Africa’s Business Landscape Never Riper, Says Kenyan Marketing Manager

Africa’s Business Landscape Never Riper, Says Kenyan Marketing Manager

Determination and a high desire to achieve greatness are Ann Mugure’s recipes for success.

At 24, she beat the odds to become a regional marketing manager for Nairobi-based House of Decker, sole authorized distributor for Belly Bandit products in the East African region. With headquarters in Los Angeles, Belly Bandit has products that include compression wraps. The company says they help post-partum women regain their pre-pregnancy figures. They are popularly referred to as the “Hollywood mothers’ open secret.” Mugure is in charge of the Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda markets.

The Moi University, Kenya graduate majored in communication and public relations. She spoke to AFK Insider about her career and the successful penetration of a western product into the East African market.

1.      What was your first job?

I landed my first job during university long holidays (summer break). I worked for a total of eight months – four months each in 2009 and 2010. I worked as program manager for Our Kid Foundation, a non-governmental organization located in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. The organization was founded in 2008 and focused on using soccer training to bring together kids from different backgrounds, aged between 9 and 17, to foster cohesion. This was after the post-poll violence of 2008 which claimed over 1,000 lives.

2.      How did you land your current job as East Africa marketing manager for House of Decker?

Black Americans Have the Highest Mortality Rates But Lowest Levels of Life Insurance
Are you prioritizing your cable entertainment bill over protecting and investing in your family?
Smart Policies are as low as $30 a month, No Medical Exam Required
Click Here to Get Smart on Protecting Your Family and Loves Ones, No Matter What Happens

With Kenya’s unemployment rate having increased to 40 percent in the last two years from 12 percent in 2006, it was a daunting task to secure a job after graduating in 2012. I sent out numerous job applications but couldn’t secure interviews. I decided to look for internship positions to acquire work experience. Fate would have me joining House of Decker as marketing intern. Three months later the company director offered me marketing manager position, saying I showed great promise. I was elated of course.

3.      Tell us more about key products at House of Decker?

House of Decker is the sole distributor of the Belly Bandits in the East African Region. I am charged with the responsibility of popularizing and boosting its sales. Belly Bandits are post-partum compression belts that help a mother get rid of her post–pregnancy belly. We have three types of Belly Bandits. The original one for the normal delivery mom; the bamboo Belly Bandit for the c-section mom, (but it can still be used by the normal delivery mom) and the limited edition (Kardashian) bandit for the stylish mom.

We also have another product called the mother tucker which helps a lady look flawless in her dress by hiding her belly.

4.      Belly bandits do not come across as a must-have tool for the average African mom. Do they fly off the shelves?

The secret is market research.

We have sold thousands of Belly Bandits since the company started in 2011. Our sales are greatly boosted by our realization of the fact that the younger generation of women are starting families. This generation is greatly concerned about physical appearances and wishes to maintain curves in the right places and desire to have flat bellies. This is unlike the majority of previous Generation X. I enjoy seeing the confidence boost after clients check into my office and flaunt their flat bellies. So in essence, yes they are flying off the shelves.

I’m a hands-on manager and will from time to time deliver this wonderful product to women who’ve just delivered in hospital. The East African region has also taken to social media and that’s a great platform to get the product out there.

5.      What’s your advice to women trying to make it in Africa and rise to leadership positions?

When it comes to women and leadership, Katherine Kehler, a woman I respect very much, summarizes that quite well. She once said, “If women would realize what an influence they have, they would be filled with pride. If men recognized how influential women are, they would be scared to death.”

Africa has come of age and women are getting recognition as equals among their male counterparts. We have more women chairing and driving boardroom conversations. Nurturing capability, intellect, emotions, logical thinking and the idea of shared leadership are among the many qualities that define women in leadership today.

(Katherine Kehler is a Canadian innovator and entrepreneur who launched and developed many successful ministries.)

6.      What are some of the challenges you face?

There is the general notion in the region that to become a manager you have to be above 30 years. At 24, most people think I am too young to effectively carry out my roles among other criticism that float around from time to time.

I always tell my colleagues and friends that once they set their mind to something and believe they can achieve it – nothing can stand in their way.

7.      What are some of your greatest achievements?

I believe to achieve is to add value to humanity. I love humanitarian works and giving back to society. In my final year in university, I organized a visit to Illula Children’s Home in Eldoret (Kenya). Being the mastermind behind the idea, I had friends contribute both in cash and kind towards helping the young orphans.

The campaign attracted 80 students who accompanied me to visit and put smiles across orphans’ faces. It was humbling.

I have been featured on nation television, a leading Kenyan media house, in their “Women and Power” segment. I have also been featured in their morning talk show, “AM Liv,”’ to shed light on the benefits of Belly Bandits.

8.      What would be your advice to other international firms that wish to introduce their products or services into the African market?

If I had the chance to join potential foreign investors in boardrooms debating whether they should invest in Africa, I would tell them that the continent’s business landscape has never been this ripe. Africa is no longer a dark continent as it was commonly referred to. Most African government policies encourage investments and the African people provide excellent human capital.

9.      How do you relax and unwind?

Nothing beats family time! I enjoy kicking back at my family home. I also enjoy watching movies, cycling, socializing or getting involved in community work.

10.  What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

You are a dream maker and a game changer!

11.  If you were stuck in the Sahara Desert and had to choose one thing and one person to be with you, what and who would you choose?

I bet you expect me to say my future son or daughter and a belly bandit! So I’ll let you have that!