The CEO With a Midas Touch

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Ms. Caroline Munene , AAR East Africa Group CEO.

There is no doubt that Ms. Caroline Munene is one of the most successful women in the region. She has not only managed to progress in her career, but she is also beautiful and brainy. Ms. Munene was recently appointed AAR East Africa Group CEO. She says her interest in leadership, her desire to improve herself as a leader and her ability to discover the difference between leadership and management contributed to this. The CEO’s aspiration is to develop the next business leaders at the Group through mentorship and coaching. We recently visited Ms. Munene at her office at George Williamson House and we had a brief chat with her and her rise to the top.

Who is Caroline Munene
I define myself as a very passionate lady, who believes in applying herself fully in whatever she does. I’m also a learning and curious person, somebody with a lot of interest in knowing about almost everything. Besides, I’m a lady who loves change. I survive in an environment where there is constant change. Above all, I’m God fearing and believe that He has a purpose for everybody. He is constantly steering us towards our destination.

What was your first job like, and how have you managed to rise to the top?
After graduating from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor of Commerce (Insurance option), I joined Lion of Kenya Insurance Company Ltdas an intern, but was later confirmed as a permanent staff. During this period, I did a diploma in insurance (CII), the local diploma (IIK), as well as insurance certifications.

After working forthe company for five years, I moved to Pacific Insurance Brokers where I stayed for ten years. I also worked with other insurance companies including UAP and Madison prior to moving to my current organization.

I joined AAR in 2012 as the Insurance Principal Officer. In 2015, I was named the new managing director, and this year was promoted to the position of Group CEO. It has been a journey of 25 years.

During this period, I did a master’s in marketing, since I had already taken an interest in it as a field of specialization. Today, I call myself a professional marketer and I can fit in any marketing environment.

One of the lessons I’ve learned about career is that you don’t have to start where you are supposed to be, but you’ll eventually find yourself there. It doesn’t matter where you start, somehow you’llfind your way. People should therefore apply themselves fully in what they do without worrying where they’ll end up.

What do you think made you to become the Group CEO?
I think it’s my interest in leadership, my desire to improve myself as a leader, and trying to discover the difference between management and leadership.

Your plans to drive the Group forward?
Developing the next leaders of business at AAR Group. My roles will revolve around mentoring and coaching the managing directors on what it takes to run a business and what kind of mindset they should have to be successful. This will make them become more effective, productive and be able to run the company the way it should be. The desire is to take them to the next level of leadership.

What keeps you motivated?
Seeing people changing and becoming different through my interaction, adding value to them, giving them ideas, and improving them in a visible and tangible way.I usually ask myself whether I’ve what it takes to improve another person. Certainly, you cannot change or improve someone else unless you are improving. This keeps me searching for ideas and ways to practice what I know.

Who has had the greatest impact on your career?
I would say my parents because they shaped me to what I’m today. Being farmers, they taught me thathard work is not an option.

My other role model was agentleman in our village – Joe Murage. Heworked in the insurance industry and I saw him as a picture of success. Mr. Murage motivated me to pursue a course in insurance. I remember him saying that if I want to become something, I had to study insurance professional papers.
If you want to know why you are good at what you do and how you can be better, you’ve to go back in time to how you were brought up and the people who raised you up.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your career?
Being a good marketer and speaking about marketing with authority. This is what influenced me to do a Master’s degree in Marketing,since I wanted to understand both the practical and academic part of the field.

Secondly, being a good leader. I started seeking information on what it takes to be a leader and the challenges faced. I became an avid reader of books on leadership including those authored by John Maxwell and Paulo Coelho among others. You can learn a lot from books, especially when you make it a continuous exercise. The Bible is also a good teacher, it has profound wisdom.

Thirdly is making people different by interacting with me; by giving them ideas to make their lives better.

What part of your job keeps you awake at night?
Just the part about people. How do I really add value to them? Sometimes we think we are adding value to other peoples’ lives, but we are not. The biggest problem about impacting others is the diversity of human nature. People are influenced by different things, and this becomes a challenge when you are dealing with a huge team. It means you have to constantly change your method of delivery for different types of people.

How do you balance your work and family life?
By constantly evaluating my life, because it is not a question of ever getting the balance, but coming back to the balance. There is always the imbalance. It is about handling all the things in your life in the best way possible. One must also be self-aware to avoid swinging too much to the extremes.

Any challenges?
They have been many, but the issue lies on how you react to them. You have to develop amindset or an attitude that whenever a challenge comes, you must accept it and understand that you may not have all the solutions. That means seeking help from others, since no one is a super-person. It also requires people to improve their capacity constantly as they rise up the career ladder. That can be achieved by improving own self-knowledge, skills and relationships with others.

What your greatest piece of advice to young women looking up to you?
Your mind should never think from an inferior position. You must train your mind to overcome any idea of leaning towards inferiority.

Furthermore, you must seek continuous improvement. It must become an intense personal conviction that you are going to progressively change your life. That is what will drive you on a constant basis. It is the small thingsof today that will lead to the big improvements in future. I’ve been able to rise to the top due to the changes and improvements I make on a daily basis.

Most remarkably, in your journey to success, it is not necessary to be selfish. You can be selfless and still get there.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend time with my family – my husband and daughter. They listen to me without giving me a hard time.
I’m also passionate about farming. It helps me release all the tension.