VENTURES AFRICA – Ventures Woman had a chance to interview Eva Muraya, a renowned Kenyan entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Color Creation Ltd, the first advertising and branding business to be ISO 9001 certified in Kenya. She runs BSD (EA) Ltd, a leading regional brand, strategy and design agency. Eva has won numerous awards including the premier Goldman Sachs Fortune Global Leaders Award. She was among 100 women nominated to receive The International Alliance for Women (TIAW) World of Difference 100 Award. She is an alumnus of the Legatum Pioneers of Prosperity and her business Color Creation Limited was a top finalist in the 2006 Africa Business Awards. In 2006, Eva was selected to represent Kenya in the Fortune/State Department International Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. A motivational speaker, Eva has addressed the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women’s Summit. She serves on Vital Voices Africa Advisory Board and recently joined USIU’s Chandaria School of Business Advisory Board. Read on!
VW: You did study journalism. Did you ever practice it?
Eva: Not really. Well, I can say I have been involved in textile media. When I co-founded Color Creations Limited, we used textile to communicate. We also used leather and canvas. However, I personally hardly published articles that much. I have written a few articles for magazines and newspapers in the region but I am not as disciplined as I should be. I use my journalistic skills to edit client reports and strategy documents. I chose to pursue the commercial end of journalism.
VW: You are one of Kenya’s most successful entrepreneurs. Why did you get into business?
Eva: Just call it restlessness of spirit. I had a phenomenal journey in corporate Kenya. I worked for some of the best multinationals. My last amazing eight years in the corporate world was with Express Kenya where I was capacitated to build FedEx as a new brand in Kenya. I was tasked as sales and marketing manager to grow the brand in the region. By the end of the eight years we had grown the brand from a little in-bound service to a regional brand covering five African countries managed out of Nairobi. That was a great achievement. I quit because I had done my cumulative 15 years in the corporate world and I needed a new challenge. I was being head-hunted, but I knew I preferred to invest myself in a space that would also provide the opportunity for innovation that wouldn’t be as possible in the multinational context. I needed something that would completely free me to run the nine yards as fast I could. That is why I decided to co-found Color Creations Ltd, a merchandise producing company. It has a regional outlook today. Having built processes, acquired excellent management talent and invested in a good business model, I stepped away from the business as CEO (she is still a director and shareholder) in 2009 and since then my focus has been in a newer more intellectual challenging business; a brand strategy consultancy called BSD (EA) Ltd. At BSD (EA) Ltd. we say brand is the business of business. I think in Africa we still have a long way to go as entrepreneurs in understanding the impact of building strong brands. We need to internalize this in the way we are setting up our businesses in marketing and overall positioning.
VW: You have won numerous awards both locally and at the global level. What has the experience been like?
Eva: It has been very humbling. God has greatly favored me. I have simply followed the ethos I was taught by my mother and grandmother. I was always taught to work hard and smart. I was allowed to be as creative as I could be and not to be shy in sharing my ideas. It has allowed me the opportunity to be invited to global forums to contribute. For instance I was active in founding the La Pietra Coalition, an initiative that has championed the principal that ‘investing in women is smart economics’.
If in any economy of the world women do not have access to technical capacity and markets, then that economy is lopsided. Winning those awards has given me the opportunity to be included in global conversations that will define the future generations of women and how they will play economics.
VW: You studied at the IESE and Strathmore business schools. Is it critical for entrepreneurs to go to business school?
Eva: Yes. If you don’t have some level of executive education how will you know what kind of pertinent questions to ask your management team? I believe that you must always hire people who are smarter than you, but more than that, you must equip yourself with the capability to ask the right questions to this people who comprise your team. You will be the strategist later in your business as it grows. You will be auditing how far off the business is away from where you envisioned it would be I the first place.
VW: You are the chair and one of the co-founder of the Kenya Association of Women in Business Owners (KAWBO). What has this organization achieved?
Eva: We founded KAWBO because we needed a forum to express the challenges we were facing as women business owners. We also wanted to craft those challenges into advocacy so that status quo would not be maintained and so that the playing field economically would be leveled. We have been able to improve ourselves and been successful in managing and growing our businesses and excel as entrepreneurs. Through advocacy, today women in Kenya and now other African countries have easier access to credit technical capability and mentorship. KAWBO seeks to grow and excel women business owners.
VW: You are also Chair of the Zawadi Africa Education Fund. What does this organization seek to achieve?
Eva: Zawadi Africa Education Fund is a program designed to provide scholarships to academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds from Africa. The decisions being made regarding the growth and development of Africa seldom include women. Zawadi is really about developing a new pipeline of women leadership so that we can by the next generation have women influencing policy and creating solutions for the diverse challenges that face the continent. I love being part of Zawadi. We currently have 141 students that have by virtue of Zawadi Africa accessed some of the best universities across the world. This year we have a spike in graduation which began in May. Overall we have 29 girls graduating in 2012, with our original students graduating with their PHDs.
VW: You seem very passionate about women issues. There is a lot of talk about the boy child being neglected in Kenya. What is your comment?
Eva: I have an understanding of the special role of women and men in society. We must allow both genders to realize their potential. When we stifle any one of the two genders there is a disparity. In my own personal journey, I have found that we have often stifled the women’s opportunity to realize their potential. I have an issue with that. I have raised my daughters to dream and not to think by virtue of being girls they cannot be as excellent as they wish to be. I have also raised them to understand they can be the best mothers and partners to good men.
VW: How do you juggle motherhood and business?
Eva: I wake up and pray! (Shouts in excitement) I had to learn early the amazing power of delegation. I surround myself with good talent both at work and at home. So in that I find I have been able to achieve quite a bit in my life.
VW: Lastly, what would you advise Africa’s women entrepreneurs?
Eva: We need to quit this ‘microwave results’ mentality. Media has not reminded us enough of the value of working hard. There is nothing you will gain from not working hard. If you want to be successful, then you have to work hard and whilst at it, would also a lot help if you work smart!
Of course it is also alright to fail. In fact, it is a glorious thing to fail. You are better for tomorrow. History has shown that every successful business leader did fail at some point before dusting off the failure to embrace success.
VW: What next for Eva?
Eva: I can see myself at age 88 sitting on my rocking chair and really having a good laugh about a memory. In the near future, I see my self starting another venture. I love real estate and farming and would love to invest in these sectors. Who knows where my path will lead me next .Both ways, I will only apply a brand building mind to it, always.