Flora Mutahi is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Melvins Tea. She talked to Sunday Magazine about her career, how she spends a typical workday, and more.
I always begin my mornings with prayer, then as I am getting ready, I reprioritise my activities from my weekly plan. I focus on the main ones that will make the greatest impact on the day. I am most creative in the morning; I guess it is because I am fresh and can reflect on activities of the previous day and have the whole day to execute what I need to deliver. I like laying out a problem before I shower and by the time I am done, I have a probable solution. Sometimes I will drop my children off to school as often as I can and once or twice a week I will throw in an early game of golf.
My employment history is only nine months long as an auditor. I was also a student then. James Mcfie of Strathmore Business School noticed that I was not motivated doing my professional accounting classes. He challenged me to be true to myself and find my purpose as I was creating a habit of tolerance that would follow me for the rest of my life if not addressed. Within two days, I quit both the professional studies and my job to really find out what I wanted to do. It was a very scary time, but I was young with no real responsibilities. The second person who gave me invaluable advice was my then boss Mrs Charity Muya. She challenged me by asking about the business I wanted to do. She shared a few examples of people who traded exceptionally well but did not hold out over the years. She said I must create a legacy, build a brand that can outlive me. My proudest achievement is building a strong, nationally-recognized brand.
I am currently developing our export markets to really strengthen Melvins’ presence outside the country. Tea is Kenya’s largest foreign exchange earner but unfortunately, over 95 percent of our tea is sold in bulk. One of my ambitions has always been to see more packed Kenyan tea in supermarket shelves worldwide. This would really increase the revenue source for the country as value addition would create more jobs locally and much-needed revenues too. My parents always told us that since most people follow the beaten path, we should have the guts to stand out and be different. This has followed me throughout my life. Melvins was the first company to produce free-flowing salt in Kenya and also the first to do flavoured tea. Innovation is in my DNA! Jobs are getting scarce. The entrepreneurial ship is extremely rewarding, but you have to prepare well, have a mentor or coach and take the plunge. It is worth all the stress that comes with it.
If you’re stuck in a career rut, have the guts to leave your comfort zone because it is only when you are uncomfortable that the real creativity and real issues emerge. Also, get a coach or mentor to challenge you and keep you accountable. Surround yourself with the people you want to become. Once I get to the office, I prefer to focus on activities that took me there before I begin any meetings. I mainly focus on strategic issues and how we are faring against our plan as I have a general manager who runs the business on a day-to-day basis. I then have review meetings with my leadership team where they share their challenges and make new resolutions. I then open up to any external meetings or projects that we may be running at the time. The rest of my day is spent on other businesses or boards that I am involved in. I make it a point to be home early to do homework with my younger son and ensure I have dinner with family at least four times a week.
After dinner with the family and ensuring homework has been done, we retreat to the family room and catch up on the news of the day. If time allows, we grab a movie. Sometimes my youngest son will convince us to play Monopoly (his current favourite is Anti-Monopoly). A few nights ago, I watched and enjoyed She Did That, a documentary focusing on black women entrepreneurs building brands and legacies. It was interesting to see what black women entrepreneurs go through in USA and how similar their issues and our issues in the continent are. The last great thing I listened to was The Autopsy of a Decade by T.D Jakes. I usually listen to his New Year messages but it amazed me that he decided to look back at the decade. It made me wonder how often we do reflect on a decade. How powerful would it be when we do so before we begin to plan, not only for a year but for the coming decade?