One week to the deadline and only 1,000 forms out of 150,000 had been filled out and returned.
Cynthia Omondi felt pressure that shareholders would not agree to the buyout effort as the clock continued to tick. At stake was a $34-million deal, thousands of dollars in transaction fees and hundreds of hours in face-to-face meetings and conference calls over 15 months.
Omondi’s hard work payed off.
Shareholders approved the $34-million buyout deal. South African company Dimension Data bought out Access Kenya, a Kenyan-based Internet service provider.
“It was a big relief because if Dimension Data did not get the 75-percent approval by December they would pull out of the deal,” she said.
In late August, 90 percent of the shareholders approved the buyout and Access Kenya’s six-year tenancy on the Nairobi Securities Exchange came to end.
It was the first buyout deal the exchange had seen in at least a decade, and Omondi helped pull it off at the age of 27.
This was Omondi’s biggest deal yet as a corporate finance associate at Pamoja Capital, a consultancy with offices in Johannesburg and Nairobi.
She describes her job as being like a choir master whose first symphony was to bring together a cacophonous grouping of analysts, lawyers, regulators and other parties and direct them to work harmoniously in sealing one of the company’s biggest deals of 2013.
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It has been a long road “taken in wide strides” for Omondi, who graduated with honors from Strathmore University in Nairobi.
Her first job was as a bank teller at a local bank. While most graduates, especially those who graduated top in their class, might shun such a job, Omondi saw it as an opportunity for bigger things.
“I knew from the first day that this (telling) is definitely not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she said.
Five years later she has no regrets. Working at the bank gave her the drive to soldier on to the competitive finance industry.
She says that there is nothing wrong with being a banking clerk but she always knew there was more and it was not a dead-end job. It opened the door to corporate finance.
At the bank she made contacts who gave her a shot at research analysis. She was willing to learn everything from anyone.
Her big break came when she moved to African Alliance Investment Bank – a pan-African research, trading and corporate-finance entity – as a research analyst. This is where she “made her bones,” she said.
Apart from learning the architecture of financial models and pricing stocks, she also learned the “soft” skills that have become a vital part of her job: engaging clients, meeting senior executives – pivotal in any business but sometimes difficult for a woman, especially in African culture.
“A common question asked is ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’” Omondi said.
Entertaining clients often includes more than a fair share of alcoholic beverages, a practice that is not exclusive to Africa.
Whiskey is a corporate gift in Japan and Thai businessmen pop a bottle when they seal a deal. In Kenya, women who drink like their male counterparts is now more common, but it still carries a tinge of stigma, Omondi said.
It is tough handling a testosterone-charged environment where verbal altercations are common between colleagues but also from clients, she said.
Omondi said her prescription for handling this level of stress is to look at the situation from the clients’ viewpoint.
“Once you put yourselves in the client’s shoes you get to understand why they are stressed,” she said.
This sort of empathy gave her the energy to trudge on with the deal that is now the crown jewel on her resume.
Kenyan society is not very kind to women who may come off as aggressive, Omondi said. Still, more women are climbing the corporate ladder in the private and public sector, which was not the case a decade ago.