When she sells, people buy – meet Joanne Mwangi CEO Professional Marketing Services Group
By Fred Aminga @faminga [People Plus ]
At 26, Joanne Mwangi left employment to start her own marketing company. Then, the concept was not well understood and few people believed she would achieve much. Not one to give up without trying, Mwangi drew her fighting spirit from one of the greatest innovators the world has ever known, Thomas Edison who was told by teachers that he was ‘too stupid to learn anything.’
The American innovator was fired from his first two jobs for being ‘non-productive’. As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked: “How does it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
She says Edison’s answer: “Therefore, no, I am not afraid of failing; failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently,” was what gave her a spring in her gait and 18 years later, she is running Professional Marketing Services (PMS), one of the best marketing groups in the country.
Prior to working at PMS Group, she served in leading multinationals and led Kenya’s most successful marketing programme through the Kenya Tourist Board and the European Union. Mwangi was nominated as ‘Business Woman of the year 2013 in the Johnnie Walker Blue Label CNBC Africa, All Africa Business Leaders Awards, (AABLA) for the East African round.
Last year, the alumnus of University of Nairobi and United States International University was awarded the highest marketing accolade possible – a Marketing Society of Kenya Fellow that recognises her contribution to raising the bar in marketing and management standards.
And although the award ceremonies may not have given Mwangi a chance to narrate her journey on the corporate ladder, she never forgets where she came from, a lesson she picked during her days at Alliance High School. “I started this business in 1996, straight out of Colgate Palmolive, when I identified a gap in the market.
I used my savings to buy basic necessities to start off the business. PMS’s first premises were in a single room. I would drive in every morning, mop the floor, clean the table and dust the furniture. I would work on proposals and drive to industrial area to deliver them myself,” says Mwangi.
Before her stint at Colgate, she worked as a sales executive at The East African Standard. Charged with ambition and driven by the urge to take care of her young family, Mwangi was willing to risk it all and lunge into the uncertainty of self-employment.
Fortunately, luck was also on her side because when she ventured into the business, most people did not know that professional marketing services could be paid for, so she faced little competition and in three years, her company thrived beyond her wildest dreams at a time when the economy was in turmoil. However, this did not last because she misused her money, forcing her to seek employment again.
In between work, she went enrolled at United States International University for a Masters in Strategic Business Management. She says that the glitter of the corporate world was tempting. It was a comfort zone. The glamorous lifestyles led by her friends who were holding various positions in multinational companies could easily have derailed her dreams.
“I thought I might have given myself the short end of the stick by going to start my own business. When I went back to employment, I was employed at the Kenya Tourism Board and I was one of the top managers,” she says. Mwangi says the re-employment taught her vital lessons.
“There, I learnt so much, I got a lot of international exposure and I met the best brains in the world while I represented Kenya externally,” she says. This gave her confidence and faith in her marketing skills and she quit to start a company.
The newfound vitality enabled Mwangi to get business with the government and corporates like Bidco, Reckit Benkiser, Del Monte, Uchumi and Doom. The business is now a respected brand seller and she recently bagged a contract from the government to offer public relations services for online procurement.
Mwangi who is a mother to three children, two boys and a girl always endeavours to be home at 6 o’clock at least three times a week to spend time with them. To unwind, she likes to walk, listen to music or party with friends. Once in a while a rigorous hike or run helps clear her mind.
[Joanne Mwangi is founder and CEO of Professional Marketing Services Group. She also sits on the boards of various associations, some of which she founded with other industry players.]