Like many people, I had known Chris Kirubi before I met him. The industrialist, stocks investor, real estate mogul. The billionaire. And when he bought Capital FM from its visionary founder Lynda Holt in 2004, I was among the staff that he inherited thence beginning a direct relationship that lasted many years.
This man who insisted to be called Chairman or CK became more than a boss to us: he was a father figure; a mentor; a critic; a cheerleader. Let me tell you a story….
Sometime in 2005, I was invited by the then KTN Managing Editor Katua Nzile and Senior News Anchor Njoroge Mwaura to join the TV station as an anchor. Although my first media stint had been at KTN as a news intern a decade earlier, I had since established my comfort zone in radio working as a presenter, producer, programmes manager, newsreader and news editor. But the opportunity to anchor TV news was an honour that I didn’t want to pass. I would be following in the footsteps of Capital FM personalities who had worked at both stations such as Zain Verjee, Julie Gichuru and Jimmi Gathu. However, theirs was during the previous ownership; Capital was now under Chairman!
I needed to inform CK of the KTN offer and seek his consent to anchor the 9pm TV news while I retained my job as an editor and newsreader at Capital FM. When he came by the newsroom on his routine visits to the radio station, I nervously whispered to him, fingers crossed hoping for the best.
“Oh my word, congratulations!” was his reaction as he proceeded to announce it to my newsroom 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. “Every time you appear on TV, you represent the Capital FM brand,” he would say.
Chairman treated the Capital FM team as his family. He wholeheartedly celebrated people’s milestones be they weddings, graduations, or childbirths. When my former colleague the late Robin Njogu did his wedding in 2005, CK provided his sleek limousine and chauffeur for use at the ceremony. He attended the event using one of his other vehicles. Such gestures were repeated in different forms for other colleagues. Equally, many will speak of the support he extended to them in bereavement.
Youth empowerment and development was not just a catch phrase to Chris Kirubi; he practiced it by employing young people to his companies, giving opportunities to talent irrespective of background or social status. There was a time when his entire management team at Capital FM comprised of people under 35 years – from the General Manager, Editorial Director, Programmes Director to Finance, Sales and IT heads. A majority of the team under them was made up of even younger people.
Chairman knew everybody who worked at Capital FM 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.
One of CK’s greatest qualities was his impeccable memory. He owned, managed and sat on the boards of many companies. A typical day would be extremely busy reviewing reports, issuing instructions and guidance to managers in various sectors. Add that to the government and international advisory roles that he played. Yet he was able to process and retain all this information with great clarity.
Perhaps due to the proximity of Capital FM (Lonrho House) to his main office at International House, hardly two days would pass without CK coming to the radio station unless he was out of the country. He liked interacting 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 of sales. He would then offer advise or give instructions to that person and turn to the next. This would replay across other departments in a seemingly informal manner. Only later did it we realise that he was very methodical and purposed in those engagements.
For instance, he would enter the newsroom, 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 into the newsroom and ask the reporter whether they had secured interviews for the deeper, more analytical story. This would be after asking the sales executive if they had executed his instructions. While the younger staff needed to take down notes, Chairman simply committed everything to memory.
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. They also spoke of a man who was aware of himself and the potential within him.
I mourn a man who has left an indelible mark on me and thousands more; a man whom history will remember for his contribution to the country and humanity.
Fare thee well, Chairman. In the words of author Dan Brown, so long as they speak your name you shall never die.