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Taking off: Wished for a challenge and it found me

Achieving Woman

Irene Makena, who is in her 30s, is the founder of Pelt Security Services which started in Meru County and now has a presence in 42 counties. She tells Sylvia Wakhisi how the global pandemic has affected their operations and what measures she has put in place to survive this season.

My background

I was born and brought up in Imenti North, Meru County. I am the last born among five siblings. I lost my dad when I was still very young. Despite that, I received good care from my mother and my siblings who were much older than me. They ensured I had everything I needed. I went to local schools, including Gikumene Girls High School before proceeding to the National Youth Service. I received training in Hospitality and Public Relations and went on to undertake other courses in Security Management and Criminology.  

The idea

Since the first terrorism attack took place in Kenya, there was increased awareness on matters dealing with security as everyone was asked to remain vigilant. Having worked in the hotel industry before, I would see that hotel owners were experiencing challenges in getting the right security services at competitive rates. Since I have always had great skills in management of people and networking, I knew I had the skills to respond to this need by offering competitive services and supporting unemployed youth. My passion has always been to see people receive equal opportunities. There are countless times when people would ask me about job opportunities for their children. The thought of many youths, including my immediate family members, suffering due to lack of employment made me sad so I thought I would come up with a solution. That’s how the idea of starting a security company crossed my mind.  

What happened next

Pelt Security Services officially started in 2012, though I must admit that the beginning was tough. I started off with Sh36,000 from savings, which I used to purchase uniforms for the guards. I started with only two guards who I trained from my house and later deployed to areas where our clients needed our services.

Today, our company has hundreds of employees in different areas. We offer security services ranging from guarding services, dog guarding, VIP protection, CCTV camera installation and management, security training, conducting investigations, auditing and reception and events management.

The coronavirus pandemic has been our biggest setback, but to some extent, it has also been a blessing because man power is more available and affordable. However, some of our clients have been seriously affected hence delayed payments, downsizing and premature contract termination. But we are trying as much as possible to cope.

Staying safe on the job is quite challenging but we have to respond to the new order of life. We have taken the necessary measures put in place by the Government such as equipping our staff with the necessary protective equipment, training them on how to protect themselves and giving our administration the much-needed leave days.

Due to the restriction of movement in some towns, we have had to introduce additional documentation such as staff IDs and travel documents for our staff who may need to move from one area to another for critical service. The restriction of movement has had a negative impact on some of our clients leading to layoffs and this has in turn forced us to adjust our contracts. We hope this situation eases fast.

We are not receiving payments from some of our clients at this time, which is making it hard to operate.

As a mother of two, I have also had to find ways to sit down with my children and explain to them what they need to do to keep safe as they stay at home with minimal contact outside the house.

It is sometimes scary traversing different counties during this season but I always pray that God keeps me safe when I am out there trying to make a living and fend for my family as well as meet the needs of my clients. I also try to minimise my travels as much as possible and avoid holding meetings in areas considered to be high risk. 

Running a startup

I thrive in challenges and solving difficult tasks. When I started Pelt Security Services, I hoped this sector would challenge my ability to solve difficult tasks and offer more security solutions. I have faced a number of hurdles while running this business, one of them being getting good staff to work with. Despite many people being unemployed, many of them lack skills to drive a company towards its growth. I have created a lot of networks in order to identify good talent.

Another challenge is delay of payment by clients. We address this by holding conversations with them so that they also get to understand our position. To mitigate some of these challenges, I try to follow due processes required for the smooth operation of a company and continuously develop mechanisms to be compliant in all areas. Our taxation is very punitive as our business is driven by staff salaries, which is a very hard nut to crack. 

Where I am now

I thank God for the progress we have made. Getting bigger and complex clients is a great achievement. Managing work in different locations simultaneously with great success has also been fulfilling.  

My tip

For women who want to venture into sectors considered to be male dominated, I would advise them to take the lead and not shy away from the competitive world. Women can equally measure up to men in their own ability and handle complex situations. 

Would you rather have more money or more free time?

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