What we learned from local experts about their career paths, mentorship and how they got where they are today.
We recently held the first of our monthly series of networking events for young professionals in Nairobi. Shortlist’s “Top Finance Talent Meetup” brought together a select group of finance professionals to hear from three experts within the field of finance. Ariane Fisher, Shortlist East Africa’s Managing Director, was joined on the panel by Peace Osangir, COO of Kopo Kopo; Sharon Olende, Lendable’s Director of East Africa; and Job Muriuki, CEO of Momentum Credit. This highly informative discussion contained a wealth of insights on topics such as their career journeys, future trends in the field and the importance of cultivating mentorship. In addition, our guests shared their lessons on professional development and lifelong learning.
Here are “3 Tips to Succeed Professionally in Kenya” by our panel of finance experts
1. Education Doesn’t Always Equal Results
Peace Osangir shared that, in her experience, many young people are more focused on accumulating credentials and degrees than on how those experiences will enhance their learning. “Someone can have two Master’s, but the output doesn’t tally. How do you make sure that the type of information you’re getting is going to create a difference in terms of your output? Sometimes someone can come in without any background in finance and is able to excel. And that’s because the level of execution really differs. It’s not about how many credentials you accumulate but how your output changes as a result of your learning.”
Sharon noted similar observations from her previous experience of two decades in the banking sector. She spoke about the value of having the right mindset in your professional life, adding that “it’s not about what you know, it’s about your attitude and what we can teach you. A lot of things can be taught to you. Accumulating degrees with no work experience doesn’t help you. We’re recruiting for people we think can learn. We just want to see your thought process, how you think about a problem. I can tell you that we have put out job adverts looking for someone with five years experience, but we hired someone with two.”
Job lamented the tendency for youth in the workforce to be close-minded when they view their career paths. “I believe to be successful you have to have fun. Too many young people decide to put themselves in a box. If you’re in your 20’s, you’re gonna work for another 40 years or so. So why put yourself in a box when life has so many experiences before you decide what you’re going to do? Think outside the box.” He went on to share that there are plenty of ways to continue your learning outside of the classroom: “The best education I have received in my life has been reading a lot of books. It’s good to enrich your mind with non-conventional thinking, push the envelope, read interesting things. Try not to conform to what people expect you to be.”
2. Be reliable and always execute
Throughout the conversation between the panelists, the topic of execution came up frequently. The added benefits of being reliable in your professional life reach far beyond excelling in your current role. As Sharon remarked, “execution is the best thing ever. If you can execute, and people know they can rely on your work, you’ll go far. We’ve all sat in jobs we didn’t like, but you keep performing, because that will open your next opportunity for you.”
It might appear easy for a panel of highly experienced and respected professionals to share this advice when they are at a point in their careers where they can be highly selective. However, as Peace shared, they got to this point through having a track record of excellence: “To have the luxury of selection, you have to have the execution and stand out from the crowd. Having that ability to select and question decisions comes from understanding your capability and ability to execute.”
3. Learn the tough lessons from early on in your career
Each of our panelists shared harsh truths they gained from past decisions they had made in their professional lives. Peace expressed the uneasiness she encountered when she switched from a role in finance to one in transfer pricing. Since she had no previous work in doing so, she had to apply herself to get up to speed with her colleagues. In turn, she acquired valuable life skills from that opportunity. “That was a moment of challenge. With time, I made sure I understood transfer pricing rules and guidelines. To make sure I could execute the cycle better than I could have. This took a bit of time, being able to start writing 200-page reports, but I needed to make sure I learned it so next time I could execute. My brand shouldn’t be impacted by the decisions I make. Despite setbacks, I make sure I know where my gaps are so everything is good the next time around.”
Sharon provided an anecdote about the importance of managing people, based on an unfortunate situation she found herself in at a previous position. She explained that it’s not just about managing those beneath you in the organizational structure, but “how you manage people above you is equally important.” She went on to say that “in large corporations, there’s a lot of politics. Unfortunately, to some extent, you have to learn some politicking. Particularly more senior people.”
Job shared a particularly difficult moment when he decided to make a decision without consulting with his supervisors. While the decision he made was the wrong one, he learned immensely from the experience. “Since that day it’s fundamentally changed the way I do everything. Even now as a CEO, I can make any decision I want, but I don’t. It’s not the right way to do things. It was a painful lesson to learn. That was a tough lesson for me because you can be really smart, but it’s important to work as a team.”
After the panel, participants had the opportunity to make peer connections as well as discuss finance and their career with our guests. It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many high-caliber professionals take ownership over their career and professional journey. We want to give out a special thanks to our panelists, and be on the lookout for future candidate events offered by Shortlist! And as always, if you’re looking for a new position, check out our open jobs!