda played by banks in Kenya and across the region.
He previously worked at then Banque Indosuez (now Bank of Africa) as its internal auditor immediately after he left Price Waterhouse Coopers which ushered him into the realm of banking.
After Indosuez, Dr Olaka recalls with nolstagia his stint at East African Development Bank (EADB) where he held various position rising to become its Kenya country head.
He currently serves as the Interim chairman for the East Africa Bankers Association, now formulating its regulations and activation of a regional platform to facilitate exchange of best practices in the banking industry.
Dr Olaka says keeping fit should be a daily endeavour and has opted to carry a bag big enough for a laptop for his work as well as space for a gift to one’s family. On weekends, he takes a walk with his wife around their residential estate and at times plays golf with his peers.
“A lot abounds around me but work-life-family balance is mandatory. A small bag helps me lift some weight that I change from one hand to the other unconsciously. I have also discovered that growing my career through advancing my education has made me a role model to my family, he says.
While he spends his Saturdays playing golf, Dr Olaka uses his social platforms to keep up with his ‘heydays’ classmates at Alliance High School and at University of Nairobi.
A keen traditionalist at heart, Dr Olaka has heavily invested in farming in Kitale where he tends coffee bushes and recently intercropped the coffee bushes with Macadamia plants.
“In life one needs continuous education, a family as well as social life that endears one to contributing to causes tat better the society. I look forward to sharing out my financial knowledge via academic programmes once I start teaching at local universities as I hold a Masters in Business Administration as well as a Doctorate in Business Administration,” he says.