In the world of finance and corporate leadership, Esther Waititu stands as an emblem of resilience and determination.
She is the Chief Financial Services Officer at Safaricom PLC.
This is her journey as told by WoK:
Surprisingly, despite having a Kikuyu name, Esther’s parents hail from the Kisii community. However, she was raised in Murang´a.
In her childhood, she did not think of pursuing a finance related career.
In a recent interview on KTN, she revealed that when in high school, she liked arguing with people.
“I wanted to know how people’s emotions worked. I was passionate about feelings, talking, and generally being in touch with people,” she said.
Consequently, she told her parents she wanted to pursue a career in psychology.
However, her parents advised her to pursue a career that would ‘put food on the table´.
She could have opted for a law career like her father, but she thought it was too academically demanding.
Consequently, her parents advised her to pursue a business related career.
When sat her KCSE, she barely missed the cutoff points to proceed to the University of Nairobi.
Instead, she was admitted to the University of Baraton East Africa, a Seventh Day Adventist university, to pursue Geography.
At Baraton, she shifted to business in the second year.
Her journey in finance, though, wasn’t without hurdles.
“Finance involves a lot of accounting, which involves a lot of mathematics. I failed my first accounting class because I struggled in Math,” she said.
From then, she worked on her reading habits and started topping her accounting class.
However, she says that prowess in Mathematics is not the only thing required to succeed in the field of finance.
“Finance is all about logic and planning. For numbers, you can always use a calculator, but unless you get the logic and the why, you’ll never get the correct answer,” said Esther, who is the first born in a family of 5.
Esther´s impressive career spans over 23 years in banking.
She started out at the Commercial Bank of Africa, which is today known as NCBA.
There, she started as a graduate trainee, doing odd jobs in the bank. Sometimes she would be the teller, write cheques, or handle back end operations.
She was later promoted to the position of Customer Service Officer, where her work was to welcome clients as they entered the bank.
However, she had the burning desire to do something bigger.
Consequently, she decided to pursue a masters at the University of Nairobi, enrolling in afternoon classes.
It was during these classes that she got the chance to progress her career.
“During my masters classes, there was a guy who was always always borrowing my notes.
He said I was very neat and organized and invited me to work with him at Standard Chartered bank in the relationship management sector, “ said Esther, who is the proud mother of sixteen year old twin girls.
After a while, the bank promoted and sent her to South Africa to work as a product manager.
“That was when I became a true business leader. It was there that I learnt about cash management and how to build effective trade finance solutions,” she said.
As head of product management, she was responsible for the bank’s operations in South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.
After working for five years, she was recruited by Stanbic Bank and returned to Kenya, where she was responsible for managing the bank’s operations in the East African region, a stint she held for 10 years.
Her last assignment was at Lusaka during the Covid period.
From there, she received a call from the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) headhunters to work as director for their corporate banking sector..
It was during her capacity in this role that she met Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa.
After an hour’s talk, Ndegwa offered her an opportunity to work as Safaricom ́s Chief Finance Officer.
As CFO, one of Esther’s nightmarish experiences happened one day when she was shopping in a supermarket and heard an announcement over the PA system that Mpesa was not working.
She called the IT team in the office and was told everything is okay.
“I dropped my trolley and asked for the manager. I asked them to explain what was happening.
It turned out that the problem was with the payment systems, they were not reflecting customers´ Mpesa messages. We resolved the issue after 20 minutes and discovered it was to do with the network,” said Esther.
She attributes a portion of her triumphs to her partnership with her husband, sharing common interests and finding joy in their companionship.
Looking ahead, she envisions a legacy beyond her career, aiming to leave an enduring infrastructure for her children and the nation.
Her aspiration is for M-Pesa to continue evolving and for her children to lead content and fulfilling lives.