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Why I left a high-flying job to grow the next generation of leaders

Esther Mwaniki - I believe that it is my responsibility and the responsibility of every other person who has been blessed by this Continent to not only engage but give the best of themselves.
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One of the questions that I am always guaranteed to be asked in any media interview or speaking engagement, is why I chose to leave a ‘high flying’ job to start Lapid Leaders Africa. Initially, this question used to puzzle me as I sincerely did not see any reason not to. Afterall, the institutions I was working for, were also started by individuals like me, years ago. However, over time, I began to realise the importance of this question. ‘The Why Question’ is the most important question to any venture. It will be a reason that you will need to revisit time and time again. The last few weeks I have revisited this why question – at my own prompting.

I will give a bit of background on why I have revisited this ‘why’ question in the last few weeks. I had worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) for close to 8 years in 2011, when I began to sense that it was time to transition out of the company. This was a very hard decision as this was my first employer (my previous employers had been very short stints). In February 2012, I finally took the plunge and resigned from the job. As I resigned from this 8 yearlong love affair, I was not sure where I would land for the next phase of my life.

In the recent past, I have been remembering a conversation that I had with a former colleague who was actually at the time reporting to me in PWC. He had asked me where I was going to work after leaving PWC and my answer was the plain truth, “I do not know”. His response has stayed with me, he said that he was sure that I would end up working for a bank. I asked him why and he told me that I loved working with banks, apparently every time I was involved in a banking engagement, I did it with such passion. I did not think much about this comment as working for a bank was the furthest thing on my mind. I was thinking about joining a leadership development program, but since these thoughts were too weird, I had not yet amassed the strength to voice them.

The journey

When I eventually voiced my idea to join a leadership development program, the responses I got validated my decision to quietly process my thoughts. Why would you leave PWC (an audit firm) to join a much smaller organisation, at a meager salary, with an unclear career path set out? The more I listened to people, the more I thought that this idea was ludicrous. At some point, all the arguments that were set out against this decision began to make sense and I decided to go back to the marketplace and get another job.

By God’s grace, I did not struggle to land on a job. One of my previous audit clients was looking for a Senior Manager to head their Risk and Compliance department, and I was the perfect fit for the role. So as fate would have it, in July 2012 I started working for Guaranty Trust Bank (formerly Fina Bank), and would be there for 2 years. But in July 2014, I finally left the bank and decided to go back to my ludicrous thoughts, only this time I was even more courageous.

Who needs to join a leadership development program when you can start one, right? Over the 2 years in GTBank, God had unwound some of the things that were not clear in 2012, hence the birth of Lapid Leaders Africa (LLA). The last 2 years have been spent building the LLA Vision, with a very clear why.

However, over the last few weeks, as the drama of Chase Bank has unwound, as I have read various newspaper articles on the saga and been thoroughly disappointed by the way media reported the story, as I have shared on social media my passionate views on the state of banking in Kenya, as I have talked to a TV station about the possibility of being part of a show that speaks the facts of Kenya’s banking industry; I have been amazed at the amount of information at my fingertips.

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I have taken a drive down memory lane and realized how this information was amassed very intentionally. Throughout my 8 years in PWC, I had primarily worked with local banks (from tier 1 to tier 2 to tier 3 banks). In addition, for 2 years while on secondment in PWC UK, I had worked on the largest bank in UK, Lloyds Banking Group. And then when you wrap that with the 2 years in a strategic department of a tier 3 bank, you are bound to have banking information at your fingertips. A close friend started working for a local bank and I am still surprised at how much information I am able to share with him.

This has led me back to the statement by my former colleague; he had picked up my passion for banking year, many years prior. I still believe that the banking industry is the gateway to any economy, and I still am passionate about playing a significant role in this industry. The question remains why not now? Why LLA now and not Banking?

LLA exists to prepare the youth to be values-driven leaders and entrepreneurs in the marketplace. We utilise a blend of training, personalised mentorship and exposure to equip Lapid Leaders with the skills and values that will distinguish them in the marketplace.

In the previous blog, I articulated my passion for the banking industry and how over time I have amassed relevant experience on the industry. This then took me to the question that people have asked me in the past, but this time I asked myself, “why am I working on that Lapid Leaders Africa”, “why am I not engaged in a bank utilizing all the knowledge that I have amassed over the years”?

While the answer to this question can and does take many forms, in the end it boils down to this; “I have been blessed to go to spaces that I never thought possible, I have had opportunities that I did not know were possible, I have had people invest in me in ways that were only possible by God’s grace; I have been blessed to a blessing”.

While each of these opportunities could end with me getting ahead in my career, in 2012 I made a decision to be a pipe through which many others can be blessed.

A few months prior to this decision, I had been part of setting up a Mentorship Program for Fina Bank. As God would plan it, I had chaired the committee that was tasked with rolling out the program. As I engaged with the program, and with various other mentees, I was astounded at how big the need for this program was. I had been fortunate enough to start my career with an organisation that was very intentional in training and mentoring its employees.

In less than 3 years, the organisation had equipped me with skills and attitudes that impact my life 12 years down the line. I was a totally different person because of this Experience. However, my short stint at Fina Bank and the many other organisations that I engaged with in the 12 years, had revealed a very different truth in many organisations. Very few organisations have the capacity, or even the willingness, to invest in their employees the way PWC had done. The result is that many of us are complaining about Gen Y, about half-baked graduates, but doing nothing about it. Even sadder is the fact that over 50% of Africa’s population is ‘half-baked youth’.

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