In Conversation With Office Messenger Turned CEO, Samwel Kiraka

May 16, 2022

Samwel Kiraka is the CEO of EGM Securities, a non-dealing online Forex Broker licensed and regulated by the Capital Markets Authority of Kenya.

Mr Kiraka started his career as a junior auditor at a small audit firm in Nairobi and worked his way up to his current role.

He spoke in an interview with the Business Daily on May 5, 2022.

What kind of conversations do you have with your parents?

My parents live in the city, so we meet every week. At my age, my dad still asks me how I am doing at work. My dad is a canon of our church. Naturally, he is always keen to know how I am contributing to church affairs, ministry, and service.

You’ve learnt a lot about family from them, haven’t you?

Yes. Trust, openness, and communication. Trust is the baseline. You must trust each other in marriage, for instance. Being able to communicate at whatever level with your spouse, and your children as they grow up is important. This is what builds their character and values.

My parents inculcated in me integrity, hard work and honesty, the same values I am imparting on my children.

But your children are growing up at a different time…

Life is the same despite the times. During our time, you finished school and got a job. Today, you must create those opportunities.

So the challenge is to create for them an environment that enables them to create opportunities around their interests, dreams, and vision right from their childhood. The next thing is to walk that journey with them.

What has changed about wealth creation over the years?

Thirty years back, you could buy a piece of property, say, land, and sell it at up to five times the buying price after appreciation. These opportunities are fewer today and you have to work harder for them. The time value of money has changed.

What I have seen work throughout is patience. The return is slow for government bonds, but when you compound it over time, you walk away with good money.

How do you help young people to manage their wealth better?

A 22-year-old professional does not see retirement coming. They spend their money on the good things. We help them to appreciate that even as you buy the latest iPhone at Sh140,000, you should also put aside a percentage of your income for posterity.

By the time you have a family, you will have a good house in a good neighbourhood and medical insurance. We train people to create a living and wealth for themselves slowly.

But starting small isn’t easy, especially with money…

In wealth creation, it has never been about making big steps. Start with the small savings and compound that to the next month and the one after.

Consistency is key. Between ten and 15 years, you will have created something worthwhile. You cannot get a job today and drive a Toyota V8 tomorrow. It doesn’t work like that.

Anything Kenyans do not understand about forex trading?

You may have an income and the desire to grow your wealth, but until you take the time to acquire financial literacy and to learn about financial products such as currency pairs, and global indices such as stocks and shares, you won’t be able to do this.

Unless you have been a finance student, chances are you have not learnt about money. This is why we have a financial literacy programme in 20 universities to build knowledge among students.

Did you want to become CEO? Did you consciously work towards this?

I left audit and went into finance and rose to senior accountant. I later became a senior investment accountant at Britam and later investment manager at 30. The next step was to become CEO. My prayer was to get into a general management role where I discussed strategy and business plans.

Talking of prayer, what did you tell God this morning?

My son finished college recently and wants to become a vet. Today (Thursday) was his first day at the veterinary clinic. As I dropped him off, I prayed that this works out for him. The pride of a parent is to see their children grow up and start to do things on their own.

What bothers you about the process of wealth creation in Kenya?

Our level of poverty. We have some people who are doing extremely well, and others who are barely getting by. Many people who live from hand to mouth often have to make the difficult choice between consumption and saving.

We need to create structures that support everyone to realise their dream.

Is there an ideal way to save up for retirement?

You must make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. Rather than enjoy your entire package, keep some away for tomorrow. You [suffer] when you have no income in your retirement. In my community, we say: your youth feeds your old age.

What then do you wish you had done in your 30s?

Invested more. I have no regrets, though, because I had land and cattle at that age. I wish I had put aside more for my retirement than I did. Retirement is coming very quickly these days.

Being able to save early enough makes all the difference. But it is also about investing in ventures that generate more income as Covid-19 taught us all.

Has the pandemic changed how you look at money and wealth?

Yes. It is not about holding wealth but generating a return. We were all sitting at home during Covid-19 and those who didn’t have income suffered. I am now keener about ensuring that my assets generate more income. If it means offloading idle assets and putting them in a better [wealth] vehicle, so be it.

Any money vices?

I had those when I was younger. This changes when you become a family man. Questions will be asked after a big spend. This keeps you in check. I love good cars.

I will go on a good holiday and buy a decent piece of art. You live once. Or is it die once (Chuckling) Live well. Enjoy life. Don’t be too stiff on yourself.

What is your leadership style like?

Listening a lot and speaking less. I served as both an audit trainee and the office messenger as my first job. I then grew to become the boss of two people. From these and subsequent experiences, I learnt how one manages and how one is managed. I derive joy from taking on new challenges and bringing the team together on the assignment. It is never a one-man show.

Are there things you still struggle with 30 years later?

I am a shy person. I work well behind the scenes. For the sake of the business, though, I need to be more visible, by talking about my story to inspire others. People see me as outgoing, but in the actual sense, I am introverted. This is an area of improvement for me.

What has stuck with you from the last book you read?

I have read ‘Create Your Own Future’ by Brian Tracy multiple times in the last 12 years. It is a collection of snippets of lessons about goal-setting. Creating your future does not stop. There is a new lesson every day. I carry it in the office and read it before the news and before bed.

After your CEO role, what next?

Becoming a shareholder. The zeal built around shareholder-managed businesses is incomparable because you believe in the dream. There is no day of taking a back-seat. You can be the CEO of ten companies, but you also need to have one around which you can build your loyalty.

To what extent is it true that business deals are mostly cut away from the boardroom?

Having been a business leader in this town for many years, I am a member of many forums, including somewhere I am the chairperson by age. They cut across friends’ networks, church and clubs. I will have breakfast here, lunch there and occasional informal meetings to catch up with people.

Does a wealth manager like yourself have insecurities?

For as long as you have put your best forward and committed yourself to the Almighty, whatever you encounter is a hurdle. (Stares away).

There are seven players in this type of business down from only two when we started. From a business perspective, the point is to stick to your vision and keep going. Not to worry that your competitor will eat our breakfast.

Your ultimate goal?

To see a population that is more enlightened about the journey of wealth creation and financial freedom by facilitating training and skilling.

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