43-year-old Lucy Wahu Kimani is the founder and CEO of Dawn Industries. She talked to myNetwork about her journey, business and advice to Kenyan youth.
How did your childhood experiences mould you into the person you are today?
I am the seventh born in a family of eight and I can tell you that having older siblings is like having another set of parents. There was always someone to encourage me, to urge me on and to some extent, to bully me into finishing a task. With six sisters and one brother, I learnt from a young age how to become a resolute negotiator, and to stand my ground.
If someone were to write your biography, what title would you suggest for them?
I would want it to have something about family. When I was growing up, my parents emphasised on the importance of family, but I did not understand why. I now realise that my family was my source of strength. My parents and siblings were my support system. The lessons I picked up from them have come in handy in my parenting journey.
How did your parents receive the news that you had dropped out of college?
I was 19 at that time and procurement sounded like an interesting subject, however, I lost interest and dropped out of school shortly after I enrolled. My parents were so angry with me, I had to live with one of my sisters for some time, who did not make things easier either, but living with her was better than dealing with my parents. After a few years, I came back to my senses and returned to school.
You have worked as a cleaner, supervisor and housekeeper. What lessons have those jobs taught you?
Cleaning hotel rooms and serving people from all walks of life taught me to respect everyone regardless of their titles or place in society. There is a procedure to be followed when cleaning a room, and this taught to be organised mentally and physically. Your state of mind will determine whether you attain the goals set for you. I started as a cleaner, and was promoted to the position of supervisor, then a housekeeper within two years.
As an entrepreneur, what is the hardest part of doing business?
At age 27, I founded my first business. It was a pharmaceutical company, and I soon learnt that starting a company is easy, but running it is something else altogether. Putting up systems and getting the right employees was a challenge, and it took me about a year to get it right. One of the biggest challenges for me was managing cash flow. So many clients took too long to pay their debts, and that slowed the growth of the business. Then as the business grew and became profitable, I got comfortable and lost focus. I ended up losing so much revenue, so I cut my losses and shut the business down. Although it was hard and painful, I had to take responsibility for the loss because I realised that some of my decisions and actions had led to the failure. I learned a very painful lesson and vowed to do things better in my next business, which I am currently running. I learnt to laugh at myself, to accept that I am not perfect, and to view my mistakes as part of the learning process.
How do you compare your 20s, 30s and 40s?
In my 20s I had big dreams, I was hungry for new experiences and was willing to take any decent job to make ends meet, and move closer to my dreams. My 30s were a period of self-discovery, learning what to do and what not to do in business. I refer to my 40s as the period of New Dawn. A season of rebirth. I believe I have just started the most amazing chapter of my life.
What is that greatest lesson you’ve learnt about money?
Learn to respect money, never abuse it or it will abuse you back. Money is not everything. It is only the grease that turns the wheel, but the wheel will turn with or without it.
If you were to go back in time, what would you do differently?
I would not change anything. The mistakes I made taught me to be wiser and more discerning when making important decisions, in choosing my friends, and in the actions I take. I have experienced a good share of love and laughter in my life and I’m convinced that everything has happened at the right time and for a reason.
Any advice you would for the youth?
Dream big and stay focused on your plans. Reach for the stars, but be ready and willing to work towards it.