In the late 1940s, a 14-year-old Indian stowaway got off a ship in Mombasa without as much as two pennies to rub together. A family took him in for a while. Then he ended up in Nanyuki, working as a storekeeper for the Navy Army Air Force. His boss lived at Sportsman’s Arms Hotel and he’d stand outside (only whites were allowed inside) as he waited for him to sign papers. In 1955, he told his wife that one day he’d buy that hotel. And years later, he did. Gina Din and her sisters were raised in Sportsman’s Arms Hotel.
She’s now known as a PR aficionado, with over two decades under her belt. Her company, Gina Din Group, was recently acquired by Edelman, a global firm, rendering her semi-retired (she remains an adviser).
JACKSON BIKO met her in her home office wing of her well-heeled residence. It has a wall of fame with photos of notable world leaders and celebrities. Dainty, relaxed and not a hair out of place even in her downtime, she seeks to settle into the evening of her life.
What do you remember about your childhood living in a hotel?
The hotel’s dining area was the family dining room, the hotel’s kitchen was the family kitchen. I never had the concept of living in a home. My friends always wanted to come for sleepovers because there was so much to do, and we could order room service!
Nanyuki was very interesting at that time. I was born just before independence and Kenya was adjusting. There were still a lot of colonial people in Nanyuki. The old British people actually lived with us. So it was a hotel and it was also an old people’s home.
How do you think that impacted your life as an adult?
It helped me learn to deal with all sorts of people. Also, from a very young age we were involved in the business; we were either typing out the menus, helping out in the kitchen, or manning the reception. It set the stage for me in being able to handle complex situations as I got older. It also helped my communication skills and problem solving. I’m the youngest of four girls and all of us are entrepreneurs.
How does it feel like to sell something you’ve built from scratch? How did you feel the morning after you no longer owned your company?
It was really hard. It’s something I had been working on for a couple of years. I think with any businesses you start with the end in mind. You know where you want to take it and obviously selling to a major is the ultimate of what you want to achieve. But it’s difficult. You go to the office and suddenly your name is not on the door.
How do you then start readjusting to this life?
It will take a while. But I’m starting to love the fact that I have time on my hands. I’m able to see people that I haven’t seen in a long time. When I started my business over 20 years ago, when I left Barclays, I had this vision that I was going to have a lot of time and make more money. I had two young children at the time, so I ended up so busy and flustered with clients and pitching that we did it for 22 years. I’m excited that I’m now able to give my two children that time that I promised them 22 years ago.
What would you do differently if you were to take another stab at this?
I probably would have hired people to do things that I wasn’t really good at. I’m a really good leader, I’m just not a really good manager.
What have you had to do for the business that you’re not proud of?
I’m not proud that I took away time that I should have been giving my family to sit and wait for that one call or have meetings at 10 o'clock at night. When you’re in the evening of your life, which I am now, then what you thought was important in the morning of your life is actually a lie.
What then would you tell your younger self?
Value what you bring to the table. I don’t think I ever really realised what value I brought, so I always felt that I was very lucky to get a client.
Do you think you’d have done better if you were a man in this industry?
Yes, I do. In meetings, I didn’t get patronised. I got all the niceties, and all of the hard-hitting questions went to my male colleagues. The corporate world is an all-boys network. It’s getting better now because there are a few women in leadership positions but 22 years ago there just weren’t any. And the boys would go out for drinks together, they’d play golf together, so I was definitely at a disadvantage. So I feel proud that we have, in spite of that, built an incredible brand.
Of all famous and powerful people, you've met, on this wall of fame, who would you like to meet again?
Leonardo DiCaprio. He was amazing, very cool and interesting. He’s done lots of things around climate change and so he was a very refreshing voice. I also met Obama a few times and I just enjoy meeting him because I go away with something very different. He’s extremely emotionally intelligent and has a lot of interesting leadership traits that I value.
What do you plan to do on your 60th birthday?
So that’s the million dollar question! I know I’m not going to have a huge 60th birthday party. I did that when I was 50. My 60th will be more creative and we’re thinking of something like four different cities and giving everybody a list of where we’re going to be. And whoever can come to whichever city, that would be great.
What part of your character do you least dislike?
I’m very impatient. People who have worked for me will tell you that I just want it done and done to perfection. I hold myself to a very high standard and I expect the people that I work with to be at that level.
What's your extravagance?
Shoes. I’m a big shoe addict. I’m always buying shoes. Valentino shoes are my thing. That’s my one indulgence.
What does a shoe say about you?
I think you could wear something very simple and then you add killer shoes and you've killed it.
What's your regimen to keep healthy?
I do yoga everyday. I just started boxing which is so much fun. I’ve been boxing a couple of times a week. My husband and I go for walks a lot. So I’m pretty active and very careful about what I eat.
How's marriage now compared to when you were all younger?
You know we have a very strong friendship and I think that’s the most important thing in any marriage. You have to be good friends. My husband is my best friend and he has grounded me. Nothing impresses him, which is great because I’d be very excited and I’d call him and tell him, ‘guess what I'm doing?’ And he’d be like ‘oh! that's nice. But you know it’s raining here.’ He’s very calm, very grounding and a wonderful father.
What attracted you to him the first time?
I don’t know. (Pause) He was in the Air Force, that uniform thing.
What’s the most important dream you have left?
Too many to cover in one interview… But like I said, I want to see the world and discover what else I can do. I want to do a lot more in helping women entrepreneurs build their brand and businesses.
What animal are you?
I’m an owl. I’m wise.
A few business people seem to have a succession plan, especially Asians, where their children take over. You decided to sell …
I didn’t decide, my children decided. They are both very successful in their own chosen fields. A couple of years ago they were like, ‘OK mom, what’s your plan?’ I always hoped that one of them would be interested, but they’re doing just amazing things on their own And I’m really excited for them to follow their dreams. I followed mine. And it would be crazy for me to actually expect to ask them to follow my dream.
Is there one person you would like to apologise to?
No. I’m good to myself.
Do you have any fears, especially in evening of your life, because now the sun is setting?
No, sunsets are beautiful. I’m a big sunset person, my children will tell you this. I take photographs of the sunset. I’m really excited about the evening. I’m really excited about the sun setting because it’s beautiful.
Then perhaps now you should just have a glass of wine and watch the sunset instead of running up and down?
Maybe that’s what I should do, but I don’t think I can. I’m not that kind of person. Also, I want to impact. I have a lot to give. I have my foundation that I want to spend some time working on. There’s just so much more outside of a structured corporate life. I’m excited to discover it.