Young corporate leader starts her career journey while still pursuing her undergraduate studies – the wise decision has paid off
By George Gichuki
A strong foundation in education prepares one for a successful career and ultimately leadership. This is because besides acquiring knowledge, schools equip learners with important skills that help them to face and overcome various challenges in life. Such skills also come in handy when one assumes a leadership role. Yvonne Godo, the chief operating officer of Real People East Africa can testify that. She was involved in setting up Real People’s regional business from scratch in respect to development of products, systems and processes as well as recruitment of staff members. “I also engaged the team and set its targets, in addition to devising ways of transforming the business in all the paths that the shareholders had envisioned,” says Yvonne.
A microfinance institution (MFI), Real People was incorporated in Kenya in 2006. Its main shareholder is Real People – South Africa. “Since 2009, our core business has been lending to enterprise owners,” she affirms. Currently, Real People has seven branches in the country: Eldoret, Kisumu, Nakuru, Meru, Thika, Mombasa and Nairobi. The staff members are one hundred and fifty in total.
After passing her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination (KCSE) at Moi Girls’ High School, Eldoret, Yvonne enrolled for a diploma in information management system at Strathmore University while waiting to join Kenyatta University (KU). She attained a bachelor of commerce degree (majoring in finance) from KU. Upon graduation, she joined Strathmore University once more for a Certified Public Accountant of Kenya (CPA-K) course. Recently, she graduated with a Global Executive Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the United States International University (USIU).
It is this solid education foundation that has enabled Yvonne to hone her leadership skills at Real People East Africa – an organization she joined as a regional manager. “I am in charge of all the business operations and as a leader, I am expected to offer guidance and solutions to any challenge that may arise,” she says.
At the beginning of every month, based on the corporate calendar, she prepares a schedule on the key tasks that she must accomplish. “This defines how I will programme various days in any particular month for the benefit of the business,” she emphasizes. All the events, meetings and functions of the organization fall on a certain day or time and this determines how she plans her diary. “Every month, I plan a lot of visits to the branches where I meet customers and members of staff in order to find out how the business is performing from them,” she avers.
On a typical Monday, Yvonne reviews the previous week’s performance in order to understand the extent to which the company has achieved its objectives. She also holds strategic meetings on Mondays.
An early bird
As a third year student at KU, Yvonne worked as an accountant in a consultancy firm. She would also do sales promotion for different brands in between her studies. After graduating, she joined Airtel as a customer care representative and worked in that docket for eight months. She then became a credit analyst before being promoted to a risk and control co-ordinator. In the latter docket, she was in charge of the internal controls of the business.
She later joined Real People as a regional manager. Her role was setting up the branches, developing products, sourcing and engaging customers. Her performance was outstanding and she was therefore promoted to be the general manager, before joining the company’s board in 2010. Thereafter, the company’s presence in East Africa became strong and she was appointed its chief operating officer.
In the past one year, Real People has charted a new course. This has necessitated Yvonne as one of its leaders to adapt effectively, in order to cope with these changes. “My greatest challenge has been mitigating on any unforeseen threat that may arise,” she says. “Against this changing background, both the team and the business are also expected to be agile,” she adds.
The growth in the company over the past year has exposed her to multiple stakeholders (both internally and externally). Consequently, Yvonne has devised authentic, clear and creative ways of communicating with them.
Real People’s mission is to sustainably improve life. “As a leader, I make sure all the stakeholders of the business sustainably improve other people’s lives through the services that they give them as outlined in our mission,” observes Yvonne. Over the years, Real People has curved a niche in the market and diligently focused on meeting its needs. In that regard, it emerged the ‘most innovative microfinance institution’ during the Citi-Micro entrepreneurship Awards, organized by the Association of Microfinance Institutions of Kenya in partnership with Citibank. This was after the lender automated all its products and services.
In a bid to grow its business, Real People has engaged a highly talented and motivated team of employees. “We make sure that our employees perform to their optimum by having very intense performance management schemes,” says Yvonne. Its credit processes have also been enhanced in the last couple of years, hence improving its bottom-line.
Advice to young executives
Yvonne advises young executives who have their eyes set on attaining leadership positions to clearly define their career path, in line with their strength and passion. “Once they have landed in leadership positions, they should be committed and steadfast in executing their roles, over and above acquiring more knowledge and skills so as to make decisions that are well informed,” she avers. “They should also build strong networks with professionals from different industries in order to enhance their competence,” she adds.
Moreover according to her, young executives should be unapologetic about their success, and they should define how they ought to be treated. Of critical importance, all the spheres of their lives should be well balanced. Lastly, they should endeavour to have very stable emotional intelligence.
Yvonne is a very engaging leader who thrives in working closely with her team. “Nevertheless if the situation demands, I can be very authoritative,” she quips.