The new millennium is about to begin. Like everywhere else, Nairobi is anxious about what this will bring. Like big tides, revolutions build or destroy. Sometimes they do both at the same time.
As the curtain falls on the 1990’s, we all see the beginning of a new era. Poles, wires and the fixed telephone line begin to give way. The telco revolution is here with us.
Esther Muchemi, decides to jump fearlessly into this. She can see,way in advance that for the brave, a new,momentous era is in the offing.So she says goodbye to a thriving auditing business to set up Samchi Telecom.
People brand her a dukawallah, but that does not deter her. She is in it for the long haul. After all should something go wrong it will be ‘’the idea that has failed,’’ not her.
Fortunately she would meet a great business partner in the name of Safaricom. Esther gets emotional when it comes to discussing Safaricom. They did not judge her, she remembers, adding that they did not look at who she was, but what she was capable of doing.
In fact starting out, she was not even a Safaricom dealer. She was working with another telco whom Safaricom later overtook by many miles.
It was not too much for the then Safaricom CEO Hugh Herschell to personally go over to Esther’s office to discuss partnership. Maybe it was easy for in those days the better option was the underdog.
It was not long before Esther received a call asking her to be a Safaricom exclusive dealer. She reminisces as if it was yesterday. “One day, a Safaricom employee was passing by the Samchi shop window when he decided to call and ask whether we would consider working exclusively with Safaricom .”
I turned to one of my employees and asked him whether we should consider working exclusively with Safaricom, to which he answered yes.
There and then, she responded to Safaricom in the affirmative. And a two decade journey was born that has seen Samchi Telecom, Esther’s flagship business, become one of the most successful companies in Kenya.
For someone who has reached the pinnacle, Esther is safe in her skin. Her message has to be put out with honesty. It may be blunt if it has to be. But the point must be made as clearly as possible.
For Nicholas Kinuthia, the General Manager of After 40 Hotel, a Samchi Group Company, this is what hacks it for him.
He knows Esther will respond within minutes to enquiries unless she is asleep or in the middle of something. Not just that but the response will be “prompt, precise and to the point.” Other bosses may agree with you only to turn around later claiming the son or daughter had other ideas. Esther is not that type.
“ I don’t remember her ever coming to my office . Why would she if I have given her all the information she needs,’’ Nicholas poses.
Her staff know only too well that you will pay for your freedom and independence. The price is not too steep however, you must be punctual, honest, capable and trustworthy.
Theft is a no-no within Samchi Group. It does not matter how smart or good you are. If you cannot be honest, you will try your chances elsewhere. Not within Samchi Group.
Maybe that is because Esther also takes her Bible and her relationship with God seriously. In fact, a famous quote from the Bible states that obedience is better than sacrifice. This is emblazoned at the reception in one of her offices.
For a woman who started out as simple as we all do, Esther did not in her wildest of dreams see herself where she is now.
She only vaguely knew she wanted to be in business. Therefore in between, she did a secretarial course, economics as a subject in high school and a Bachelor of Commerce degree (accounting option) at the University of Nairobi.
She was blindly feeling her way into the business world. Role models were in short supply in those early years. No wonder she worked so hard to publish a book titled Give Me My Mountain – From a Single Shop to an Empire.
Knowing where she came from, what her journey has been and where she was born, she says it would be a disservice to herself if she did not consider herself successful.
Society has also recognized her success and this makes her so humbled. Success to Esther also means being able to explain every step of your journey: from the beginning to the current status.
She is wary of instant success which cannot be explained.
Another measure of success is how one has been able to impact other people’s lives. Money is not the sole yardstick of success. Those who understand Esther swear by her name. They would want to do anything and go any mile for her.
The secret according to Wanjiru Muchemi, the Group General Manager cum Director is to be able to take risk and give your all. This is important for those looking for partnership or venture capital from Esther. It is only fair to expect others to show faith in something in which you are willing to give of your heart and soul for.
Esther Muchemi is not that easy to understand. She has deep feeling. Talks with such emotion. At times stopping to ask ‘’do you understand or do you get what I mean?’’
All the while she considers herself delicate and fragile. That is true. It comes through in her dresses. But make no mistake.You are not looking at a weakling. She enjoys the struggle, the sweat, the bloodbath at the wrestling ring of the business world. She enjoys a win. A good and honest win.
With this comes new investments every other two years.Those who have worked closely with her also say you are sure to grow professionally and in your outlook. Even those who have worked with her ever so briefly like Mutahi Maina of TECNO Mobile Kenya will tell you what a wonderful lady she is.
Women should be allowed to blossom if you asked her. The world misses a lot by locking the woman out of the boardroom, parliament, or even the judiciary.‘’They bring a certain value into the ecosystem, that balances things making us better and more whole,’’ she says.
Therefore women should not be made to struggle so hard to have their rightful place. They should be supported to their automatic,deserved station.
While she is concerned that the boy child is lagging behind, she says it is the woman who will still go back to get him back on his feet.
Philosophically, she says maybe that is how it was meant to be. It is not for nothing that the woman is the carrier of the womb.
That womb harbours and nurtures generations dreams and visions.
That is Dr. Esther Muchemi for you. The Esther. They come once in a generation.
AWARDS WON BY DR ESTHER MUCHEMI OVER THE YEARS
- African Leadership Award: Top 50 Africa Business Integrity Champion 2020
African Leadership Magazine
- Most Supportive Partner 2020
- Honorary Doctorate in Business & Entrepreneurship 2019
- Global Inspirational Women Leadership Award 2017 (UAE)
Centre for Economic and Leadership Development
- Amazon 100 Global Women Leaders Hall of Fame Induction 2017
- Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist 2014
Ernst and Young