Ronald Osumba and Peter Kenneth [Photo: Courtesy]
  • In 2013, Ronald Osumba was Peter Kenneth’s running mate
  • He had left a cushy job at Safaricom and began a stint in politics
  • The move didn’t work out so well and they lost the bid for the seat

In 2013, Ronald Osumba got an important call. He had just been asked to be in the running for the second most important job in the land. To be Peter Kenneth’s running mate. And being a man content with taking gambles, left a cushy job at Safaricom and began a stint in politics.

“It was a huge risk for me, because I had no other job.”

And this was a move that didn’t work out so well.

“We lost. I had gotten involved in politics and we had failed. My prospects were also not great.”

He was now out of a job and desperate.

“For one month I was in limbo. I didn’t know what to do.” And while licking his wounds,  he decided to tweet out a word as a note of encouragement to himself. And that tweet was a lifeline for him.

  @RonaldOsumba “Onwards.”

  @Bob Collymore,replied  “You do know you have your return ticket.”

  @RonaldOsumba replied “I hope it is business class.”

Then Bob Collymore’s secretary called, asking him to meet Bob the following day.

Ronald (Ronnie) Osumba, Chairman of Youth Enterprise Development Fund Board [Photo: Courtesy]

“We had a long chat and they told me that they wanted me back. He said that no school could give me the education that I had gotten on the campaign trail and they could use it at Safaricom.”

Two weeks later, he was back at Safaricom.

“I went back as Head of Government Affairs and did that for one year.”

 Let’s backtrack to decades earlier. Ronald was a child of the slums.  He grew up in Kibera and he knew that a good education and hard work would save him from poverty.

And working hard became the ticket that took him from a shanty and through tortuous years, to dining with the elite.  Today he is the Chairman of Youth Enterprise Development Fund Board. How did that happen?

He looks away deep in thought, crosses his arms and begins.

Selling socks got me my first big break.

I studied Business Management in university and specialised in Marketing, but I have never done any job in marketing.

Very early on, I realised that if I insisted on getting a marketing job, I would be out there for a while, so I took whatever came first, so I started with odd jobs. I sold socks in the streets of Nairobi.

One of my ardent customers worked for Samchi Telecommunications, and he was so impressed by my skills and passion that he thought I should begin selling airtime.

 And that is how I got into the company. My next gig was selling computers and computer accessories.

 You only get one shot at an opportunity.

 In 2003. A friend told me that there was a company in Tanzania which was looking for somebody to manage the plant as a Production Manager.

I did not even have fare for Dar es Salaam but I did all I could to get it together. It was an opportunity I couldn’t ignore.

I had to do the interview, and I had to nail it. There was no Google back then to help me prepare but I prepared very well, basically learning the process of manufacturing, quality assurance – When I went there, I spoke as if I had been in the sector for years, yet I was only 24. 

Ronald (Ronnie) Osumba, Chairman of Youth Enterprise Development Fund Board [Photo: Courtesy]

I went for that interview never having run a factory, never having worked in a factory, never having studied production and manufacturing, but very confident.

I blew the Managing Director’s mind and got the job on the spot. Whatever opportunity you get, grab it and do your best.

 Be loyal to your values.

If something is against your principles, walk away. If I can’t do something about it, I walk away.

 I worked in the Tanzanian company for six months. The place was poorly managed in terms of personnel management - poor remuneration, no workman’s insurance cover and no overtime.

When I brought up the issue, we had strong differences of opinion on how to manage staff. It quickly became evident to me that the company was not interested in staff welfare.

They wouldn’t listen, so I walked away and came back to Kenya. I was jobless for a couple of months.

 If down on your luck, don’t shout out the world. Always have an ear on the ground for opportunities and take them.

It is the only way to grow, because if you become too comfortable where you are, you will never grow, and opportunities come and go.

A friend of mine hooked me up to a startup at an IT firm as a Business Development Manager, which I did from December 22 2003 to October 2004.  

Ronald (Ronnie) Osumba and Peter Kenneth [Photo: Courtesy]

Always watching out for opportunities, another one came up in Co-operative Bank and I applied.

I was hired and posted to Bungoma as a credit officer, where I was given a portfolio to manage. I had never managed credit in my life, but I quickly learned my trade.

 Opportunities come if you have a great work reputation.

After two years in Bungoma, the then Managing Director, Gideon Muriuki, asked me to be a six-member team to set up the Direct Sales Initiative for Co-op Bank , so I came back to Nairobi.

I worked on that for three months and we hit every target we had set for us. Nobody could tell us what the future of our job was after the three-month campaign.

 I started getting a bit jittery, so in December 2006 I left and joined Impax Business Solutions, another startup, as a Business Development Manager in December 2006.

 It is OK, you can always start over. In 2008, businesses were doing badly because it was at the height of the post-election violence. I was retrenched. I had just gotten married the year before, my wife was pregnant and there I was, jobless. I needed a plan. Quick.

I went to see a friend of who was at Kenya Data Network, the MD David Owino. They were introducing something called Butterfly, which was a wi-fi service, and he asked if I could be a sales agent for the service.

I figured why not? I registered a company to sell the products with a friend. In the process, a friend introduced me to someone from Adwest, which was selling technology solutions.

Their customers were people like Safaricom, Telkom and I was made Regional Manager of the brand. And I had to relocate to Kampala, Uganda.

 Never get comfortable.

I was in Uganda for about four months when I saw an advert by Safaricom. They were looking for a Corporate Accounts Manager. I sent my CV, got a call and got the interview.

As usual, if I am given a chance and I get the interview, I know I only have one shot at it. I have to make sure you give me that job. I reported to Safaricom on October 2, 2008. That was a short four years after leaving campus.

I had worked seven jobs by then, and when they asked why I kept job hopping, I told them it was because I was hungry for growth and opportunity.

I added that I would give them my very best and become the best at that job, but if I felt like I was not growing even at Safaricom, I would leave. I got the job.

 Work your butt off.

 The more mistakes you make, the less trusted you are by your boss. I told myself, “I will show these people that I can get it right.”

 By applying this, within my first six months, I had gotten my first promotion at Safaricom. How I did it also involved a stroke of luck, but luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparedness.

Having joined in October, people soon started going on Christmas vacation. They had just launched a campaign, which was when they introduced the dongles (modems).

Now that I was working through the holidays, I had to manage that campaign.  I brought in my knowledge of Direct Sales from Co-op Bank.

I hired 200 women who were either in college or had just graduated and paid them a commission for every modem they sold. When people were on holiday, I was busy selling modems.

When they came back they could not believe how much I had done. They had no option but to promote me to the principal corporate accounts manager.

 Sometimes it will hurt.

 Bob Collymore arrived in November that year and he started restructuring the organisation. The department I was in, called Enterprise, got a new boss.

We formed a team, and the CEO said that by the end of the financial year, we had to have sold Sh150 million worth of Enterprise Business. It seemed impossible. We were at work at 6am and left at 10pm, and we did that for about six months.

 I would go home to a crying baby, our new-born daughter. It was one of the most painful periods of my career. I was stretched to the limit but I survived it and it opened the doors to another promotion, 11 months later.

 I was promoted to establish the Public Sector Department, which deals with selling products to the government. I started with three employees, but by the time I left, it had 40 people.

 Recent developments

After his brief stint in politics and period in Safaricom, he set up an organisation called Onwards. He was offered a position as Head of Public Sector at Oracle Corporation and accepted. 

“In March 2015, President Uhuru appointed me as the chairman of the Youth Advisory Board, a position I did not apply for. I do not even know how my name came up.”

Months later, in June, the President appointed him to chair the Youth Enterprise Development Fund. And so he resigned from Oracle and took up the position. He also runs a consulting business.