Eunie Khimulu Nyakundi, 31, is the head of marketing at Resolution Insurance Company Limited and sits on the executive council of the Marketing Society of Kenya (MSK). She previously worked in advertising as an account director at Ogilvy & Mather, and before that as senior account manager at Tequila Advertising. She talks to EDNA GICOVI about her early start into the corporate world, climbing the corporate ladder and the valuable lessons she has learnt.
Given that her career profile indicated she had worked for a little over 10 years, I assumed Eunie Nyakundi was much older than 31. I looked forward to hearing her story when we finally met for this interview. Eunie is pleasant and lively. She speaks fast and laughs easily, yet has a crisp, businesslike aura about her. She is elegantly dressed, in a green suit and minimal jewellery and requests to have her phone nearby during the photo shoot in case her son calls.
Eunie is the last of three children. “My father and brother passed away 15 years ago within six months of each other so now it’s just my mother, sister and I. We’re very close-knit and my family means the world to me,” she says as we get started, adding that these experiences of losing close family members have made her stronger and also made her realise that she has to make the most of her life presently.
She was barely 16 when she completed her high school education at the Greensteds International School in Nakuru. She explains that this happened because she switched education systems from 8-4-4 to the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) system but never did her A-levels, choosing to finish at the system’s equivalent of form four instead. She still managed to perform well in her final exams, despite having experienced the tragic loss of her father six months earlier and her brother during the examination period.
She then joined the United States International University (USIU) to do a Bachelor of Science degree in International Business Administration (IBA), specialising in finance. She admits that attending university at such a young age was a bit of a challenge as she was expected to relate to her peers on the same level academically but not socially. After her graduation, she interned at First American Bank of Kenya (now Commercial Bank of Africa Group) for about six months and though she learnt some useful lessons from the experience, she felt that banking was not what she wanted for herself. She opted to enrol for a Master’s degree in Management of Organisational Development still at USIU and graduated in 2003 at only 21.
Venturing into the corporate world…
For a long time Eunie was used to being among the youngest where she worked. However, she did not let this put her down. “It makes me work harder. It’s really a matter of how you present yourself,” she says. Following her graduation, she worked shortly as a financial consultant, doing financial evaluation and analysis for different projects run by Karen Information Resource and Education Centre before finding herself in the advertising world through a family friend’s referral. She first worked for Tequila Advertising in a client service and sales role, where her responsibilities included bringing in new business for the agency and handling different company accounts.
“I loved the client service role and it’s interesting that one of the accounts I handled for the agency when I got started was Resolution Health (now Resolution Insurance) where I currently work,” she says. Eunie worked at Tequila for about two years, moving up to become a senior account manager before the company shut down. “I got to learn the different functions of advertising pretty well during my time there,” she says.
She was fortunate to find another job at Ogilvy & Mather, an international advertising, marketing and public relations agency, after only a week of job hunting. Here she got even better exposure and learnt more about the advertising industry from the various reputable brands she handled including The Coca Cola Company, Multichoice, Nestle and British American Tobacco (BAT), among others. She started out as an account manager before being promoted to account director.
By this time, Eunie had been in advertising for five and a half years and felt ready for a change. Around the same time, her mother relocated to Paris, France, because of her job and wanted Eunie to join her. “I had already started thinking about relocating to be with my mother. I hoped to move there, study French and also start on my doctorate studies,” she says. This was however never to be.
One of her team members at Ogilvy who had been looking to change jobs went for an interview at Resolution Health and asked to put Eunie down as her referee. “She was a great part of the team I worked with but I think if someone desires a change, it’s important to support them instead of confining them. I was happy to be her referee,” she says.
Unfortunately, her colleague did not get the job she had been after, as her skills did not match up to those required for this particular job. “When she came back from the interview, she told me that she and the CEO ended up having a brief discussion about me after he noticed my name on her referee list. At the time, Resolution Health was looking to set up a marketing department and required someone who could run it with minimal supervision,” she says.
Peter Nduati, CEO of Resolution Insurance, had worked with Eunie previously during her time at Tequila Advertising and later on called and asked her to consider the job.
“It’s important not to burn bridges and leave a workplace in good terms. When my job at Tequila Advertising ended, I ensured that my clients were well taken care of and kept in contact with some of them,” she says adding that she feels that this, in addition to the quality of her work, played a role in Resolution Health considering her for the job.
The transition to marketing…
Eunie then found herself torn between taking on this new and seemingly exciting challenge and relocating to be with her mother. She chose the former and joined Resolution Insurance in 2007. Moving from the world of advertising where an informal environment was encouraged to the insurance industry where there’s an air of formalness was an interesting transition for Eunie. “I had to get used to wearing suits,” she says.
She started out as a brand manager and was charged with the task of setting up a marketing department for the organisation. “At first it was challenging to establish a department from scratch and set up different structures. I was the entire marketing department,” she says with a chuckle. She nonetheless appreciates the fact that it gave her insight into the different roles involved in marketing and enabled her to better interact with, and understand, the marketing team that joined her later on.
“I went about creating the role of marketing and embodying it into the other functions that were already running,” she says, adding that she was also responsible for creating better awareness of the Resolution Health brand.
The organisation’s marketing department eventually became fully structured and Eunie’s role changed with time to that of marketing manager. She now works with a dedicated team of four in her department and believes that the role of marketing has helped the company grow, not just in revenue, but also in brand development and visibility, among other areas.
Resolution Health converted to become a general insurer, changing its name to Resolution Insurance early this year. With the growth and expansion of the company, Eunie’s role has also grown to become a regional one. She enjoys her work immensely and is currently enrolled in a programme to become a chartered insurer.
“I didn’t think that this is where I would end up but now that I’m here I can’t imagine doing anything else,” says Eunie who was recently elected as an associate representative on the executive council of the Marketing Society of Kenya (MSK), an umbrella body that seeks to develop the practice of marketing and offer a platform for self-regulation for practicing marketers.
“It’s a new and exciting path. I work with people with many more years of experience in marketing than I do and it’s nice to grow and learn as we work on growing marketing as a profession in the country,” she says about her appointment.
According to Eunie, it’s important to enjoy life and learn to live in the present. It’s also vital to take pleasure in one’s work. “I need to enjoy what I spend my day doing. If I’m not happy with what I do, it means I’m not a happy person in life,” she says as we conclude. Eunie is married to Adam Nyakundi, a director at an experiential marketing company, and they have a two and a half year-old son, Sekai.
Published in August 2013