Rebecca Miano is the first female CEO to hold that position at KenGen since 1954. Either that says a lot or it says nothing. She rose through the ranks, working in various capacities from 1998, the latest being company secretary and legal affairs director, a role she held for 10 years. She also worked for KPLC, making her an old hand — 24 years experience in the energy sector. She had tea with JACKSON BIKO at the Nairobi Serena.
Is it important to you that you are the first female CEO of your organisation since the 50s? Or you prefer to see yourself as just a CEO, not the first female CEO?
I don’t take it for granted. I value the opportunity because it is significant but I really thank God. It’s also a testament that hard work, qualifications, competence, confidence do not go unnoticed. I started working in the energy sector as an assistant legal officer, the lowest position possible, so I rose through the ranks. It is also a testament that one should be ready to walk through the whole system patiently, diligently because eventually it lands you where you should be.
Do you feel pressured by the office, by expectations?
Of course. To be honest, a big role comes with a lot of pressure. But I have told you the values that have seen me to this point will also see me get results.
What’s the one thing you have consistently prayed for this year?
I pray for my children, for their success and not even just material success, success as human beings so that they may be solid, because in our world today somebody has to have the qualities and the skills to live a successful life. I also continue to pray for success in this job, to make a difference in the energy sector.
Would you consider yourself successful?
Yes, I think I’m very successful. (Laughs)
What is that success according to you?
Success is going beyond some expectations with excellence, not perfection but with excellence. Because excellence is where you do consistently something well. I have made a difference with excellence. And I think I have broken the boundaries.
Which boundary did you think was before you?
I thought this job was reserved for engineers, actually male engineers, doctors, you know the type. In fact when it was advertised, I still had that mentality but when I applied and was given a fair opportunity to compete and emerged at the top the confidence boundaries were no longer there.
It is said that men know how to negotiate salaries better than women do. That they have no problem asking for more than they are actually worth while women on the other hand tend to ask for much less than their male counterparts. Has this been an experience you are familiar with?
Luckily, the board was so kind to say I’ll start with the salary the previous CEO had. That made it so much easier for me, otherwise, I think it would have been difficult for me to negotiate.
Do you think you would have negotiated the amount you are earning now had it not been set?
Had I been given a piece of paper and told to write my salary, would I have written my current salary? Probably not.
Why not? What’s that thing that makes you feel that you probably don’t deserve what you might have wanted to write. What’s makes you not want to ask for what you are worth?
I’m not really sure. Maybe I would focus more at the differences I would make on the job and probably forget about the money. Maybe I’d be focusing more on the opportunity I had been given. I think men are generally stronger at negotiations.
I wonder why, is it because, men are assumed to have more responsibilities. I’m sure you have a lot of responsibilities as well.
I don’t think they have more responsibilities. I really can’t tell why we are not as good as them when it comes to pay negotiations because when I go to buy vegetables and other things, I’ll negotiate better than a man.
When you show up at the Pearly Gates and God says, “Rebecca, what did you do with your life while you were down there?” What are you going to tell Him?
I’ll say trembling … (Laughs) my Heavenly Father, the role you gave me in life, I did it to the best of my ability and you know it. I did it with a lot of humility, integrity and I never made anybody feel downtrodden. I tried to empower people and enrich their lives …
Then He will interrupt you, and say louder, “Rebecca say that role. I want you to utter it with your lips; what was that role that you imagine I gave you to do?”
You gave me the role of a mother; I gave of myself to my children. When you gave me the role as a wife, I played the best to an extent that I also agreed to take into quite enough out of that role. When you gave me a role in corporate, I gave of myself and served my people, the employees, I served my bosses, I served the board, with utmost honesty.
You mentioned that you grew up in a polygamous home — two wives, 14 children — did that socialisation change your view of marriage? If your husband said tonight that he is thinking of marrying a second wife, would you be open to that?
No. Because there are advantages and disadvantages of a polygamous home, and I think the disadvantages are more. There is a lot of divided love and competition. We grew up in one house, all of us and inasmuch as it is fun to grow up in a big family, you lose the real love of a closed family and resources are divided. I think my father was very strong. He never allowed them [wives] to fight. They lived under dictatorship, love under dictatorship, peace under dictatorship. They were not even allowed to go and say, ‘oh, this one did this.’ There was peace.
Even among us children, you were not allowed to say this one belonged to this mother. Up to now even the neighbours are not able to specifically say this one is the blood brother to this one. That brought us so close even today.
What do you do for fun, to unwind?
I love watching plays. I also read a lot and I knit sweaters. I was taught in Class Four. I knit as a hobby; it’s great mental therapy because you are really concentrated to ensure the pattern is going well because when you make a mistake you have to undo everything.
There’s a whole knitting community out there, it’s very relaxing, it’s like meditation because you just let go. You are not thinking about other things. It is so intense because you’re reading a pattern. Most Friday evenings are for knitting for like two hours. I have knitted a very good sweater for my husband.
Is it a sweater he can actually leave the house with?
(Laughs) He likes it so much we want to hide it because he is always wearing it.