TruBlaq’s CEO on fitting into Big Kev’s shoes and running a billion-shilling empireSeptember 20, 2019
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 20 – “Here,” says TruBlaq Chief Executive Jackie Ombajo, sliding a photo of her late brother Kevin ‘Big Kev’ Ombajo across the table in her Chaka Place office, “It’s my favourite”.
I study the photo for a moment and admit to their facial similarities.
The photo was taken years ago, when Kevin was at his prime, before Cancer cut his life short.
“It’s been two years since Kevin died. But life has gone on, and the company is still thriving,” Jackie says.
News of Big Kev’s death spread like wildfire in 2017 after the much sort after event organizer died after a public and long battle with brain cancer.
Jackie, who took over as CEO after his brother’s demise, describes the journey of leading the company whose worth is at least Sh1 billion.
Q. After Kevin’s death, what aspect of running the business was most difficult?
Proving to people that I am equally good in the job was my first problem. This is mainly because Big Kev had a larger than life personality that everybody knew in the industry. News of his death also spread like wildfire, so it was a bit of a challenge to prove to everyone, especially because they were all watching.
Q. What was it like for you when you took over the company?
I would say it was quite easy for me to take over because I stepped into my brother’s shoes long before he died, especially during his time away from work because of his illness. I have also always been the ‘behind the scenes’ person who took care of the daily running of the business, while he was more of the face of the company.
Q. What do you miss most about having your brother at the company?
Having someone as passionate as my brother was for this business is probably what I miss most about working with him. I am however very lucky because we have an equally passionate and driven workforce at the firm.
Q. What did managing this business alongside your brother teach you about running a family business?
Several things, but mostly the power of cultivating each other’s strengths and using them to grow the business.
Q. Studies show that family businesses do not make it to the next generation. What are your thoughts on this?
While statistics do not lie, I think it all depends on how the business is being ran. If a family sets out clear expectations on who is expected to do what, is a company also remains flexible so that anyone can step in and help achieve the overall goal of the company, then the chances of having a successful company remains high.
Q. What ingredient do you deem necessary for the growth of mid-size companies?
Get a board. I wish someone told me this earlier, it could have saved us from many problems. Why you may ask? A board brings in outside experience and perspective to the company. It also keeps a watchful eye on how the organization is run and provide guidance on risk management and good corporate governance.
Q. What should small and medium sized companies look for when hiring board members?
General experience. Not necessarily someone in your field of work, but someone who has run a business and made it successful. Our board chairman, Peter Nduati (Resolution Health CEO) has a lot of experience which comes in handy.
Q. TruBlaq recently turned 18 years, what are your plans going forward?
On top of our list as a company is to make the company regional. We are therefore taking the company to other East African countries and are planning to have our operations present in West Africa and in South Africa.
Q. How did you know it was time to have more branches?
For one, we have experienced phenomenal growth in the last three years with our turnover. Our profits have also doubled during the period.
Q. What advise do you have for companies that are starting now? Based on your highlights as well as your challenges?
Make sure you file your taxes! The taxman is not your enemy. Should you struggle to do so, ask for help from them. It is better to file than not to, because the regulator will catch up with you and your business will be in so much trouble.
Ensure that you are also very passionate about your field and keep on learning the ropes of your business.
Q. Where does your passion lie when it comes to your career?
I am passionate about events organizing and was employed at Capital Group Limited which operates Capital FM before joining my brother. Coincidentally, my brother also worked at the radio station.
Q. Capital FM is truly where all ‘greats’ begin?