I walked towards the Intercontinental Hotel today with mixed feelings of anticipation and anxiety.I always feel anxious when I step into 5-star Hotel.I guess am not alone in this feeling.I was anticipating a lot to hear what the CEO of Kenya Airways had for many of the youths in a the Mara room.
As a young unemployed graduate,I wrote quite a number of term papers and cited Kenya Airways a lot in university last year.The company was very and still is very relevant for any management student especially in the topics of crisis management,re-structuring and re-engineering all in efforts of creating stakeholders wealth and serving the community.
Mr.Titus Naikuni arrived,very composed and with a touch of humor to speak to us on the monthly forum called the “mind speak”. His has not been an easy journey but that of courage,pushing on and having a clear vision of his life since a very young age.
He was born “60-something” years ago in a small village in Kajiado.Where he was born,predominantly maasai tribe,cows and sheep were and still are kings but he was privileged to go to school as his own father was a teacher.They later move around due to the re-shuffling of his father from a school to another but his father had a very huge impact on young Naikuni’s life.He later introduced him to fields of engineering when he quit his job as a teacher and worked as a foreman in a construction company.
He failed his national primary exams twice,and thus,he missed a chance to join high school.His father transferred him to another school in the village and he had to go back to class 7,and luckily he made it to high school after the third attempt.Asked why he failed 2 times,yet he was bright,he explained the importance of being psychologically ready for any task be it an exam or an interview.
While in high school,he visited Magadi soda company and was so interested in working there when he “grew up”. He was advised to study very hard in sciences which he did.After high school and in that transition he worked as an untrained teacher(U.T) but the students used to refer to him as a USELESS TEACHER(U.T).
He later proceeded to Cardinal Otunga high school where there was only one school rule:Use your common sense and he made great friendships including Dr.Martin Oduor who has remained his friend ever since.
Asked about his life in university,Mr.Naikuni replies,”I did everything all of you did in university”. The audience laughed hysterically for reasons well know to them.He graduated in 1979 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.He contemplated on joining the military but swiftly changed his mind for “he could not cope with the many rules”.
True to his dream as a young boy,he later joined Magadi soda as an trainee engineer and 16years later he rose up the ladder to become the Managing director in the same company.Under his leadership,he saw the construction of the Magadi railway that transcends upto Mombasa.That was an absolutely huge project that tested his leadership capabilities.The loan that they took for the construction was actually re payed after 9months while the payback period was 4years.
He would later join the dream team under directives from the former president,H.E Daniel Arap Moi.(Actually I do not know what the dream team is and I will go back to my history books,When I asked Dr.Martin Otieno what it is,he referred me to his book and even told me the outlets to buy from.).Mr.Naikuni was later sacked for political reasons.
Fast forward,he joined Kenya Airways where he is currently the C.E.O.It has been a bumpy ride but also a learning and successful experience,The airline currently employ 3,998 workers who are loyal to the company and have been part of its growth.
With four children,a supportive wife and a farm where he lives,Mr Naikuni says he is soon to retire from the airline for his time has come.He has no regrets whatsoever.Having joined it as a very small local airline,KQ now has expanded especially venturing into the west African market which was a major breakthrough.His lowest moment forever remains the plane crash at DOULAH.
LESSONS FROM HIS EXPERIENCES
1.Always maintain integrity.
2.Do not fear anything and do not be afraid to speak what you think and feel.
3.Always be psychologically ready to face a challenge.If this go bad,dust off and move on.
4.Graduates should think out of the Kenyan boundaries for employment.Some African countries are crying for human capital.
5.The future for African airlines is consolidation.
6.Lead from the front.He refused per diem from the organization when he was traveling.He would later introduce a policy of people spending while they are on official duty and later coming to claim money.The has cut KQ’s expenditure by a whooping 70%.
7.Do not wait for people to empower you.Grab it.
8.Feel proud of the company of organization you work for.
9.Always have an impact.He is always happy when he sees a Zambian woman flying to Hongkong to buy merchandise,
then use the proceeds to educate her children.
10.Nothing is impossible.
11.Do not burn bridges.You WILL need them.
Dr.Titus Naikuni does not intend to join politics after he leaves his CEO job.
The session was compounded by humor and the able Moderator Ali Khan kept us engaged.
Indeed it always seems IMPOSSIBLE until it is done.
Wanja Maina is a 22-year-old Management Graduate and comments on topical issues.