When we talk about Motherland Moguls and #BossGoals, Mrs Jane Karuku is the perfect definition of just that.
Currently sitting at the top of the corporate ladder as the Managing Director of Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL), Non-executive director of East African Breweries Limited (EABL) and Barclays Bank Kenya, and a member of prestigious boards such as the Global Sustainability Index board among others.
Mrs Jane Karuku has over 20 years of expert experience in the consumer-goods industry and is not looking to slow down anytime soon. Her passion and energy for great leadership tells an enticing story of grit, consistency and sheer hard work.
SLA contributor Diana Odero had a quick sit-down with Mrs Karuku to learn about her current role now and what keeps her going in the cut throat business world.
As an African woman with over two decades in corporate leadership, what does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is getting people to do what’s good for an organization and more importantly what’s good for them. Leadership is unleashing the potential of people.
Therefore you need to have great influencing skills for moving anything or anyone from point A to point B.
What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
I don’t think there’s much of a misconception. For me, I have never seen myself as just a woman, I just see myself as a leader
Once you see yourself as a leader, you get what you give. Within my job, my career, I consider myself a leader – I see myself as a woman in different places outside the professional aspect.
I always tell my fellow women – don’t look for favors because you are a woman and expect diversity to help you. Just turn up and do your job as a human being and you have a better chance to succeed.
Following the production of fake alcoholic products in the Kenyan market, how do you ensure that these illegitimate products do not get into the market especially working with a brand as big as EABL?
We try to work with government agencies, there’s no knowledge management because people don’t know. Also, we work very closely with Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and with enforcement agencies just to educate them about our products and the systems we’ve put in place to make sure that these are legitimate products.
We also work with IT solutions, which are mobile based so you can check every brand online and see its legitimacy.
Our borders are very porous but in Kenya we have different classes. You can have a class of genuine products that come in with no duty paid, and that’s the bigger problem with our brands more than the fakes because we have very serious security features.
With lots of surveillance placed around, we can spot something that’s fake and sort it out before it gets to consumers.
The only challenge we’ve had so far is the imported products which belong to Diageo
and are under-called in duty value therefore underpriced and not able to compete in the market and this in turn loses revenue so it’s quite a big challenge.
What do you think are Kenyan’s attitudes towards alcohol and alcohol production? How can we make these attitudes more positive?
Kenya is quite interesting in that we have a big population of religious people, both Muslim and Christians so there’s a lot of people who do not take alcohol based on their beliefs. There’s also a big proportion of women who just do not want to drink.
I would say that Kenyans are not the biggest consumers of alcohol per capita, we are actually behind other East African countries such Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. But in terms of responsible drinking, we do a lot of work on that.
One challenge we have is the presence of so much bad alcohol all over the place, therefore people consume or overuse alcohol which demonizes it.
We spend a lot of time on alcohol education, we call it drink IQ – how you should behave and drink responsibly, we press in our campaigns the importance of eating and then drinking, drinking a lot of water after indulging in some alcohol and drinking alcohol within the recommended portions.
We don’t advocate for binge drinking but we do advocate for responsible drinking.
What are some of your favorite products that you manufacture/market and why?
Tusker Cider would be on the top of my list, I think it’s a very good drink and in the spirits section – the Ron Zacapa Rum, it’s a very gentle nice rum.
What trends do you see within the East African region that you find interesting?
Some new trends would be the places that people drink at first of all. There’s a lot of innovation around bars, a lot of work is going into how bars look – we are starting to get very sophisticated for consumers.
Food and alcohol pairing is becoming a very big deal, it’s an enjoyable and social experience. This is mostly throughout Kenya, wherever you go you can find a nice location where you have a good meal and a drink with ease.
Another trend I have taken note of is the cocktail culture – it’s interesting to see the many new ways of taking alcohol. It’s exciting and different.
This is already a big global phenomenon, East Africa is quickly catching up on that trend. There’s also a lot of innovation in alcohol production with a lot of new alcohol products coming in, we are becoming very globalized which is good progress.
What do you think has been most difficult for you to deal with as a woman rising in a predominantly male industry such as manufacturing?
I wouldn’t say I’ve found much difficulty as a woman, I would say as a leader that any business is difficult. If you are working in the alcohol industry
, it’s regulated and our biggest challenge is what the regulations will be tomorrow or the next day because it will hamper the business.
If you’re in a macro-economic environment, like any business, you are prone to changing that environment. For example, Kenya had a very tough year last year. There were too many elections, too many presidents, and we had a drought and flooding in the same year. That can be quite problematic for a business.
Competition of course is another challenge leaders have to deal with as well as choosing the right talent to bring in and retain to help you grow the business.
I’ve managed to overcome some of these challenges by first having the right people in place because they are the ones who will help you survive through the environment you may be in.
The people you hire are the ones who will help you get innovative and fight the competition, help in smooth distribution of products to the consumers in the most innovative way, they will drive sales for you and will help build relationships with all the stakeholders involved in your business.
The percentage of women working in the manufacturing industry is quite small, some companies having less than 10% women employed there. What can be done to counteract this ratio?
In corporate businesses, in middle management to be exact – women are really starting to be significant. I think the challenge comes with breaking in to the next level. Looking at boardrooms in Kenya, there’s a lot of change starting to happen.
People are driving diversity and companies are finally realizing that they have to have diversity in their businesses because diversity is strength.
Here at EABL we have a target of being 50% women and we are just shy of 30%, so we are working very hard to get to that halfway point. At Diageo globally, the target is 50% as well and at our board level we are doing much better than our local business.
For us as women, we have to define our own path
. Not everybody wants to be a leader and you have to be true to yourself.
Once you decide you want to be in the corporate world then you need to map out your end game and once you have that, start working backwards to achieve what you want to achieve.
Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Where do you want to work?
- What skills do you need to have?
- Do you need a mentor/coach which is quite important?
- Do you have belief in yourself ?
Because at the end of the day you can have the best mentor, all the skills but if your own belief and your own energy doesn’t match up, you won’t get anywhere.
When people are interviewing the low level positions, they look at three things:
- Does the person have the fabric, is that the right fabric for what you want?
- Do you have high energy, do you have the drive needed?
- Do you have good judgement and are you able to influence?
This is what I call the basic fabric and this then changes as you grow within the company.
Who are your role models?
One of my main role models is Nelson Mandela. He was such a big influencer and still is influencing a lot today after his passing.
His influence was on leadership. He influenced in prison, he influenced out of prison, he has even influenced upon death. That kind of power can influence anything.
Mandela has leadership qualities, compassion and was a mentor to many, all three things of which I embody today – he basically taught us how using your own skills to impart on other people so they can achieve better for themselves is important.
I do look up to him and the reason I want to work with people is because I want to be that voice that influences a huge population to move from one point to another even when I’m no longer here.
What values do you have that have contributed to your career and personal growth?
The first would be hard work. Nothing comes for free and nobody gives it to you on a platter. You have to be committed.
You also have to have belief and confidence because you don’t have to be the best person for the job but you can the person that has the highest hunger for it, don’t wait to be the perfect candidate for a job because your drive can help learn and grow along the way.
A good way to help with your confidence and self –esteem would be getting a good mentor and/or life coach, a mentor doesn’t need to be someone senior than you, sometimes I get brave from my own kids and the same young women you are writing for.
You can also have a multitude of mentors, it doesn’t have to be one person. Remember to read a lot. In reading you get the how-to in many things and unfortunately women don’t read a lot. I always tell women to read a lot, even the newspapers, read hard-core material that is good for your growth.
Read broadly because if you are sitting in a conversation and you are too narrow focused, you won’t be able to influence.
What is your vision for EABL in the next 5yrs?
We still aim to be the best consumer goods company in Africa. We have a big vision and we are hoping to be very significant in people’s lives.
What is your mantra in life?
I have been working on my purpose for the past few years and I want to work with energy and passion through people, I want to make sure that people are growing.
So I think I would say that my mantra is live a purpose driven life, to grow people through energy and the passion I have for business.
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