CEO marks year at the helm

Aldo Mareuse—Telkom Kenya’s CEO. PHOTO | COURTESY
Aldo Mareuse—Telkom Kenya’s CEO. PHOTO | COURTESY 

It feels like Aldo Mareuse—Telkom Kenya’s CEO— hasn’t been properly introduced even though next week he will have been in office for a year. Although born and educated in France, Aldo has lived and worked away from France for the past 24 years. He studied engineering and has held various positions in a number of telecommunication companies in US, UK and Egypt like Accelero Capital, Orascom Telecom and Wind Telecom. Towering in height and bearing a poker face, Aldo met JACKSON BIKO at his office on Ralph Bunche Road.


So I’m told you have a dog...
Yeah. (Laughs) It’s my new thing.

What was your old thing?

My old thing was my kids. Now one is at university, the other two are in boarding school in the UK. So you know, I have a new wife, she’s Italian and lives in Milan now. That leaves me and my dog. (Laughs).

Seems like you have many new things; you have a new dog and you have a new wife...

Yes. If you want.

Shall we start with the new wife?

What happened to the old wife?

Oh, she still exists. (Laughs)

How is it different now with the new wife?

It’s much more relaxed. It’s really peaceful, you know.

Back to your dog. Why a dog? Why not a cat or a parrot?

Does a cat smile? Does a cat come out to say hi? It does not. It doesn’t care. A dog is always happy. It’s dirty, it makes a mess, but it’s lively. It’s like a kid, you know. (Laughs) It’s a source of joy.

They say one of the reasons why some people prefer dogs to cats is cats don’t really care about you. So maybe that speaks to an element of neediness on the part of dog lovers, are you needy?

Of course. You always need affection. Everybody is human. (Laughs)

Was there a sense of trepidation or anxiety when you were taking this job in Kenya?

Look, when you’re 50 and you decide to go somewhere alone; you leave your kids and wife behind and just get into a new life so, yes, you get scared. But I find Kenyans extremely friendly people as compared to a place like France where people are always moody.

(Chuckles). You know, it’s the most beautiful country in the world, but people are always complaining.

In comparison, I’ve never seen anyone moody here. Here everyone’s smiling whatever the situation. It’s incredible. This for me is a big strength for this country. Because if we had Kenyans in France, France would be the best country in the world.

Which part of your life do you think you had the most fun; 20s, 30s, 40s or now… and why?

(Pause) Every stage is a nice stage. In your 20s you have all the freedom, even though may not have the financial freedom. When in your 30s and 40s you start to have kids, so you have to give them a lot of attention and it’s fun because of seeing them grow.

When you’re 50 you regain your freedom because the kids are older and they don’t need you on a constant basis.

Every period is golden, but the only time I was unhappy was when I turned 30. I was depressed. I felt that I was not young anymore, adulthood scared me. (Chuckles)

What has 50s brought to you?

It gives you a little bit of calm, perspective and a view of life that you don’t necessarily have when you’re in your 40s. So it’s more peaceful. You become a little bit less emotional.

What’s your philosophy now?

My philosophy is to be happy. And to be happy I have to have a happy family life, a happy work life and a balanced life.

There are five languages of love, what’s your language of love?

My language of love is Italian. (Laughter in the room). I learnt Italian five years ago when I met her.

Every successful CEO I interview always say they wished they had spent more time with the family when working their way up. Did you see this coming?

No. I didn’t see it coming because when you’re buried into work you just don’t raise your head and see what else is there.

Unless it’s probably when you get to your 50s is when you realise there’s something else other than work. Because you’re getting closer to the end of life (Chuckles). So you look at other things that you weren’t paying attention to before.

Do you wish you would have worked less?

No. I’m not happy if I’m not working. (Laughs). I have worked less recently between two jobs and I was the most unhappy person. I just need this mental activity. If you lack mental activity, you just think about depressing things.

What’s your philosophy on money?

It’s just measure of success. But I also think having too much money brings you unhappiness; you never know who your friends are, you worry about things you shouldn’t be worrying about. I admire Bill Gates’ relationship with money. He’s focusing his energy and the money to make the world better because, really how many cars or jets does he need?

Would you say you have a lot of money?

Compared to a lot of people? Yes.

Are you unhappy with it?

(Pause) No, but sometimes I have to take a step back because it makes me worried about things I shouldn’t be worried about. And this is back to the conversation I had about people in Kenya; lot of people here don’t have much but they are happy. You need to be happy without the money. If you’re not, you have a problem.

What do you think your wife likes most about you?

(Laughs loudly) Uhm, that’s a good question. (Long pause) I think she likes the fact that I’m sensitive to her emotions.

Have you been a good father to your children?

I became a good father after I got divorced.

How so?

When you have a tension-filled relationship with your wife you don’t necessarily understand how to act with your kids. When you’re alone with your kids, it’s much easier. You have freedom and you raise your kids the way you want. When somebody tells you don’t do this, don’t do that, then you’re not natural anymore.

So how do you fill your time here in Kenya?

Everything. I play tennis, cycle at Karura Forest, swim, play golf, take walks, ski and sail whenever I go abroad. One day I will buy a boat and sail out for a month. Being active relaxes me.

I love that painting on the wall by your desk...
It was my predecessor’s...probably the only good thing he left behind. {Laughter in the room}