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Lessons on success from a titan

You want it; work for it and it will soon be in your grip

Susan Ng’ong’a, MD, E-Plus

By Caroline Mwendwa

On the wall right behind her executive seat are three frames arranged linearly, each wall hanging spelling out a word – Simple, Positive, Inspire. The gaze of these three attributes dress the air in the room. As we settle down for a chat with Susan Ngóngá, the holder of this office – Managing Director, E-Plus Kenya, and the Deputy Secretary General, Corporate Services Kenya Red Cross Society, curiosity begs. Her ascent to the current occupation is one laden with lessons for everyone regardless of level or age, as her career journey starts from that of an assistant to personal assistant in a Law Firm, to Managing Director in an organisation that commands respect, not just nationally but internationally. She leans back in a calm mien and after taking in our salutations, absorbs us into the world of her journey of small beginnings, early self-awareness and an ambitious pursuit for success that has seen her crack huge responsibilities, gaining her credibility as a force in business and organisational leadership.

So just who is Susan Ngóngá?  

Passionate about the hospitality industry, Ngóngá,  always thought she was cut out for Utalii College until her attempts for admission ended in disappointment twice. Unknown to her, was that this was a redirection to a path that would reveal her capabilities in leadership.

At the behest of her mother, Ngóngá, took a path in secretarial and business administration which led to huge leaps in her career journey.  “My first job was at the Mutula Kilonzo & Co advocates as the assistant to the late Mutula Kilonzo,” reminisces Ngóngá,. What better time to mould character and define values than at a young age, hobnobbing with senior and influential people learning the ropes that have propelled them to the pinnacle of their careers. This period was Ngóngá,’s incubation as the values she learned from her employer about discipline in business have never left her. “My boss was meticulous and never left anything pending, whatever could not be handled then, was allocated time later,” she says.

Delayed gratification

Ngóngá,’s approach to life and success is an embodiment of the mantra; do not hope more than you can work. Reflecting on the accomplishments she has made, it is evident that accepting tasks intrigues her. “I love work, and any time I encounter a challenge I perceive it as an opportunity to develop a solution which brings with it another challenge, and the process is what makes work worthwhile,” she says. An intrinsic leader, Ngóngá, was unstoppable in skill acquisition. Having developed a keen interest in business, she went on to acquire skill sets and master the role of running businesses, however large. “I enrolled for a Leadership & Management course, at Strathmore University and thereafter pursued Business Administration,” she says.

With the upskill and the attitude to soar heights, Ngóngá would grow to a larger organisation. In 2002 she landed an opportunity at the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), as the personal assistant to the Secretary General where she took up various other roles in administration and HR. “My love for work and the character of accountability was manifest as I was always going beyond the call of duty to ensure that whatever I handled was successful,” she says. In her capacity and the attitude to be open minded, Ngóngá worked closely with the board and with time, became highly resourceful in various functions of the organisation. These qualities saw her ascend the ladder to become the Supply Chain Manager, General Manager Supply Chain and later, the Deputy Secretary General.

Surmounting hurdles

When E-Plus was borne by the KRCS, and Ngóngá appointed to hold the helm, she admits it seemed like a tall order, considering that it’s a medical field. “It felt like a trap for failure since it was an unfamiliar ground for me career wise, but I resolved to take interest and learn the basics. Moreover, my call was to offer leadership to the team,” she says. Looking back, the dissenting voices were unfounded, and the milestones E-Plus has achieved under her leadership, and with the effort of an unrelenting team are no mean feat. Today, Ngóngá is proud to have taken up the challenge and is looking to mentor those under her in embracing leadership roles.

Qualities of leadership

“Hard work, delayed gratification and self-development can never go wrong in pursuit for success,” asserts Ngóngá. Her drive towards excellence is evident in each step she has made towards the pinnacle. Ngóngá holds an Executive Masters degree in Business Administration from JKUAT and MA in Practising Management from Lancaster University which she pursued concurrently. “Looking back, I am still astounded by how much focus it took to juggle two masters degrees, run a demanding organisation and still hold a family together. Life balance seems unattainable, but you have to be innovative and work around your commitments without compromising family,” she advises. She remembers how she would study together with her children as they did their homework, and this made it fun and even motivating.

Ngóngá starts her day at 4.30 am, attends to her family duties, heads to a fitness facility and then work. “I enjoy farming and on weekends I am always tending to my farm projects,” she concludes.

Caroline Mwendwa is the Editor Management Magazine. Email: cmwendwa@kim.ac.ke

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