Abel Kabiru: Take us through some of the roles you have handled in the past, other than hosting the Breakfast Show at Radio Africa and your stint at Capital Group.
Caroline Mutoko: Ha ha ha! I’m surprised you even know that. Most people have the perception that once the Big Breakfast was over at 10 a.m., I kicked back and went home. No, I have always worked at a management level. I never believed for 2 seconds that being on-air was the end all be all. I have been known to introduce myself as the “gets it done” person and I am. I handle client briefs, write executions, check and approve sales ideas for on-air executions. I have been a program controller and sat in the tough spot between the money and the audiences. Incidentally in this business – programming and sales never see eye to eye. Sales has targets to meet and they pay our salaries, while programming is fighting to maintain brand integrity. The job means making decisions that either party might not like, but we all have to live with.
Take us further back. Off the airwaves, what business-related duties, assignments and roles have you undertaken? Places you have worked. Experience gained and why you left.
We are a collection and sum of all our life experiences. I can truthfully say that from working in a printing firm as a messenger cum cashier cum sales-girl, to working as a waitress, to working for Lady Magazine once again as some sort of messenger and then taking up work as a banking management trainee after graduating to inputting music and doing odds jobs at Capital when I started out, to what I do together….all those job gave me an insight into how businesses operate, how people work and think and relate, why the bottom-line is the bottom-line and ultimately why change and progress is a necessity. A lot of the places I worked at in my late teens and early twenties don’t exist today. They were phased out. Growth and change is everything.
Is it going to be a different Caroline Mutoko in the C-Suite, perhaps a bit mellow and reserved, or will it be the same Caroline, who pulls no punches?
Same Caroline – different pace, same tempo. Nothing changes really. My body still gets up at the same time. It’s been over 15 years of habit from as far back as my days at Capital FM. I still like clearing my inbox in that early stillness of the morning and getting through the office day ready for what today brings.
What, in your opinion, will be the benefit of working as a manager in a company that you have helped to build?
Your questions are very insightful. It’s like you sat down with my CEO and GM to put them together. I can see both ends of the spectrum. I know what created this. I am very aware of where the “slippage” is and I can see where the “comfort” has been created and why we need to pull up our socks. I’m also constantly in motion which means I can also see where the market has shifted and where we need to shift if we are to stay relevant. It’s called the Tyranny of Success. I refuse to arrive.
Do you have a stake at Radio Africa (i.e. shares)?
What kind of manager are you?
Focused, through, driven. I’m all about results. It does rub “stuck in the mud” people up the wrong way, but I’ve been proven right often enough to know to hold out for what I believe in.
What’s your philosophy on leadership?
Leadership has nothing to do with the title on your business card or the size of your office. Leadership is an attitude. It’s a state of mind. And it’s available to each one of us. It’s about quickly diagnosing problems, taking personal responsibility where necessary and making the right decisions.
Was the evolution of Caroline from radio host to C-Suite executive always in your plans?
Always!! And at one point I almost despaired that it wouldn’t happen. There’s something to be said about being in the “creation” side of a business. The side that feeds coal to the fire and churns out money… I thrive in the room where we discuss the game changing ideas and then roll out those ideas and see them come alive. You can only do that when you sit at the table.
Did management – as a skill and a role – creep on you or did you actively seek it?
A couple of years ago, having the “what next” conversation with a friend, he told me a very honest and also shocking truth. He told me I wasn’t a natural. He guessed that in my youth my mother must have had a senior role. This man has never even met my parents or had any interest in my family. When I said he was right – he said very clearly and simply, “You cannot become what you cannot see. Your mother was a manager and so management and leadership comes easily to you”. You must also remember I am the chief in my family and I am also a Loreto girl. That combination makes for a certain kind of person. Ask around.
Did I actively seek it out? I didn’t have to. Your body always finds its true north, every time – like clockwork.
In leading teams and projects, what can’t you tolerate?
Excuses. The “but” mentality. This is where people don’t even try before they start saying why something can’t/won’t work. Get off your butt, try before you tell me “but”. I also can’t stand compliancy. Do more than is required, do it better than expected.
The perception by many people is that Caroline would be a strict, hard-diving boss to work for, is it true?
I’m a Choleric, in fact a powerful Choleric. So I learnt a long time ago to figure other people out so I can get what needs doing done. Incidentally I’m no different from most driven, focused, agenda-oriented people. We come across as hard-driving, but we never ask of anyone what we wouldn’t ask of ourselves. Anyone shying away based on the fact that I wake up and get going is either simply lazy or hates what they do for a living. I’m about goals and achieving those goals – whether I’m working, cooking, shopping, studying…
From your interactions with people, how would you define Kenya’s work ethics and business culture?
By and large we have the hardest working people in the region if not on the continent. What we lack is focus. We try and do too many things and in doing so, we don’t do anything exceptionally well. We are wonderful at seeing opportunities and grabbing them. We are not very risk averse, that’s why you find us everywhere from here to Juba. However – we are not detail oriented. This shows in a lot of the great initiatives we start especially at government level that take forever to complete. We are driven, we are passionate, we are hungry and we have the best laid plans – our only shortcoming is executing those plans and sticking with them until they’re done.
Radio Africa’s marketing tactics have been known to ruffle feathers, starting with the luscious semi-nude posters during the Kiss FM launch. It has had a fair share of controversy with puritans. Are you going to buck the trend?
That campaign was brilliant and served its purpose in exactly the way it was meant to and it delivered to the letter. The mission was clear – Disrupt or be disrupted. We disrupted the market. I disrupted media in more ways than one. However, given what you see on digital platforms today, that launch campaign for Kiss 100 would appear very passé and very lame today.