There’s nothing like a hike in a forest where the mobile network coverage is low and you’re forced to switch off from your emails and social media. Catherine Mutonyi, the Commercial Operational Leader for SSA based in the Transportation division of GE Kenya has discovered that hiking and being in nature is the best way to destress.
“My husband and I love hiking, so we’re usually outside during the weekend, just enjoying nature. It’s a true pleasure. Sometimes, we’ll just go to the park and do a nice long walk with our two dogs. At other times, we get out of town and this forces us to wind down even more because the signal strength might not be that great where we’re hiking,” said Catherine.
“The physical exertion helps me forget about the pressure at work and I thoroughly enjoy it when we bump into people and have random conversations.” The main park Catherine visits in Nairobi is Karura, which is conveniently situated within the Karura Forest, making it easier for hikers to take longer walks. “It’s a new thing in Kenya to have a park and go walking, and enjoy the open air. The other place that we like to go to is Lake Naivasha. You can do quite a bit there in terms of the hiking and camping. It’s diverse and they have great food.”
Catherine has always set her career goals very high, initially wanting to study law and then leaning towards dentistry because she had an inclination towards chemistry and biology. But ultimately, she chose engineering because it would utilise her strengths, which are mathematics, science and physics. Catherine studied for a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Sheffield and then worked in London at project management and construction firm, Bechtel and at Transport for London where she gained valuable expertise in design, construction and railways.
Catherine moved back to Kenya and started at GE in January last year as part of the Commercial Leadership Programme, which is now known as the Accelerated Leadership Programme. “I work on the commercial side with sales leaders from different regions. Sales leaders go out and find out what the customer needs. I then vet the opportunities coming in from the sales leaders and where they are viable, I then take them through a proposal process. My days vary because it all depends on the needs and the urgencies that need to be dealt with on that day.”
Image top and above: Catherine Mutonyi, the Commercial Operational Leader for SSA based in the Transportation division of GE Kenya, loves hiking and has hiked to the top of Mount Kenya. Credit: Courtesy GE
“A typical morning starts with gym at about 6.30am and then, I go to work. Most days, I will start by working on urgent proposals and I will set up calls to get the information I need. I liaise with my team and the sales leaders so that we can prioritise, as a group, what we need to work on to ensure we all start on the right foot. Then, we get to the internal review processes where we talk about exactly what needs to be done with each proposal. We’ll also set up internal calls and calls with teams in other countries to go through the proposals. Because time is of the essence with each proposal we receive, I draw up a living document that we all work on to ensure that everyone contributes, and that we are considering all comments and inputs.”
Catherine liaises with teams all over Africa, Belgium and the United States almost daily, and she sometimes makes three calls a day to the global network. The teams in other countries are always willing to help, but due to everyone being busy, she has learnt to be very direct and to get to the point quickly during international calls.
“My evenings end a little later because working with global teams extends my day, so I get home at about 8pm. Luckily, I don’t have to cook. We have someone who cooks for us and that makes life a little easier. Hopefully, my husband gets in at the same time as I do and we’ll eat together, and it’s when we sit around talking that we start to wind down. When I’m at home, I also like to go online. I like to find out what’s happening around the world in terms of news, trends and social media. I recently discovered Netflix, so I will watch an episode of a series, or half a movie before going to bed.”
Catherine is grateful for the way GE organises its various training programmes. “The training is structured in such a good way. The assignments are so meaningful and GE provides a support system too. I really feel like I’m making a valuable contribution at work.”
“One of the greatest lessons I learned early on, when working on my first proposal, was ‘never be afraid to ask for help’. I had put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself with my first assignment by trying to do everything myself and then, one of my colleagues told me ‘you need to work with the team. You need to ask for help. You can’t sustain this because you will burn out. You are not expected to know everything’. I now ask for help very easily.”
“My advice to youngsters is: Don’t stop wanting to learn and learn how to work in a collaborative environment. Also, learn how to listen and how to prioritise, and always keep your mind open and ready to learn.”