John Ngumi’s foray into power corridors begins at St Peter’s College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), aptly captured as the degree that “runs Britain” with its graduates populating the country’s ruling elite.
“It teaches you to be very quick on the uptake, quick on understanding briefs and also gives a very good ability to weave words together so they can sell virtually anything,” Ngumi said of the degree in a past interview with this writer.
This is how his outlook was shaped – by the multi-disciplinary degree again described as a “passport to power”, and has a broad approach to learning and one doesn’t necessarily study it with a particular career in mind.
“It really triggered a lot of interests that I’ve maintained. I imbibe some of the kool-aid that says you are meant to rule if not born to rule; it also inspired a lot of curiosity,” said Ngumi.
Ngumi says that his return to Kenya was inspired by a “sense of duty”. Shortly after graduation, he’d “drifted into banking” and says he liked the job but it wasn’t a calling at that time.
He would have preferred the life of a typical London merchant banker exerting power and unknown, compared to the notoriety he’s gained at home, he said in a podcast with Njeri Wagacha, a partner at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.
In the candid interview, Ngumi reveals why he never got into politics.
“I grew up in a home where I saw my father wasn’t a politician but was very much an actor in the State and I saw them and I’m not sure I have the fortitude to maintain certain stances or do certain things,” he said.
Ngumi also says that politicians are eloquent and with his lingering stammer, this is near impossible – despite which he’s sat in many negotiating tables and struck multi-billion deals.
“I’ve been a stammerer all my life and for me to even do this interview, it’s tough; I have to think before I speak,” he revealed.
“When in school, we used to be asked to stand and read a page or two in English Literature classes and I was always picked on to read and when you stammer, you know today consonants or sibilants or some letters will be impossible so by virtue of necessity, I had to learn to speak read and get alternate words.”
“So, by the time I’m reading, I’ve already decided what word I’ll replace with another, and in four years of form one to form four, I don’t recall anyone ever calling me out on that.”
“That’s the care you’ll have to exercise, that you’ll have to think, the eloquence, the charm, the easy repartee of a politician when you are like me and can’t do something that a five-year-old can do without effort; I think politics is out of the question,” said Ngumi.
A self-introspecting Ngumi further dished out advice to budding investment bankers, calling for lionheartedness and learning how to read people and check their egos.
“In a country like ours where we are trying to do a lot of things, be prepared to be stoned, crucified, to have noises at extreme decibel levels, to be pointed fingers at and to be ostracised.”
“The ability to understand the most extreme, unfair, ridiculous cruel attacks, it’s something that you must have today,” he said drawing from his personal experiences.