How I Rose From Sh100 a Day Job To Head of HR

May 10, 2021

Winnie Atieno Miseda is the head of Human Resource (HR) and Head Admin at the Track and Trace Electronic Cargo Tracking System (ECTS) Division.

She holds a Business Administration Diploma with a major in Public Relations from Kenya Methodist University (KEMU). She is currently undertaking a degree in Management and Leadership at Management University of Africa, majoring in HR.

Atieno spoke to about her rise from chapati-selling girl to a corporate executive.

Tell us about your childhood and family life.

I was born and raised in Muhoroni, Kisumu County. I am the firstborn in a home of three children, all girls. We lived at the Muhoroni sub-county hospital (Nyayo Hospital) quarters where my mum worked.

My dad passed on in 2004 and we had a rough childhood. We could barely afford clothing and food and my mother often had to borrow from friends and neighbours for our survival. However, this did not stop her from instilling valuable values in us that have come in handy in adulthood.

Educational background.

I attended Muhoroni Success Primary School and this set a strong foundation for me. I joined Nyamira Girls in Bondo for my high school education although I briefly dropped out in Form Three due to lack of school fees. After completing high school, I stayed at home for more than two years as I waited to join college. My desire was to study Mass Communication but I missed my chance at Maseno University. My parents wanted me to either join Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) or a Teachers Training college, but I declined.

During the two years, I would make chapatis, samosas, cakes, popcorns, and supply them to the staff at the hospital as well as in the quarters and shops on orders. My mother introduced me to a chamaa that enabled me to save.

One day I saw an advert on the Daily Nation by the then Mombasa Polytechnic for a course in Mass Communication and Journalism. I applied without my mum’s knowledge and was lucky to be shortlisted. I finished the course and later enrolled in a Business Administration course at Kenya Methodist University (KEMU).

Share with us your career journey. 

My first job was as a shop attendant that paid Sh100 per day. I later volunteered at Kenya News Agency (KNA) for over four years, after completing my internship and with no job opportunities coming my way. Here, I learnt to put my skills into use and engaged in consultancy which would at times pay.

I finally got a job at the Kenya Broadcasting Channel (KBC) although this was short-lived as I had to drop off due to hyperthyroidism, a condition that forced me to undergo an operation. This really took a toll on me but I was lucky to get another job. This time, as an editor for The Kilifian, a Coast-based regional newspaper.

In 2017, I transitioned to Track and Trace. I joined the company as the Accounts Manager – ECTS Division, a totally different area from my scope of training. The pressure was too much and I almost quit. I also faced a lot of rejection and bullying from colleagues who thought I was not deserving of the job. I spoke to the then General Manager – now the Managing Director – Ms Betty Muthumbi and she was very helpful. Through her guidance and God’s grace, I pulled through.

In 2018, I was tasked with the duty of managing the Mombasa region offices. Once again, office politics were at play. At some point, it started affecting my productivity, and one day during my performance review with my supervisor, I mentioned this and she encouraged me to carry on. This was reassuring and I got the courage to carry on.

Later I was elevated to an HR and administrative role in an acting capacity until the end of 2018 when I was officially confirmed for the job.

What do you remember most about your career journey? 

I vividly remember how much I have endured to get to this level. I have been bullied, rejected, and obstructed but still, I did not lose focus. Prior to joining my current organization, I had to endure working without pay. My former employer still owes me six months’ worth of salary.

How have you progressed over the years career-wise?

I owe my career progression to God. Before I leave the house, I pray. When I get to the office, I pray. This is a routine everyone around me, even my colleagues understand too well. I would not have made it from that chapati-selling girl to this position were it not for His grace. I’m also very professional and have a learning spirit. Whatever I do, I do it with lots of passion and whenever I encounter a challenge, I reach out for help.

What has been the key driver of your growth? Lessons learned, highlights and failures.

Over the years, I have learnt that you can be who you want to be so long as you have the right, positive and teachable attitude. You are the obstacle to your growth. This statement by Malcom Gladwell keeps me going: “The key to getting people to change their behaviour, in other words, to care about their neighbour in distress, sometimes lies with the smallest details of their immediate situation. The power of context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem.”

Also, according to Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, he identifies that good to great leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes. They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.

My highlights include serving my team. It motivates me just to see them comfortable and satisfied. I go out of my way just for them. At times we engage in heated debates with my supervisor about the team. As a manager and leader, always maintain boundaries. I set principles to distinguish work and friendship.

In regards to failure, I have cried myself out over people’s mistakes. It hurts to see those that I have counselled, mentored and wished to see grow, get fired, or decide to bow out due to pressure.

Who are the people or relationships that were useful in your career growth and how did they influence your trajectory?

God Almighty, for His strength, favour, and grace. Dealing with people without His strength is impossible. People management is the toughest area one would ever end up in.

My mum, Pamella Miseda. Reflecting on her hard work, sacrifice and commitment single-handedly to see us through school and life inspires me.

My Supervisor, MD Betty Muthumbi. Her push to get the best out of me. Seeing my capacity and investing in it. She held my hands as she does to all around her team in the management.

My CEO, Mr Edward Njoroge is another person I look up to. I’m greatly indebted to him for believing in me and giving me a chance to work in this company.

My Pastor, Reverend Wilson Kalume, a humble servant of God. His humility to serve challenges me. He gave me Sh1,000 as transport to go for an interview at Trace and Trace (my current employer) when I didn’t have fare to Nairobi. He also stood with me when I was admitted in hospital for surgery when everyone ran away from me. He is the dad God gave me after losing my biological father.

Other notable relations include my colleagues Mercy, Festus, Gidraf and Sang. I also value my two sisters, Sheila and Beryl Miseda, they are heaven-sent.

I have also built a wide network with professionals from all walks of life and that keeps me going. I get to learn a lot from all of my networks.

Your current role and scope?

My current role involves maintaining employee records. I ensure that casuals are paid in time. Basically, I am in charge of all the administrative roles in my division. I am in charge of hiring and firing, paying salaries, managing payrolls, paying casual wages, implementation of  SOPs, maintaining employee records among other HR/admin-related duties.

What would you advise the youth in Kenya and Africa today?

I would encourage them to volunteer as much as they can. They should also stop the love for quick and easy money. Work hard and get paid for your own sweat. I would also encourage them to always go the extra mile. Finally, they ought to be teachable and disciplined. Growth is two way – Choose your way.

Future plans career-wise?

I intend to continue through to obtaining a Ph.D. in Strategic Management. This has always been my area of interest. I love strategic management and would love to implement it, especially in the public sector. I want to see the company I work for grow. I would desire to leave after creating an impact that will see the company shine.

Anything else you want to add?

If you get fired, never take offense, just weigh in and reflect. Stay positive. My boss always says, if you are let go, it’s not that you are bad, you just do not fit. This should apply to all.

Parting shot?

Just do what must be done.

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