Unmasking Caroline Mutoko – Kiss 100 Radio Host, Kiss 100 Program Controller, Radio Africa Group Marketing Manager and The Star Columnist
A few months ago on a hot Tuesday afternoon, a group of Rotarians were seated in a room listening to Caroline Mutoko give a presentation about men. “Men are hired based on their potential while women are hired by their track record!” The room was in graveyard silence.
No, this was not a feminist meeting. Caroline was telling Rotarians about the men who have made the most impact in her life. She flipped the coin, behind every successful woman there ought to be a supportive man – a father, a brother, a
grandfather, an uncle, a male mentor, a male boss…. she said.
Caroline wears many professional hats. She is the radio host of the Kiss 100 Big Breakfast Show, the Marketing Manager of Radio Africa Group, and a columnist in the Star newspaper – also owned by Radio Africa Group. She has been Program Controller for more than five years now and counts her achievements based on the impact she has made in society.
If she was not working at Radio Africa, Caroline would be a teacher. “I worry constantly about the level, depth and nature of education that we have. I want to work with young people between the age of 10 and 24. I am not talking about academia, but about life skills! All the grades in the world are worth nothing if you can’t express yourself, think creatively or connect with people.”
For Caroline, life has been about a steady growth – from one level to the next. She wastes no time. She is blunt and to the point, and speaks her mind – something that has earned her a reputation as snobbish, rude, and insensitive. During our numerous interactions, her emails were precise, and her phone conversations very specific. She demands excellence and nothing less.
As an early bird (she wakes up at 4 a.m.), Caroline is a stickler for details and plans her schedule to the last minute details. A week before our photo shoot for this story, we had agreed on all the details. “If you have to juggle as many things as I do, you learn to be sharp, organised and methodical otherwise it will all fall apart.”
Caroline the manager is tough, thorough and sometimes a little too hopeful for her own good. “I will be pushed for months, sometimes years to fire someone and won’t. Eventually I will have to. When I can see the potential in someone, it drives me crazy that they can’t see it in themselves or live up to it,” she says adding, “I am very driven and unless you have the same drive as I do, you can find it hard even frustrating to keep up with me.”
She guarantees one thing, delivering an excellent job. If she will not be committed to a project, she prefers not to get involved in it from the start. “I have never been a lukewarm person. Not being able to go all out and deliver a big hurrah does not work for me.”
Her value of excellence also includes being forthright. You can expect Caroline to tell you what she may or may not be open to, with a reason. She sets her standards from the beginning for people to know what and who they are dealing with.
“I think sometimes we get overwhelmed because we do not state the obvious.” As a mother to a one year two month old daughter (Nduku), Caroline sieves a lot of things. Her team knows she leaves the office at 4.30 p.m. If they need her to address any work-related issue it has to be before 4:30p.m. or after 7:30p.m. when her daughter has gone to sleep; a time she also checks her emails to respond to urgent matters.
A staunch believer in planning and time management, Caroline spends 10 minutes every evening going through her to-do list for the next day and 30 minutes every Friday reviewing her tasks for the upcoming week. Her job as a radio host, Marketing Manager and weekly Columnist needs her to plan ahead and ensure that things work like clock work.
“If you don’t plan, you will fail and if you don’t write it down, it won’t get done. That includes the manicure,” she says. But it is never work and no play for Caroline; “I am clear about what time is for what activity. When I work, I work and when I play, I play!”
Starting from the bottom
Before getting to where she started from, we ask her about her six figure pay cheque. “I earn a modest salary. I don’t want to earn a salary that will make it impossible for me to be employed after I leave Radio Africa – a lot of people have never understood the concept of not pricing yourself out of the market.” She says a-big percentage of her salary comes from commissions earned by bringing business. “Yes, I’m happy to do sales as well. I literally work for myself!”
Apart from hard work, it has also taken discipline and “a mix of planning, thinking, prayer, fate and God’s quirky sense of humour.”
Caroline started at Capital FM where she worked seven days a week. “I sometimes worked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Sunday. No show was too small for me, no job was too trivial and the fact that I didn’t get paid for the first six months did not matter either.” She was living at home and wanted them to believe and know they had to hire her.
While in campus, Caroline worked as a waitress in several restaurants among them Tratorria located at the Nairobi Central Business District.
“I have worked most of my adult life. I have always had money in my pocket. I don’t know what it is to be broke!” she says. Her hard work at Capital FM paid off when she was employed after working pro bono for six months. She worked at Capital FM for four years before moving to Kiss 100 where she has been at for the last 10 years.
Referring to her comment to Rotarians, Caroline asserts that unlike men, women are hired based on their track record.
“Whenever I speak to people especially women, I tell them (women) to make no bones about selling their achievements and getting other people to talk about their achievements.” She reckons unless they do, they get overlooked. She is a firm believer of getting oneself on the map. “If you are not among the top five or 10 names that come to mind in your field, then you need to start finding ways to get your name and achievements out there.”
In the KIM survey on perceptions about female bosses, 42.9 per cent of the respondents agree that women managers have their ideas challenged more often than their male counterparts while 32.3 per cent said women managers have to perform much better than male managers in order to succeed.
However, 42.3 per cent of the respondents did not agree that women managers must behave in a typically masculine way in order to be taken seriously.
For Caroline, women who are starting out in their careers should spend their first years learning and doing as much as possible. “All you have at that point in your life is time. You can either spend it in a bar or you can spend it working and growing!” Women, she says, have to earn their place at the table, which means they must go to the table and once there have something to offer.
Caroline will not be dragged into any debate about perceptions and stereotypes about women. She has had her fair share of judgement from people who have judged her harshly even before interacting with her. She is comfortable in her skin and is living her dream.
Working for Caroline Inc
So what does Caroline mean when she says she works for herself?
“Too many of us get caught up in the vortex of ‘I hate my job, I hate my boss, I wish I could get a better job… etc’.
When you finally decide that the job is about you, your goals, your future plans and your life, then how you perform on the job changes. You work for you, knowing fully well that your energy and effort reward the things you have envisioned for yourself.”
In doing so, one gets focused, output increases, and instances to sit around and whine are reduced.
“The best part is you are rewarded for what you do. That is how it works for me. Going to work with the mentality that you are doing your boss, board or even your colleagues a favour is daft at the very least. News-flash – they can go on without you.”
To be where she is today, Caroline has ensured that she is always in a learning environment.
“It does not have to be academic but anything that refreshes my thinking and helps me re-evaluate my life and work, and leaves me feeling re-engineered.” For 2012, she plans to enrol for the Global Executive Masters of Business Administration (Gemba) course at the United States International University.
Caroline is an alumni of Nairobi University and Strathmore University’s Women Emerging Leaders Programme. For the Strathmore course, Caroline paid for herself.
Earning a place on the table Caroline advises, involves investing in you and not waiting for the Human Resource department to recommend courses to attend.
“It is your life, it is your career. Look out for what resonates with you and go and yes, if need be, pay for them (courses) yourself. The days when the corporate (employer) was your parent are over. Take charge of your development and growth. Empower yourself, what are you waiting for?”
It is hard to define Caroline or even put her in the proverbial box. She steers away from the conversation about talent and says work for her is about giving her best. “I don’t know about talent, but anything I set my heart and mind to do, I am good at. If my heart is not in it, I can never deliver at the same level as if I was completely engrossed in an idea.”
Views on leadership
As a leader, Caroline does not want to be lost in the management lingua of definitions. “It is very easy in today’s management jargon to consider anyone in a senior position, with a certain pay cheque a leader. I have heard our Members of Parliament referred to as leaders. Really? Give me your definition of a leader and I will tell you if I am that.
But I highly doubt that you and I define leadership the same way!”
On leading her team she says: “I learnt a long time ago that when you tell someone that they have done right and applaud them for it, they want to do more of the same. It is so easy to nit-pick the mistakes that people make, but if you can’t tell them how to do it right then it is like poisoning the drinking water at the source.”
She advises leaders not to set too many goals at any one given time for anyone. She also doesn’t suffer fools patiently and expects her team to go to work and give 100 per cent because that is what she does, and the entire management team at Radio Africa. “We are not slackers, we lead by example.”
Her relationship with her direct reports is based more on growing them. She says it involves monitoring and coaching.
“It is standard for radio that you will monitor and coach. It is called air-check and we have to do it and suggest ways to make things sound better, slicker, sell brand attributes in a fun and impactful manner.” After a while, it becomes second nature and she finds herself air checking presenters on other media.
Caroline disagrees with the notion that success in an organisation is measured by how well people and teams respond to a leader.
“You can’t hope that success is based on “following”. If it is blind following you are in for a disaster. My MD has always insisted that he has no time for people who can’t offer him solutions. He wants to be surrounded by people who are smarter than him.” This, she thinks, is what makes Radio Africa successful – in so much as they are clear on what is required of them, they also know they are encouraged to be more bigger, better – everyday.
Motivation and dreams
“At 24 did I have a career path? Heck no!
Did I have dreams? Yes!
Did those dreams formulate my career path, yes and still do.”
Caroline reveals she is the kind of person who regularly re-evaluates her life every six months. It gives her a chance to change, grow, and even dump some things. “I am also big on keeping a journal – it keeps me honest, accountable and helps me constantly evaluate my life and work.”
Caroline is motivated by the impact she makes, by comments she receives from advertisers and calls she gets from guests she has featured on her radio show. “I feel happy when an issue I addressed years ago is recalled by someone who runs into me accidentally. I am big on impact!”
As a mother, Caroline wishes many things for her daughter Nduku among them giving her a good upbringing and quality education. She recently replaced her car so she could manage her expenses better to be able to give her daughter a good education and life. Being a mother is something she is committed to and passionate about and she has no regrets. For Caroline, what you see is what you get!
Caroline’s 2 Cents
I have several mentors. Many of us view mentoring as a formatted thing that happens along a set of rules. I listen, I watch, I ask. Whenever I am with one of my mentors, I don’t spend too much time doing the talking or arguing with their point. I simply listen. If you listen, even watch how your mentor acts, even ordering a bottle of wine, thanking a waiter, returning a business call, you can learn a lot. I also consider the people who fail at what they do – life, love, work – my mentors as well. Some of the best lessons I have ever learnt came from people in my life who failed miserably at something.
To the woman stuck in a rut…
If you are stuck in a rut and you know it, that’s already step one. Question is, what are you willing to do to get out of the rut? For women it is always about taking the plunge and the chance on something new or different – we are too scared. We get caught in a style rut because it is safe and we don’t want to change just in case. We get caught in relationship ruts because we don’t want to try someone else or even go it alone. We get caught in a traffic rut because we won’t hoot or tell the other driver to move. Empower yourself, what are you waiting for?
Lessons about money…
You get your first job and you want to dress like or out-dress the lady who has worked longer than you and has a bigger pay cheque. You want to drive a better car than her and live in an upmarket address just to impress your friends. Don’t do it. When you start working, get in debt and try keeping up with the trends, you are not just wasting money, but your time and energy. No one cares and it saps your creative juices and stops you from focusing on the things that really matter and ultimately you get burnt.
I have made many money mistakes. I should have bought less shoes and more land/property. I also wish I had lived beneath my means. I am doing that now and I can’t believe how much money I wasted on the “so-called-finer” more useless things. I wish I had learnt to automate my savings – there was a time when I relied on willpower. I wish I had spent more time with the crowd that was sensible rather than with the “in” crowd that was wasting time and money. I wish I knew then that you don’t have to wait to be a certain age to dream or think a certain way or do smart things like investing. In our 20′s we have the illusion that “there is still time” no! the time is now.
Story By: Murugi Ndwiga
Photos By: Emmanuel Jambo
Management Magazine March 2012