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Polycarp Igathe: The job-hopping executive

Polycarp Igathe
Mr Polycarp Igathe, Equity Holdings chief commercial officer. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO 

It is often argued that job-hopping — defined as spending less than two years in a position — carries with it the risk of a red flag to prospective employers.

Employers, concerned at the cost of recruitment, tend to prefer people they deem “more stable” on their staff.

For many executives, the question that often weighs on their minds is how often one can hop before he or she tarnishes the resume and turn off some hiring managers.

But Polycarp Igathe doesn’t appear to have any such fears. In the past three years alone, Mr Igathe has hopped from the office of the deputy Governor of Nairobi to three C-Suite jobs.

Last week, he resigned as the executive vice-president for sales and marketing in Africa at top oil marketer Vivo Energy and returned to Equity Holdings as chief commercial officer.

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He had made a comeback to Vivo Energy in September last year from Equity where he was the Kenya managing director.

Mr Igathe’s propensity for job-hopping is likely to be a case study for HR professionals used to seeing this culture among millennials and those mainly in low- and mid-level positions.

Unknown to many, though, Mr Igathe’s “restlessness” didn’t begin recently.

Since his days as an economics and sociology student at the University of Nairobi and president of the International Association of Students in Economics and Management (AIESEC), Mr Igathe has always been an uneasy soul.

Immediately after his graduation in 1995, he flew to Australia where he took up a job as a finance officer at Queensland Health. But he would return to Kenya 18 months later to join Coca-Cola.

In 2000, he left to take up a new role as Africa Online’s sales and marketing manager.

After a short stint at the technology firm, he moved to listed brewer East Africa Breweries as sales operations manager, rising to become a marketing manager.

He left in 2003 to take up the managing director position at Haco Industries where he remained for 10 years.

When Haco changed hands, Mr Igathe moved to Vivo Energy Kenya to serve as its first MD after it acquired the Shell brand and all Shell-branded petrol stations in 16 African countries.

Along the way, the political bug bit.

“Politics is too important to be left to politicians,” he remarked, speaking about his decision to seek nomination as Mike Sonko’s running mate in the race for Nairobi governor in the 2017 elections.

Mr Igathe would last as Nairobi’s deputy governor for six months. He resigned in a huff, saying his boss did not trust him.

Unlike many who sink into oblivion after a stint in politics, Mr Igathe rejoined the corporate arena as Equity Bank’s #ticker:EQTY chief commercial officer in May 2018 and was promoted to become the Equity Kenya MD.

“I seem to earn trust easily in the corporate world, as opposed to the other world (of politics) where upon being sworn into office, we fail but hardly sign off. I wonder, ‘why don’t we take our oaths seriously?’” he posed during an earlier interview.

“I think it is a curse to continue serving without remaining true to the oath we took. I respected the oath and quit.”

Mr Igathe says as a ‘mammal’, he found it impossible to survive in the ‘reptilian’ ecosystem and opted to return to what he knew best.

Hardly months after rejoining Equity, Vivo Energy poached him back with the creation of a new position that made Mr Igathe its Africa executive vice president in charge of sales and marketing.

Describing his strategy in life, Mr Igathe said the AIESEC exchange programme gave him an opportunity to polish his management skills.

“Being at the top means we must remain as servants, not lords. And when that happens, it means you are grounded. You lord over others and you are a speck, you must move on. The work we do is about others, not ourselves,” he says.

A leader, he says, should be people-centric and “must stop being pathologically preoccupied with themselves and should have a great sense of humour. Laugh at yourself when criticised. Know constructive and destructive feedback comes in all the time. Learn how to laugh at yourself.”

His next tenure as Equity Holdings commercial officer remains as unpredictable as the man himself — always on the move, albeit higher up the corporate ladder.

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