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My stint as a milk hawker prepared me for my CEO job

By Peter Muiruri | May 25th 2021
Joseph Choge CEO of Premier Foods Limited. [Courtesy]

At 39, Joseph Choge is arguably one of the youngest CEOs running a regional brand with a presence in eight African countries. He is the chief executive officer of Premier Foods Limited, a constituent of IPS and the company behind brand names such as Peptang, PEP and Orchid Valley. 

Choge started his career as an accounts assistant at Barclays Bank (now Absa) before moving to Real Insurance, then Unilever and Airtel before his current posting. He shares some of the principles that have kept the Premier brands relevant in a competitive market that sees many new players joining every day.  

How does a hawker transition to a CEO? 

Easy. Similar rules apply. I began by selling a few litres of milk from my mother’s cows in Kitale. But I thought I could do more. I started buying milk from one village and selling it in the urban centres. I would buy a cup of milk for Sh5 and sell it for Sh10. That is a 100 per cent profit!

The volumes began to grow to the point that I didn’t see the need to go to the university. But my father insisted, and I obeyed. I also believe that my wife’s words to me in those earlier days have pushed me to succeed. She told me that I was destined for greatness, and that only I can limit how far I go. I try to live up to her words. 

 What rules from then do you apply now?

The experience of selling milk opened my mind to possibilities and opportunities that are always before us but don’t see. I learnt to value the customer and that with a quality product, right pricing and great customer service, one can succeed. Hawking milk taught me about value addition.

I made the traditional sour milk ‘mursik’ and sold it at a higher price thus giving me higher returns. The experience taught me about financial independence at an early age. I relive those days in my work place, and with my wife. I think we should all hawk some milk at some point in our lives.

The milk business prepared me for life in the corporate world. I know the value of every coin that comes in.

Today, my team and I try to see how best we can satisfy our customers and how to value our suppliers. That is key to how we have managed to still be alive in a crowded market.  

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