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Retrenchment was shocking, but had to snap out of it fast

By Eve Mosongo | February 24th 2021

Michael Lwoyelo, an industrial engineer, had a plan from the onset of his career – to become a Managing Director by 35. And he did become one. From a young age, having been good at technical subjects with a strong bias towards machines, Lwoyelo always wanted to become a mechanical engineer. Today, he is the Managing Director of Sanergy Limited. He talks about the road map he followed, the importance of career planning, the successes and bumps along the way, and what it has taken to achieve his career’s goal – thus far.

Tell us a bit about your background.

 I completed my high school studies at Sunshine Secondary School and was one of the top students in the country in KCSE during my year. Thereafter, I went to the UK to pursue my undergraduate and master’s education in Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing and Management at the University of Manchester.  After my studies, I worked in England for about five years before returning home. I got my first job at Element Six UK where I was a Process Engineer, then I moved to Surface Transforms Plc in Liverpool and finally went to Faiveley Transport UK where I led continuous improvement projects in the assembly of railway parts. Thereafter, I came back to Kenya and joined Wrigley’s as a Project Engineer. This role has impacted my career a great deal because it is where I honed my project management skills for my current role. After I left Wrigley’s, I joined the Social Enterprise sector through Sanergy where I currently work.

 Has the way you set goals changed as you progressed further into your career?

I have always had a clear vision for my career, say, for every five to 10 years. However, what has changed is that from time to time, at different points in my career, I have had to figure out what the next stop is on that journey. What that means is I have always set bite-sized goals at a time. Professionally, I shun things that are routine; that people have done for many years. I have always enjoyed either improving on what was, or building new processes altogether. As I climbed the ladder, I have increased the autonomy to effect change within businesses. At the start, my goal was to improve processes. It then evolved into leading the projects towards creating change. Beyond that, my goal became to lead a business that has a massive impact in society – it’s not just about loyalty to the shareholders and maximisation of profits. It also needs to be about what positive impact it has on people’s lives.

For those new in the job market, how intentional should they be about the jobs they apply for in relation to growing their careers?

   At the core, it’s not about a specific company, but the role you take on. At the onset, one needs an idea of what they are good at and what they like doing. However, the reality is all this may not always be apparent at the time of searching for your first job. What is important is that once you finally get in, learn as much as possible what the different career paths look like. They then need to pursue the path that resonates closest with them.

Do you have timelines on your goals and are there instances where you have had to reevaluate?

Yes, I have timelines. I push myself to ensure that I better myself and put myself in a position to go to the next level. I was made redundant during the 2008 economic recession at Surface Transforms Plc. That was a big shock to me – I didn’t expect that; nobody expected a recession. I was in England so I had to look for a job, which I got (at Faiveley Transport UK) within three months. 

What advice do you have for anyone who has been made redundant? 

I was actually made redundant quite early in my career. It was really devastating but what I did was that I got out of my distress quickly. You just have to dig away and really put in the effort required to go above whatever blocks you’re facing at the time. 

You talk of career planning being akin to a road map…

Yes, and at the beginning of your career, draw a road map and, once you have that, leave it. That’s your long term plan, which you change only when required.  After that put in the work to get to the next phase of your career as quickly and as efficiently as possible. At least as far as I think it goes. There are people who look at the roadmap as a whole and they get disheartened and discouraged. Break down this huge goal (road map) into small, manageable bite-sized chunks. If you do that, slowly, and if you are persistent, you will get to where you’re supposed to be. This applies to both business and personal development as well.

Are there failures in your career that have propelled you forward?

Sir Alex Ferguson once said that “Losing is a powerful management tool so long as it does not become a habit.” And yes, I have always viewed any project that my team and I have done but did not quite achieve the full extent of target deliverables as not being good enough. The key for me has always been to regroup, reframe the problem that we were looking to solve, and iterate our way to success. Plus, I have a great team that has been able to pull themselves up and try again.

What lessons have you learned in your career and how have they helped you better yourself?

I’ve learned so much from so many different people. But one that stands out is that you don’t succeed alone. The importance of contributing as part of a team and knowing your position in the team was drilled into me in my first job at Element Six by my manger, Lesley. At Faiveley, my manager Gary taught me about progress. A number of people good at analysis suffer from paralysis by analysis: they analyse too much before moving forward. Gary taught me the balance between analysing something and creating progress, because that’s how you create change. I took that lesson to Wrigley’s where my manager Samuel helped hone that skill. At Bridge International, Patricia, my manager, gave me a different perspective on how to create change and design business processes that are not in manufacturing. Then now, my manager at Sanergy, a visionary and one of the co-founders of Sanergy, has taught me how to have very ambitious goals but be able to break them down and have the perseverance to achieve them. Beyond that, I’ve learned very many things from my parents Howard and Florence, and my sisters Ketery and Edith. And, of course, my wife Yvonne who ensures that I remain grounded and that I continue to think through things correctly, by seeing other perspectives that may not always come naturally to me, but maybe more appropriate at the time.  A lot of people have to come together to mentor you and play points of accountability for you to succeed.

What do you read, watch or listen to for inspiration?

I used to read a lot, especially in the early stages of my career. I enjoyed reading the thoughts of gurus in quality management, like Dr Edwards Deming, Dr Joseph M. Juran, Genichi Taguchi and Taiichi Ohno. Then, when technology started to change, I began watching YouTube and listening to TEDTalks. I spend the majority of my time on TED learning from a vast range of speakers. I also like listening to change-makers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Jack Welch, and inspirational speakers like Simon Sinek… And, I like spending time with my three daughters – Kaitlyn, Victoria and Sophie! Finally, there is football – Manchester United!

 Of the change makers, who stands out at the moment for you?

Bill Gates… for him to build Microsoft from scratch and to exit and now become one of the leading creators of change through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is incredible. I respect the fact that he is a bright mind doing all he can to have a massive positive impact on how we live our lives as a human race.

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