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Out of the office with top executives – Business Daily

Joel Rao- Digital and Customer Experience Manager, Kenya – Dentsu SSA. PHOTO | NMG
Joel Stephen Rao is used to the hype. He is calculative, like a Mafia don. And why not? For one he has the temperament.More importantly, he leads an organisation that operates with the cold precision of a scalpel to an artery. In a career that burns steadily, he cut his teeth knowing where the next frontier is and being there to lead the charge.
Now, at 34, he is the CEO of a global juggernaut: Dentsu Digital Brands (Isobar, iProspect and Merkle).“I lead a team of 174 professionals,” he says.
The father of four—all daughters—used to calling shots in the office, now, he says, he cannot wait to call shots at the bar.
What’s your typical holiday like?
I try as much as possible to have holidays for myself and holidays with my family. Often, with my wife, we tend to go out of the country and experience new things. Our children are still young so with them we prefer to voyage the country.
Best holiday destination?
Umm, it has to be the Kenyan coast. If you are looking for specifics, Diani. What’s on my hitlist are Watamu and Lamu. I hear they are amazing. They are. Especially Lamu. But for me, Diani is the jewel in the crown. Outside the country, the Mozambique beaches are a chef’s kiss. Perfecto.
Your worst holiday experience?
[Laughs] Oh, Lord! I will never forget it. April 16, 2012. I had booked a holiday in Diani, and booking.com was not quite popular then. This guy told me, ‘You could go out with your missus at so and so place and get a really dope experience.’ Excited and suggestible, I made a down payment for the said place that Saturday morning. We flew to Mombasa and chaperoned a car to Diani. I didn’t even know you could fly direct to Diani! The trip was hectic! We arrived late at night and were shown our rooms. Crazy. It was shoddy. The seats were damp, and the room squeezed. Exhausted, we resigned ourselves to fate and slept. We left after two days.
I presume now you do your bookings?
Definitely!  With the family, I’ll do Airbnb. With my wife, friends, or when alone, it depends on the vibe we are trying to curate. For short stays, hotels. For the long haul, Airbnb.
What’s your holiday must carry?
I love beach holidays. Beach over the bush for me any day. I’ll even carry my snorkelling gear. Sea ocean floor shoes, sunscreen, and basically whatever’s required. And I’ll also curate my playlist before the holiday. I’m not the beach-with-a-book guy. Nah. I’m an adrenalin junkie, and I bring the energy.
Oh. So what’s your holiday soundtrack for this year?
It has to be Burna Boy’s ‘It’s Plenty.’ This year I have worked really hard, and if this is the new standard, then I might as well enjoy myself.
When does your phone officially go off for work-related things?
It doesn’t. What I’ll do is I will leave it somewhere, idly. Just in case someone is trying to reach me, I let them know I am on holiday. However, the phone stays on because of family.
When you think of Christmas, which food springs to mind?
Biriyani. I don’t know how to make biriyani (yet) to save my life. But while growing up, one of the special dishes my mom would make would be biriyani. It brings back that flavour of childhood.
Speaking of, what dream travel destination have you always had as a child growing up?
My mom really wanted us to experience Turkey and Egypt together. I have been to Istanbul (Turkey) for business but never for pleasure. She always told us these places have very good wares for interior design, and I was like oh yeah? Maybe one day we will go.
Are you an early riser or a lie-in?
Due to the force of habit, I find myself awake early in the morning. Especially during the first two days on holiday, I’m a gone case. Maybe I could start a routine? Gym? Yoga? If that doesn’t work, maybe I just get wasted properly…[Laughs].
Maybe. What’s the last thing you do before the lights go off?
I will listen to a motivational podcast or a YouTube video about motivation. Just to get my mind in the right place before I sleep. You will find me a lot on YouTube or Apple Podcast or Spotify listening to something I would want to go to bed thinking about.
Maybe Dr Victor Mwongera is a traditionalist at heart, or maybe he just loves staying in touch with his Meru roots. Which will explain why he is teeming with excitement, five years since he last holidayed in Meru, preening to go back, to play with his children and beam uxoriously at his beautiful wife.He is very professorial, and certainly, there is something of the didact to him: a man who is as comfortable teaching history as being a student of it.
The Brazilians have a term for it—cafuné – the romantic image of ruffling a loved one’s hair, which is what he would love to do to Meru. It’s also in the streets of Brazil that the 35-year-old head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, at Kenyatta University, had the most holiday fun.An engineer’s engineer, he also remembers his father making an impact on him when he showed up for a family holiday—purposefully.

Dr Victor Mwongera, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Kenyatta University & Chairman, Youth Enterprise Fund. PHOTO | NMG
Dad, he says, was always busy. His father, by the way, is Engineer Erastus Mwongera, the Chairman of the Engineers Board of Kenya. He, Dr Victor Mwongera, is the Chairman of the Youth Enterprise Fund. Like father, like son? Not quite.
What’s the plan?
It’s been long since we went out for a family Christmas. My grandfather taught us Christmas was a family thing. The last time our extended families were together was in 2019, and for us, that extends back to 2017. That means the children have never met the extended family. We are changing that this year.
What is your favourite travel destination? 
I prefer local and Africa. As a young man, I travelled a lot overseas. US, Germany, Brazil. But when you travel to Kenya, you get to experience the sceneries and appreciate the beauty within.
Do you travel solo or with family?
I travel with my family. There is travelling with my wife and children and then there is travelling with my wife alone. With children, it tends to become work, but with my wife, it is pure enjoyment.
Best travel memory?
I remember travelling to Brazil for a conference during the 2006 World Cup. When the conference ended early, I travelled to São Paulo and explored the streets. Sat down and watched people playing street football. None of us understood each other but we savoured that experience.
A travel experience that changed you?
There is still quite a lot of racism in the world. When I was in the UK, I travelled south to Cornwall, a popular travel destination. I was the only black person there, and a group of white friends were doing tour cycling from Bristol to Cornwall. I got to certain shops, and I could tell that they were expecting me. I could feel the scales falling from my eyes. There is still a large part of the world that treats people differently.
Bush or beach?
I am a bush person. I enjoy nature and scenery. The beach tends to get crowded, thus, I will only go there during the off-season, in January and February. But what I really enjoy is tented camping, the ultimate intimate experience for me.
Gifts or experiences?
I like both. Depending on the person, but for myself, experience narrowly beats gifts. But what’s to stop you from getting both? 
What is the one thing you can’t miss on a trip?
Company. There was a time I used to go alone, but I have really warmed up to travelling with my wife.
Without her, you can bet I am only travelling for work, but she makes everything better. Or different.
Are you a planner or spontaneous?
I am a very meticulous planner. But I am a planner up until arrival. From there, we let the gods decide. Spontaneity takes over as long as I know there is a backup to go to.
What’s the one thing you are saying no to this holiday season?
I am looking forward to unplugging from work. For the last three years, Christmas has just been an extension of work. This season, I have set myself a deadline—the 23 (of December)—when I am unplugging everything until January 2. I’ll be completely off the grid.
When you think of Christmas, which food springs to mind?
The very awesome traditionally fermented porridge. These days you can only get it at home.
What is the last thing you do before the lights go off?
I take some time to disconnect from the holiday. I am not a big fan of having activities until the last day. I may come back early, a day or two and do nothing as I ease back to work.
Favourite childhood holiday memory?
When we were younger, my dad worked constantly. The first time he joined us on holiday purposefully was a really wonderful memory. His presence is why I strive to travel with my family, for them to have the same experience.
What’s your holiday soundtrack?
Particularly indie folk music, which was popular in the 2000s. I am a great lover of Christmas carols; I am a very cheery person. They’ll start blasting from the minute I leave the house.
Heavy packer or light traveller?
I buy clothes when I am there. One of the best holiday experiences in my rota was cycle touring. And that is what introduced me to a minimalistic lifestyle. You could go for a week with just two tees. Do you know you can go on holiday without an entire suitcase, like how it was intended to be?
Racey Muchilwa describes herself as a child and a daughter of God in the marketplace. But in that same market, no marks for guessing that she owns many wares too: She is a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend and a daughter-in-law. Typical yet atypical.
If you were a bystander in the said market, you could detect in Racey a steeliness—a determination to succeed that you do not see in everyone.
She occupies the corner office as Country President and Head of Novartis Sub-Saharan Africa, leading 46 countries, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Racey Muchilwa, Country President and Head of Novartis Sub-Saharan Africa. PHOTO | NMG
The firstborn of eight siblings (six girls, two boys), she seems to wear leadership like you wear your favourite sweater: she puts it on and forgets about it.
What is your favourite travel destination? Overseas or local?
What’s your holiday soundtrack?
The natural sounds of the sea and ocean waves hitting the beach or the rocks.
Do you travel solo or with family?
With family.
Best travel memory?
Sun City in South Africa crossing the bridge—I am afraid of heights.
Worst travel experience?
I have two, actually. I remember going to Maasai Mara with my sons (Three and five years old then), and during the game drive, they were either sleeping or asking to pee. And that other time, I took the kids to Disneyland in France, and when we arrived, they were about to close the park. Results: Disappointed kids and a wasted trip!
A travel experience that changed you?
Travelling with my entire extended family (my sisters, brothers, spouses, children etc.) It confirmed that it is God first, family and friends.
Are you on a diet?
No, I am not.
Bush or beach?
At what point exactly do you stop replying to your work calls while on holiday?
I never reply when on holiday unless it’s really urgent, in which case my colleagues and team will call me.
What is the last thing you do before lights go off?
Read a book.
What is the one thing you can’t miss on a trip?
A bible, either the hard copy or the app.
Airbnb or hotel?
Early morning or lie-in?
What’s the one thing you are saying no to this holiday season?
Being thrifty!
Are you a planner or spontaneous?
A bit of both—it depends on whether it’s Airbnb (I am a planner) or a hotel (spontaneous).
Favourite childhood holiday memory?
When daddy took us to Kisumu. We were eight of us, all squeezed into a small blue FORD. We were going to watch a live Circus Show. That was the first time l saw an elephant and tiger doing tricks.
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Joseph Muongi

Financial.co.ke was founded by Mr. Joseph Muongi Kamau. He holds a Master of Science in Finance, Bachelors of Science in Actuarial Science and a Certificate of proficiencty in insurance. He's also the lead financial consultant.