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Kirubi had razor-sharp intellect and nurtured promising young talent

NATIONAL
By Eric Latiff | June 19th 2021

Centum CEO James Mworia during Chris Kirubu's memorial service at the Faith Evangelist church, Karen Nairobi.[Elvis Ogina,Standard]

 

Like many people, I had known Chris Kirubi before I met him. The industrialist, stocks investor and real estate mogul. The billionaire. And when he bought Capital FM from founder Lynda Holt in 2004, I was among the staff that he inherited.

This man who insisted to be called Chairman or CK, became more than a boss. He was a father figure, a mentor, a critic, a cheerleader. Let me tell you a story.

Sometime in 2005, I was invited by then KTN Managing Editor Katua Nzile and Senior News Anchor Njoroge Mwaura to join as an anchor.  Although my first media stint had been at KTN a decade earlier, I had since established my comfort zone in radio as a presenter, producer, programmes manager, newsreader and news editor.

But the opportunity was an honour. I would be following in the footsteps of Capital FM personalities such as Zain Verjee, Julie Gichuru and Jimmi Gathu who had worked at both stations. However, theirs was before Capital FM was under Chairman.

I needed to seek CK's consent to anchor the 9pm TV news while I retained my job at Capital FM. When he came to the newsroom on his routine visits, I nervously whispered to him, fingers crossed.

“Oh my word, congratulations!” was his reaction as he proceeded to announce it to my colleagues. He then walked me to the Pasara Cafe on the ground floor of Lonrho House for lunch.

“I have one condition; tell the Standard Group CEO to write to Chris Kirubi acknowledging that although you will work for them I will remain your primary employer,” he ordered, explaining that insistence on the letter was his commitment that I had a home at Capital, no matter how the TV gig panned out.

CK became one of my biggest cheerleaders as a TV news anchor. “Why were you rushing over your words last night? ...I haven’t seen you on air this week, what happened? I watched your bulletin with some friends and they liked your delivery…” Occasionally, he would come from overseas travel and bring me expensive ties or cufflinks by luxury designers such as Hermes.

Chairman treated the Capital FM team as his family. He knew everybody by name or a designated nickname. He would ask to speak to ‘The Tall One', 'The Short One', 'The Criminal', 'Mswahili', 'Machungwa', 'Wa Kwitu', 'Macho Nne', 'The Giant', 'The Loud One’. I was ‘that one with a bass’ or plainly, Latiff.

He celebrated people’s milestones be they weddings, graduations, or child births. When the late Robin Njogu wedded in 2005, CK provided his sleek limousine and chauffeur. He attended the event using his other vehicles.

Youth empowerment was not just a catch phrase; he employed young people, giving opportunities to talent. There was a time his top management team at Capital FM comprised people aged under 35 years.

One of CK’s greatest qualities was his impeccable memory. He owned, managed and sat on the boards of many companies.

On a typical day he would review reports, issue instructions and guidance to managers. Add to that government and international advisory roles. Yet he could retain all this information with clarity.

At Capital FM, he interacted directly with staff, taking a seat at the sales department and asking what a person was working on, the leads they were chasing, meetings held and progress. He would then offer advice or give instructions and turn to the next.

In the newsroom, he would seek a brief of the day’s unfolding news and offer his opinion on some matters then suggest to a reporter to interview a certain personality for another perspective on the topic.

After two days, CK would casually walk in and ask the reporter whether they had secured interviews for the deeper, more analytical story.

This memory, laser-sharp focus and attention to detail stood out to me as some of his greatest qualities as an entrepreneur and business leader. They revealed a highly motivated person committed to hard work as the key to success.

I mourn a man who has left an indelible mark on me and thousands more.

Fare thee well, Chairman. In the words of author Dan Brown, so long as they speak your name you shall never die.

 

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