WAKIAGA: Dream big and find your path

By Duchess Magazine

Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) CEO, Phyllis Wakiaga. PHOTO FILE | NATION


Phyllis Wakiaga, the current chief executive officer of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) knew she wanted to be a top executive before the age of 35.

But rising to position was not going to be an easy task, so she had to complete her education and get the right skills to propel her.

She got her Bachelors’ degree in law at the University of Nairobi, graduating in 2005.

After graduating from the Kenya School of Law, she studied for a diploma in human resource management at the Institute of Human Resource Management in Nairobi, and later read for two Master degrees in Business and International Trade from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and the University of Nairobi respectively.

Her educational excellence ensured her a quick rise through the corporate ranks from a customer relations executive at the Kenya Airways in 2007 to the CEO of KAM in 2015.

The 35-year old mother of four has been running the Kenya Association of Manufacturers office in Nairobi since 2015 when she replaced her predecessor Betty Maina.


There are a few young female chief executives in Kenya and the region in general. Tell us about your journey to the top of the corporate ladder.

It’s been interesting. I have always wanted to be in the corporate world. I started my career at Kenya Airways as a customer relations executive.

After three years, I moved to handle government and industry affairs as the co-ordinator and later was promoted to manager of the section. I was the link between the airline and the government.

In 2013 I joined the Kenya Association of Manufacturers as the head of policy in charge of research and advocacy before rising to the CEO’s position in 2015.

Two years later, what is your take on the job?

It has been interesting and a good experience influencing policy in the country, growing the manufacturing sector and advocating for issues affecting the sector.

I’m very passionate about manufacturing and its ability to create jobs. I wake every day wondering how we can create jobs, grow the economy and be a manufacturing hub for Africa. We can only do that if we have a business environment that encourages long term investment.

What is your leadership style?

Adaptive and situational. We live in a very dynamic world and different situations call for different styles of leadership.

What is the best professional advice you have received?

Be a team player. A lot of what people achieve, would never happened without others. Success requires collective effort.

What motivates you?

It is knowing that God created me to make a difference and as long as I am alive I need to do my best. It’s important that we leave a positive mark for future generations.

How do you juggle family and profession?

A lot of it requires planning and prioritising. On a typical day, I wake up at 4:30am, do my devotion, exercise and come to the office by 6:30am to plan my day. But all these would not be possible without a good support system.

My husband is very supportive. He drops the children in school and ensures they are picked up in the evening. My parents live five minutes away from my home and a phone call away.

Kenya has passed laws to increase the number of women in public leadership positions, but it is still a work in progress. What are your thoughts on this?

Cultural issues impeded women’s rise in the past, and levelling of the playing field is the right direction. Each of us brings something important to the table.

The manufacturing sector contributed only 9.2 per cent to gross domestic product in 2016. How can this be improved?

The East African Community imports three times what it exports, mainly primary raw materials, so there is a need to push for value addition locally and inculcate a culture of buying locally to create jobs.

We also need to ensure that we manufacture competitively by removing non-tariff barriers such as unnecessary high taxes.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

The ability to influence government policy. For example, KMA was able to write six revenue laws for all the 47 counties which are at 40 per cent implementation. I have also worked with the judiciary on the development of a manual to be used to curb illicit trade bringing together about 30 laws.

Any regrets?

That I don’t have my PhD yet.

What was your last great read?

Making Money isn’t Everything by Matt Permann.

How’s your typical weekend like? 
My weekend is for family. Saturdays find me in church at the Nairobi Central Seventh Day Adventist church where I teach the kindergarten class

and I’m also the deputy director of the junior choir. I also enjoy travelling for leisure. Two weekends ago for example, I was in Lamu.

What is your favourite destination?

Anywhere where there is a beach.

What is the best gift you have ever received?

A BMW car from my husband.

What never lacks in your fridge?

Yoghurt. My children love yoghurt and so do I.

What is your message to young women aspiring to go into leadership, either in the public or corporate sector?
Everything is possible. Dream big and find your path there. I knew I wanted to be a CEO by the age of 35.


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