Inspiring and enterprising Eric Wambua is among a group of emerging ambitious young leaders in Kenya. At only 24, he is the managing director of the Mwala Water and Sanitation Company, a water service provider in Machakos County. He is also passionate about business management and owns Venox Limited, an IT company based in Nairobi. The confident, chatty and buoyant young man tells EDNA GICOVI what makes him tick.

 Despite achieving good grades in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2001 and being the best student at Muthei Primary School in Machakos County, Eric Mwendwa Wambua had to repeat standard eight. With two siblings in high school and another at the university, Eric’s parents could not afford to send him to high school at the time. Repeating a class became the only option to keep him in school. Despite the disappointment he soldiered on and outdid himself to emerge the best student in his division in KCPE in 2002. He proceeded to the Machakos Boys High School where he continued to excel.

A student leader is born…

His leadership skills became evident in high school and he was picked by his teachers to join the prefect’s council, an eminent student body made up of positive role models and instituted to nurture students’ leadership skills. After completing high school, Eric worked as an untrained teacher for one year at Kavumbu Secondary School in his home area teaching biology, English and computer studies.

“I really wanted to give back to society in whatever way I could,” he says. He was also a member of a youth group that started various projects such as poultry keeping and other forms of agri-businesses to help the youth in his area become self-sustaining by engaging in income-generating activities.

He later joined Egerton University where his leadership streak continued. He was elected student’s union president and also served as the secretary general of the Kenya University Students Organisation (KUSO), a platform that unites all students in recognised institutions of higher learning all over the country. He did a Bachelor of commerce degree in management science, a course he thoroughly enjoyed and excelled in despite his busy schedule as a student leader.  “I’ve always been keen on unravelling the secret behind good managers and have a huge interest in business management. Management science was a relatively new course at Egerton and I was excited to study it,” he says.

The course had an IT component, another area of interest for Eric and one that he regularly dabbled in. He was one of the best students in computer studies at high school and taught himself new skills, while regularly keeping up with new developments in technology. He was fortunate to have an opportunity to work at Tekno International, an IT company, as an assistant manager in charge of e-learning towards the end of his third year at university. His responsibilities included overseeing the development of electronic learning software, which the company had created and that targeted technical learning institutions throughout the country,

The e-learning platform allows students from technical institutions to be tutored online by experts from all over the world, and has a library of books and other resources, in addition to a virtual laboratory that can be used by institutions that lack such facilities. This software has been adopted in some technical schools in Kenya and Eric is proud to have been associated with this project.

Eric conceptualised the idea of starting his own IT company using the experience he gained at Tekno. He registered Venox Limited, an IT company, soon after graduating from university and leaving Tekno. His interest and focus was in developing software for industry-based companies. While looking for reputable companies to share his ideas and vision with, he came across Seven Fourteen – a company that deals with electrical goods and air conditioning – which was impressed by what Venox had to offer. This company went on to subcontract Venox to offer them IT consultancy services.

This partnership is what helped Eric grow his company and by the end of his contract, he had fine-tuned his managerial skills and also learned as much as he could about the interaction between IT and industry. He was always on the look out for opportunities to grow his business and also learn.

Managing director at 24…

Early this year, Eric spotted a job advertised online for position of managing director of Mwala Water and Sanitation Company Limited. This advertisement attracted him because Mwala was his home district and he also had an interest in corporate management. “I felt that, to some extent, I understood the issues that faced Mwala district and wanted to be involved in the development of my home area and so I applied for the job,” he says.

As a strong believer that ‘age is just a number’, he didn’t think his age and lack of experience would be an issue in clinching the position. His confidence was also not dampened by the large number of applicants, some with many years of experience. He was happy to have been short-listed for the first interview and thrilled to be called back for a final round. He was overjoyed when he learned the job was his. He started working in this position in April this year.

“Water and sanitation are a constitutional and human right. Availability, accessibility, quality and use of water are what constitute water management,” says Eric. He is determined to see Mwala district get good water services during his tenure as MD of the water company.

As the chief executive officer of the company he is responsible for ensuring that company’s objectives are met, among other duties. He is also the secretary to the Mwala Water and Sanitation Company board; an establishment of Tanathi Water Services board, under which Mwala Water and Sanitation Company Limited falls. His responsibilities here include facilitating the implementation of the board’s and other management decisions in line with the core business of the company.

Eric has taken this new job in his stride and in the short time he has been in the position has put several systems in place including a customer service charter that has helped streamline service delivery processes and procedures in the company. In addition, he has digitized some of the company’s services.

“We now have a good online presence through the website and social media pages I have created for the company. People can find out more about us through the website, Facebook and Twitter accounts and can also get in touch with us at the click of a button,” he says.

He is happy to have taken this first step to ensure that the company keeps up with the expectations of the people it is serving and also embraces technology. “It may be difficult for an elderly woman to come all the way to our offices and raise her concerns but her son can access Facebook and get in touch with us on her behalf. It is now much easier for residents to report illegal water connections, vandalism and leakages. I foresee a future where Mwala district and its environs will have very minimal water problems,” says an optimistic Eric.

Eric is not only a young CEO, but is also amongst the youngest employees in the company. Most of his colleagues are older and have worked in the company much longer and he appreciates and respects that he is able to learn from them. “I have taken the approach that we are all working for one master – the water consumer in Mwala – and we must offer servant leadership in order to deliver services,” he says.

One of his main agendas is to ensure the staff and other stakeholders fully appreciate and own the mission, vision and core values of the company, as this is an important aspect of the success of any organisation. It creates a conducive working environment where people do what they do because they believe in it, not because they are told by the ‘boss’ to do it. It also brings in efficiency and smooth running of the organisation. He is confidently looking forward to making a difference in his new position and is positive he will overcome any challenges if he becomes a team player.

Eric says his life has been shaped by many people but recalls one incident that dramatically influenced him. “I was in form one when I stopped to buy cassavas from an elderly man who was hawking them in Machakos town. He didn’t seem to be making much from this business but from speaking with him, I noticed that he had a lot of hope that one day his life would change. I ran into him again four years later and he owned a wholesale shop in Machakos. Apparently, some people who saw him often in the streets noticed his diligence and positive spirit and donated funds to help him start the business. He is 88 years old today and doing very well,” says Eric.

“That old man’s positive attitude and desire not to give up or say ‘all is done’ taught me a lot and changed my outlook to life. Fear and failure are not options in my life,” he adds.

Eric is determined to make remarkable contributions to the Kenyan economy in whatever capacity he works in, and to also set a track record of good management. During his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, swimming and giving motivational talks. To other aspiring young leaders, he advises: “Lead from wherever you are. Let us stop saying that we are waiting for our time. Our time is now.”

Published on June 2013