Frida Owinga is the CEO of Passion Profit School of Entrepreneurship, a school that equips aspiring and existing entrepreneurs with skills and tools to create, manage and grow successful world-class organisations. Frida has over 20 years experience in business operations having worked in several leadership and management positions. Today she uses the skills and knowledge she has acquired to coach individuals and organisations on applicable business skills. She walked ESTHER KIRAGU through her journey to the top.
I was playing a game on my phone to pass time as I waited for Frida Owinga at her exquisite reception in her new office at Delta Corner house in Westlands. She had informed me that she was running late, thanks to the well-known traffic in Nairobi. ‘Esther’, a young-looking lady, dressed in a well-fitting, checked, knee length dress called out my name.
Startled, I looked up, put my phone away and stretched my hand to greet her. When she introduced herself as Frida, I was quite surprised. You see, all along during my phone call conversations with her in preparation for this interview, I kept thinking I was talking to a much older woman than the one who had now just introduced herself, mostly due to her husky and authoritative voice. Meet 47-year-old Frida Owinga, who has truly defied her age.
“You look much younger than your age,” I tell Frida, who smiles and acknowledges the complement but seems surprised. “I am a mother of three grown children,” she says and proceeds to show me a photo of her children on her phone.
As am still trying to reconcile my mind with this new knowledge, Frida serves me with snacks and we soon settle down for this interview.
Cut out for entrepreneurship…
Frida Owinga is the CEO and founder of the Passion Profit School of Entrepreneurship. Hers is a school that coaches individuals and helps turn their passion into profit by equipping them with practical and easily applicable business solutions.
Despite being a last-born in her family, Frida says she loved business from a young age, always polishing her siblings shoes and running errands for them at a fee. Unintentionally, her parents inspired her love for business.
“Dad worked as a railways station master in Nairobi whereas mum did tie and dye batik and sold them to African Heritage in Nairobi. At that young age I didn’t know that a couple’s income was meant to supplement the family budget and so I felt that mum had more money than dad,” she explains.
Frida recalls that on payday her dad brought home basic household goods whereas whenever her mum struck a business deal and got paid, she would buy her children goodies such as chips and sausages.
Frida says that this made her realise from an early age that if she wanted the finer things of life then she would have to be a successful businesswoman, like her own mother.
During her high school days at Kenya High in Nairobi, Frida continued with her business-like tendencies often loaning money to students at an interest. She then enrolled at Premier Secretarial College in Nairobi for a secretarial course before proceeding to work as a secretary at an export company in Nairobi in 1986.
Noticing her great potential, Frida’s boss promoted her to manager three months later emphasising that she was cut out for more in life. “My boss taught me the ropes of customer service, quality control, client management and retention, skills that are still very useful to me to this day,” says a grateful Frida.
However, she noticed that the business had so much demand that they often turned down clients. Feeling the need to meet this unfulfilled demand, Frida started a Curio Company, UPOT Limited that sold handicrafts.
At first she ran it on a part-time basis but on realising that it was a conflict of interest, she quit her job four years later to run her business on a full-time basis. The business required her to travel frequently.
Living abroad …
Eventually in 1999, she decided to relocate to the US. While in the states, she worked as a business administrator for Jubilee Christian Church International, (JCCI).
“I served in their administration and would often make recommendations to improve the church. Before long, things started turning around and the congregation grew tremendously. Other pastors from different churches noticed the growth of JCCI and sought my input to help turn around their churches,” she explains the genesis of finding her passion.
So what did Frida offer that was so unique? She humorously explains that she didn’t offer any miracles but instead she would study the congregation, identify things that were important to them and then recommend to the church what needed implementation.
They were simple things like observing time, having an attractive décor, as well as a good reception and inquiry area – small yet important aspects often ignored by many.
In addition, she introduced programmes in the church that would help attract and keep volunteers, making them feel part and parcel of the church. She also offered training for ushers and church workers. Frida began to get invitations to different churches for leadership conferences as a speaker.
Finding her niche…
“It was while doing my work for the church that people would seek my advice on implementing their business ideas. One time, someone came to me seeking my input on how he should implement his business idea and I asked him why me? And when he said that he was confident I would help him because I was doing that for myself, a light bulb went on in my mind,” she explains how the idea of being a business coach came to her.
Frida enrolled for training in small business management at the University of Georgia and in 2005 she started a programme she called – From paychecks to wealth.
The programme targeted those who were in jobs they disliked but were passionate about owning and running their business. Frida would then train and coach them with applicable business skills and says many benefitted from it.
In 2009, Frida returned to Kenya at a time when the US was undergoing an economic crunch and many companies were cutting out on their costs of training. Her sister also kept encouraging her to return home arguing that her services were needed here.
Upon her return she noticed a trend among Kenyans, where people enrolled for evening classes in large numbers to gain additional academic qualifications for job promotions, yet there were no new jobs or much salary increment and, besides, people worked in jobs they didn’t like.
She carried out a research to find out the level of interest in people starting their own businesses. Additionally, she came across a research done by Inoorero University on Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) that indicated that although the MSMEs were growing in Kenya by 10 percent annually and employing 77 percent of the work force, 75 percent of them collapsed before their third year in business.
“I therefore decided to coach entrepreneurs on business skills to run their businesses successfully through PassionProfit,” she says, adding that it is very similar to the programme she ran in the US – From paychecks to wealth.
So is business for everyone?
Frida strongly believes that business is not for everyone; it is for those ready to learn, willing to grow and be patient and persevering. She warns that one needs to first get rid of the fantasy of business – going to work whenever you feel like and being your own boss – as there is more to business than that.
“Some people can thrive even as employees so you need not be a business owner to succeed in life,” she says. She believes in the need to be passionate about what to do in order to succeed in it, and advises people to do their due diligence before jumping into business because it isn’t as rosy as many think.
Frida warns people against quitting their jobs haphazardly because even in jobs people gain skills, build networks as well as earn an income. “Don’t just wake up and leave no matter how much you hate your job; instead have a plan.
But don’t allow yourself to be stuck in a rut either, decide to take action about it”, she advises. She wishes the Kenyan government could make it easier for people to do businesses by reducing the numerous licences required, and bureaucracies involved, and offer incentives to start-up businesses by loaning them electronic tax register machines (ETR) probably through Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), thus making the starting up procedures more friendly.
Leaving a legacy…
Frida hopes to be remembered as one who changed the economic landscape of Kenya by mentoring many on business, thus helping their businesses stay afloat.
Some of her biggest clients include World vision, Google, Microsoft, Kenya Institute of Management (KIM), among many others. Frida hopes to turn PassionProfit into a non-traditional world-class school of entrepreneurship and bring people to come and acquire skills and not academic qualifications.
“People are so focused on grades and academic qualification yet they lack skills to apply in life. I would like to offer them something unique and applicable,” she says.
Frida is mother to three sons. The eldest, Clement, 24, is pursuing aviation, the second born, Peter Junior, 22, is studying information technology while her last born Robert, 19, popularly known as “Robbyvoice” is a gospel musician in-the-making.
“He has recorded a music DVD and is passionate about music and very gifted at playing a variety of musical instruments,” she says. Frida is big about faith and believes if it were not for God then she wouldn’t be where she is today. “Faith is very real to me and applicable in my life everyday,” she says exhibiting deep conviction.
“What you focus on in life expands, so focus on achievement and success in order to gain it and not on challenges or failures,” she says. She concludes that she has learnt to focus on what is working in her life and ignore what isn’t.
Published on June 2013