Tall, elegant and beautiful, 48-year-old public relations guru GINA DIN KARIUKI cuts a dashing style. She is popular in corporate and social circles, her enviable strength being in her ability to create powerful brands, beginning with her own. She spoke to SHIRLEY GENGA
I wasn’t supposed to end up like this — at the top of my game. I was never a straight ‘A’ student or one of those children who did anything extraordinary. I was an ordinary child, a tomboy who found comfort in my own company.
I grew up in Nanyuki and was the last born in a family of four girls. I think I was an ‘accident baby’. My three sisters are much older than me and growing up, I was often left alone with my parents, Malek and Shamsu Din. I have to admit, I was quite a spoilt brat.
Gina Din Kariuki (right) with her two children, Natalya (left) and Naythan. [PHOTOS: COURTESY]
My parents owned Sportsman Arms Hotel in Nanyuki. This provided me with an unusual and very special childhood. It was a privileged upbringing and we were a happy motley crew. We lived in the hotel and had people around all the time — all sorts of people, from tourists to politicians, businessmen, the British Army, US Air Force fighter pilots, the works. I believe that was what sowed the seed for what I do now.
I am a relationship sort of person. I was exposed to a variety of people at a tender age and learnt the importance of relationships. My parents taught me that clients, no matter who, all want to feel valued. I try to do that at Gina Din Corporate Communications. My parents invested a great deal of time in me. Dad often encouraged me and told me to reach for the stars, but that if I didn’t reach them, he and mum would be there anyway.
My childhood was a secure one until my dad suddenly died when I was 18. All my other siblings lived out of the country at the time. It was a challenging time and my life changed forever. It wasn’t easy but I got to really appreciate my mother and her strength. She was very firm as she continued where my dad left off and carried on with the business. Her determination taught me that no matter what, you don’t walk away from challenges.
Sadly my mum passed away 13 years later.
Nanyuki was a lovely place to grow up and I go back from time to time. I used to go back more regularly in the past until I realised that it wasn’t Nanyuki I was missing but my childhood, which I was trying to recreate with each visit, but it just didn’t happen and I kept getting really disappointed.
The reality was that what I was looking for had gone and I had to accept it. As a grown up, I had to build a new life. It sounds really silly to say this, but it takes huge courage to grow up and admit it.
My sisters and I have remained close. A wooden plaque in my home reads: ‘Why would I need a therapist when I have three sisters’.
My sisters are amazing and I love them to bits. Even though there is a big age gap between us, I love each of them in a special way. Growing up, I wanted to be exactly like them.
The Din clan also has a niece (Natasha who lives in California) and a nephew (radio presenter Fareed Khimani). Fareed is more like my kid brother. We are very close and I’m a huge fan of his. I always make sure I’m in front of the TV whenever he’s on! Fareed and his wife Lea are a regular part of my life and we spend a lot of time together.
My husband Chris Kariuki is my best friend. He provides me with great support on my life’s journey. We are blessed with our two children — Natalya, 19, and Naythan, 14. Juggling motherhood, being a wife and a successful career is now second nature to me, sort of like a great big circus.
Motherhood has been a wonderful experience for me. My two children are the focus of my life. Natalya is in her second year at Oxford University in England where she is studying English. It was heartbreaking to let her go. It took me a while to accept that I would not see her everyday.
However, the fact that we speak daily has helped and I am very fortunate that I am able to see her often and go to Oxford regularly. It’s such a beautiful place and every time I visit, I am amazed anyone can actually study there. I would find it terribly hard.
It’s the sort of city where you just want to sit and take in the history — the chapels, libraries and the architecture. It’s a fairy tale experience.
Luckily, my daughter is much smarter than I am and has buckled down well to do serious hard work in her very intense course. She’s aware of the enormous privilege to be at Oxford and to learn in the same hallowed halls where many have been educated for several centuries before her.
My son is a student at Hillcrest. We are very close. Learning and education don’t necessarily mean the same thing to him and he has his own rather different ways of revising. I think he would make a great president. He is extremely fair and caring — but it would be nice if one could become president without being a politician!
Naythan is also a keen sportsman who enjoys playing football and rugby for his school. He also has a very quick sense of humour. I am lucky my children are both so different. Natalya is more an arts person and Naythan leans towards science, so I learn different things from both of them.
I believe we can all change our country. The best brains in the country are not in Government. If they were, the private sector would have head-hunted them! There is a general fear that those in power have a sense of entitlement, where the ruling class feel as if it’s their right to get all the top jobs based not on ability but ethnicity. If we did not fear other communities and all felt like Kenyans, everything would run better.
A nation develops when it has a leadership that does not let it down. When the men and women leaders want what’s best for Kenya and not what’s best for them. It’s about us being secure that the leaders we elected are fit for the job. It’s about a Government that is inclusive, well balanced and is committed to improving the lives of its people. It’s about leaders that respect the people that got them there in the first place.
Work much harder
On the subject of gender, I do feel guys tend to get away with being mediocre and women have to work that much harder to make up. I am supportive of women and find it really exciting when I see women in senior positions in the country. But they aren’t enough. We need more. Very often at high level meetings, I may be the only woman. At Gina Din Corporate Communications, I have several women in senior positions.
I believe in always keeping a positive outlook to life. I totally love what I do and I find it meaningful. I’m also a believer in living healthy. Life is about being balanced emotionally, spiritually and physically. I begin each day with my personal trainer. A personal trainer is a necessary evil for me because without one, I don’t think I would ever visit the gym. Spending an hour in my home gym sets the tone for the rest of the day. If I don’t work out, I feel really tired the whole day. So in as much as I would like a few extra minutes of sleep each day, I force myself to get up and start running.
When I don’t train, I practise yoga. I have recently stumbled across the Africa Yoga Project, which trains yoga teachers from the slums. I am enjoying it a lot and I’m impressed at the work they do with the those communities. The teachers are inspirational.
I’m also a goodwill ambassador for the Kenya Red Cross.