Three years ago Kevin Ombajo the CEO of TruBlaq, an entertainment and experiential company, passed away after a long battle with a tumour in his head.
His sister, Jackee Ombajo, who helped him run the company from the background, took over. It was challenging at the beginning, but the company has since stood the test of time under her stewardship.
Last year they won the Activations Solutions African MICE Award, for organising the best business events, and were also ranked 5th in the Top Midsize companies by KPMG and the Business Daily.
Jackee has been around the block selling furniture, in telesales at Alpha Fine Foods, at Crown Distributors before joining her brother, as project coordinator between 2002-2005. She then left for Capital Fm to cut her teeth in event management.
When she had soaked in enough, she went and re-joined her brother to build the company.
She spoke to JACKSON BIKO over the phone.
What do you find yourself most fearful of now as CEO?
We are in the business of bringing experiences between brands and people, more like connectors. We do this through concerts and activations, which normally involve a multitude of people. And when Covid-19 happened we were hit directly as an industry, and perhaps the first people to feel it directly. All our contracts were immediately cancelled. All of them. Everything came to a standstill when we were just doing our business projection for 2020 and were on an incline businesswise. In fact, we felt like this would be the year we break the bank. [Chuckles]. I know things will change after all this ends, the business will change.
Do you have an indication of what that change looks like?
No, but we are in the process of cracking a couple of things. For now we are in survival mode. We are looking at our reserves and trying to figure out how long it can take us. This is the thinking stage because nothing will ever be normal again.
What have you learnt about yourself during this time of self-quarantine?
Wow...tough one….learning? [Pause] What have you learnt about yourself?
(Biko) That I can make fantastic smoothies.
[Laughs] I like cooking and I have the opportunity this time to go back to the things I love. I’m also spending a lot of time with my daughter - she’s seven months old - and with other family members. But I think when you are in the position of leadership, you also spend so much time worrying, not only about yourself and how you will survive, but also about the people who work for you. How long will we ride this thing until we get to a point when we have to let some people go?
Has this been the time you have been most unsure, or uncertain about something in your life?
No. I was most uncertain when my late brother passed on. There was a period when he was really ill and every report from the doctor came with worse news than the last. It was a very unstable time for me because so much was anchored around him and I was struggling navigating the business and also worrying if the business would survive if he died.
Now that you are a new mom, what do you fear as a mother?
Not being here for my daughter, because what this pandemic has proven is that nobody knows what tomorrow holds. I fear not being able to provide for her and give her what she deserves. Motherhood changes one immensely. I have become more patient and understanding, especially to working mothers in the company. Previously when an employee called many times citing house help issues at some point I’d think it’s fiction, but being a mom now grappling with these problems has made me more understanding and sympathetic.
And what do you fear as a wife?
[Chuckles] Wow! That’s an interesting one. [Long pause.] I’ve actually never thought about this. [Long pause] I think it would be whether I’m able to give everything, to juggle work and motherhood and be a wife. This is because all these different things require different parts of you and your time. You question whether you are the best partner you can be because sometimes, work requires you in there, putting in the time.
Even now, at this crucial time of being a businessperson, a time when people are now spending more time as a family, your mind is often thinking about the future of the business and you may not fully be present. Your headspace is different. So yes, sometimes wonder if you are giving enough.
Or being enough?
No, giving enough. If your partner says you are not enough there is nothing you can do about it. Nothing you do can be enough for someone if they say you aren’t. But if they say you are not doing enough, that’s something you can change by doing more.
When your brother passed away and you had to take the position of leadership in the company, did it come with great anxiety, second-guessing and trepidation?
Yes. See, I had always worked with him, but from the background. I’m not a forefront kind of person, never wanted to be the face of anything, but I understood how the company ran.
So, technically, I knew how things worked, but now I was in the driver’s seat and it meant that I was responsible for this vehicle. That comes with a lot of anxiety, of course.
At the beginning I second guessed myself a lot. I was trying hard to fit in his shoes, but soon I learnt that I couldn’t use his shoes.
I soon realised that I couldn’t be my brother, but before that I had many disagreements with people who would tell me, “but Keva didn’t like this...but Keva would never have allowed that….but Keva, Keva, Keva…” I had to put a stop to it and learn to wear my own shoes and be comfortable in them.
My brother was my number one cheerleader when he was alive, he had confidence in me and encouraged me. And so when he died I didn’t have his voice encouraging me and I had to start listening to my own voice and slowly I started gaining confidence in my decisions and the company started growing as a result.
What’s your happy place?
My daughter. And my family. We are a pretty close family.