DHL boss on life, work and balance

Express Kenya managing director Andrew Mutuma
Express Kenya managing director Andrew Mutuma. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Andrew Mutuma , Country Manager of DHL is 30 minutes early for the interview at Nairobi Serena with JACKSON BIKO. He sits in a corner having a yogurt and reading Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People”. This is ironic because with his bouncy and infectious personality he seems the last person who would want to read a book about winning friends or influencing people. He is three years old in the position after stints at TNT Express, Planning Interiors, Urgent Cargo, Nokia and ExxonMobil. He talks about life, golf (not going too well), fatherhood (going very well) and marriage (going excellently).

Talking of winning friends and influencing people, who's influenced you the most?

My old man. He did not have much when we were growing up. I mean we come from one of the farthest places in this country (Meru) and I think my old man would have chosen the miraa trade over anything else. He went to school — one of the first guys to go to school in his locality. He went through government, working in the Prisons Department. Most importantly, what I admire about him is that he was always well content about who he was. He had an old Datsun and when he came to pick us up from State House Primary School we would hide because other fathers came with big cars. He always came in his small old car. I learnt consistency from him because a time will come when things will change and for me this means...(His phone rings — it is his mom. He mutes it. I ask him to answer it.)

My mom died six years ago. I'd give everything to see her call me again, and I’d pick it in any meeting. Because when your mother is gone you will wish you picked all her calls.

I know what you mean. My very good friend lost his father 12 years ago. When we talk and I mention my dad you can see he wishes he had his dad around to have those conversations. I see it in his eyes.


You got married the other day.

Yes, I got married at 41. I’m now 43 years old. It’s a lot of fun. I think in life you need to get a partner you can click with but most important learn how to support one another. Liz has been extremely supportive of my career, in terms of understanding, the early mornings I leave the house at 5.30, latest I get home at about 9 o'clock, virtually every day. She understands that because she's a very busy career woman as well. I have a daughter and a son — 10 and six years respectively.

Having fun raising children?

I am. You know people talk about moulding kids but I say you're not doing them a favour when you're with them. They are doing you a favour. They are doing you a favour when they are out with you and spending time with you.

Did you call your father on Father's Day?

I did. I actually sent him a message, an interesting message here. (Shows me the text message). We have a good relationship. I'm thinking we never always agreed with him, but later in life you're able to appreciate where he was coming from when you become a family man.

Who do you think is a better husband, you or him?

(Chuckles) I think he's a much better husband than I am and it's a question of experience and time. My dad has been dependable. My mom has been sick for over 10 years, a back problem, and he's been there for her. It doesn't matter whether there's no house help, he'd cook. He has enabled my mom. He's made life comfortable for her. I have never heard my father pick up the phone and call me and complain. If he's picked up the phone is to tell me how sad he is. And how I can help him. Sad because of seeing my mom in that situation. As a father of three big headed boys he's been able to keep us together, very disciplined.

It’s amazing that you mention that he calls you and tells you he’s sad. I don’t think my father is ever sad or happy or tired. He’s the emperor who doesn’t show feelings. Very stoic. Were you boys hugged a lot and told nice things when growing up?

(Laughs) No. (Laughs). We were not. I don't know if he has this conversations with my younger brothers. But because I'm older I think he's able to have reality checks. It’s also probably because we've buried so many of his friends. He has conversations with me about life and death. He's now going to 73. He tells me that he is on borrowed time. We have generally come to a place where we can sit and talk about issues about life. I think the mistake we make as guys is we wait for our fathers to open up. It doesn't work that way because they were not brought up in that sort of environment. For me I took the initiative to be able to sit with him. So when I have struggles we'll sit and talk.

Which CEO do you admire greatly?

That's a very interesting one. (Long pause). Martin Oduor. It takes a really big man to step down and say my time is done, I have given what I need to give, and I'm gone. If you ask me would Martin probably be running KCB better? And would he still be growing profits? I would say yes. Life is not just about just spending time and making money, there are other things. I wish we had more people like that in corporate Kenya today.

If your time at DHL ended abruptly today at 9am, what would you do? How would you engage your time going forward?

I mean I have thought of putting up a house, I've thought of putting up a farm, stuff like that. I have taught before. Well, I would do that. I also would get to a place where I'm a little freer to engage politically. Now I can't, I wouldn't. It would be difficult because of the roles and responsibilities I have.

Why do you feel you have the chops for politics?

Because I don't fear much. I'm not one of those guys who are worried about being torn apart. I don't have any skeletons that say I'm worried will come out and the ones I have are not unique.

What takes most of your imagination - being a father or being a husband?

(Laughs) I think being a husband. Because that relationship defines everything else. If Liz is upset with me the children can sense it. But when we are fine, when we are happy and joking around and calling each other these sweet names they blossom and are confident and free.

You're in honeymoon stage.

I don't think this will ever stop. For a marriage to last you've got to invest more time in it than you invest at work. I don't want to be 60 and find a stranger in the house. Because you've asked me what would I do if my job got cut off now?That’s the relationship that would keep me going. It's the relationship that says you have value and it wasn’t built on the context of my job.