Marion Gathoga-Mwangi’s resume is designed like a map from the corporate hinterlands. It is a simple, condensed one-paged illustrated resume, with sliding timelines and roles, markers and logos, tables with colour coded areas. No rumblings, bullet points or the rhetoric of most high profile resumes.
It’s differently done. It’s a business degree from United States International University, executive coaching, Nestle, Bayer AG, Amsco, Unga, Seaboard Corporation, Parmalat, and now BOC Kenya as the boss lady. At BOC Kenya, they manufacture and market industrial and medical gases.
She met JACKSON BIKO to, well, gas. (As the younger folks say to mean chat.)
What’s the one question you find that you keep asking yourself in this period of your life?
“What next?” I always want to make a meaningful impact … to change the history of oxygen supply in the country, and in this role, I really feel drawn to that. The thing is when I was taking this role, I was actually looking for a higher purpose, something that I would leave a legacy around and I've found right now that it's about changing the way oxygen is distributed.
If you had an accident today going to Nakuru, somebody would pick you up and take you to a district hospital, that hospital may not have oxygen. That’s how crucial this is. Also, I feel the need to impact other people around me. I've always been an active participant of the Palmhouse Foundation because it is about building people and doing something bigger than money and a big title.
Is there a stage that you felt that there was a notable transformation in not only your career path but also as a human being?
I think when I started working in other parts of Africa. I've always worked for multinationals and I came from the trade marketing space where you push for sales. At the beginning of the month you're at zero and through that month you chase for targets, then you start all over again. I enjoyed that because I got recognised for my efforts every month and year. But it became a routine. So, that's why I joined the Rotary and Palmhouse Foundation just to do more meaningful work.
But, I felt real transformation in my late 30s and early 40s when I was no longer concerned about what people thought about what I was doing and more concerned with what am I doing for people.
What are you enjoying the most now in life?
Watching my children grow. They are 13, 9 and 4. I was a general manager when I was 29 so I have always managed people. And now for my children, it's different. I can't give them targets … they are not a business. Of course I have some doubt about whether I'm spending enough time or whether I could do more but I’m really enjoying motherhood.
How was that, being a general manager at 29?
It was about somebody putting a lot of faith in me when I was not ready, so I learnt leadership in the reverse way. Being a GM at 29 based purely on my success as a sales person meant that I was very forceful. In fact, I was so forceful to my male colleagues that one of them one day folded his sleeves saying, “I have had enough of this from you.” (Chuckles). So, very early on I learnt how to treat people, to include them for success.
So, there are merits and demerits of being appointed to lead people when you are not ready. I learnt about managing people and patience. I also had to do executive coaching when it just started in Kenya. I learnt fast and hard because I had to.
What do you find most challenging in managing yourself?
Delegation. It's giving a job and trying not to watch if it's not getting being done exactly the way I would have wanted it. I have had to really work on that, and I still do.
Do you think there is a thing like perfection?
There is no perfection. But there is something called progress. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be perfect, but as long as I'm making progress towards something that I'm working on, I am very happy. I read a lot, I read a book a week, and when you read that much you know there is no perfection in the world. My wide reading has enhanced that self development.
What book have you ever read that has really changed your life?
“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. It's on my bedside — permanently. It's like my dictionary. It's about what success is, which is basically, passion, perseverance and resilience.
You know, growing up we were told A-students will do well in life and those at the bottom won't? It’s a lie because when I think about the people I have worked with, people who were reporting to me, A-students or people with PhDs never really led companies. This book basically illustrates — through research — that academic qualifications do not guarantee you success.
Hard work and perseverance. Nothing else. Life is hard. Working is hard, reporting to work everyday is difficult, but you have to keep showing up. Showing up is winning 80 percent of the battle.
Having sold for over two decades, what would you say makes someone a great salesperson?
Grit, following through. Sales is the biggest career that has the highest rejection rates. If you are an MD, your rejection rate is high-low. A salesperson should be ready to get rejected over and over but keep going back. They also have to keep their promise because most people in sales get away with the dressing and talking smart. It's no longer about being verbal, it's never been.
There has always been this thing I hear sales people say that people buy people, not products, so that is not true?
People buy people who follow through. A really effective salesperson has to follow through and you have to be valuable to the customer.
What are you very good at as human being?
Relationships. I'm not very comfortable in conflicts, believe it or not and I'm a CEO. (Smiles) So, I need to build relationships and I work very hard at it.
You father was a policeman, how was that for your dating life when you were younger?
(Laughs) Oh! Nobody came near our home because there were rumours that they would get shot, which was hardly true. I never saw a weapon in the house. He was such a wonderful, soft man. When you think cop, you think a cold man, but my father told us he loved us back when men were not very expressive. He would tell me that I would do well in life, which has come to be. Today, I tell fathers or men to tell their children positive things because they will believe you. If you tell them they are stupid they will also believe you.
What have you ever failed in spectacularly that is still a monkey on your back?
Oh gosh! I co-started a business at some point in my career gap. It was disastrous.
Would you go back to doing your own business?
I think I would if I could restructure it properly and if I could find a consumer need that I could meet and be successful at it. So, for this phase until my mid 50s, I'll probably still be employed.
Are you happy with your life now?
I am content. I believe happiness is a formula. I read a book — “The Happiness Equation” by Neil Pasricha and it says, "happiness is something to do, something to look forward to or something to love.” Something to do is my work, something to look forward is watching my children grow, having a closer relationship with my God, and finally something to love is your passion and someone to love. I’m married to a very supportive man.