I spent an hour with this phenomenal woman and I left with amazing nuggets of information and super charged to make a difference. She has years of wisdom, a creative spirit and a quest to enjoy life; it was a breath of fresh air speaking with her. Enjoy the interview with Esther Macharia Chibesa- mother, wife, career woman; a super woman if you ask me. She is the Director of Treasury and Trade Solutions at Citibank Kenya. She is among the few women blazing a trail in the male-dominated financial services industry and a prime candidate in the list of Kenya’s Women to Watch.
C: How does it feel like being among this year’s Top 40 Women under 40?
E: I can honestly describe the feeling in two words: gratifying and humbling. I am grateful for such an incredible opportunity and for each opportunity that has come my way. I have always purposed to harness each opportunity that has come my way and make it valuable. It is humbling to feature on such a phenomenal list.
C: How has life been growing up? Walk us through your life during childhood.
E: I grew up in a sheltered and tight-knit family in Nairobi. I am the first of four daughters. I am so proud of my younger sisters and the astute strides they have made. They are doing phenomenally well in their areas of expertise- as a magistrate, doctor and lawyer. We owe all this to our upbringing and the sacrifices made by our parents. They believed strongly in the power of education and the importance of setting achievable and incremental goals. I remember my mother used to always tell us “There are no geniuses, just people who work extremely hard”
C: You are one of the few women blazing the trail in the male dominated financial services industry. What has your career journey been like, from your days as a graduate trainee through your rise to Citibank Kenya Director of Treasury and Trade Solutions?
I graduated from the University of Botswana having studied Accounts. I applied for the highly competitive graduate trainee position at Citibank Kenya in 1999. To this day I remember the highly ambitious cover letter I sent in with my application. I flew in to Nairobi for my interview and I truly believe that has been the best interview in my entire career. I attribute this to the thorough preparation I did for that interview. I held the position of graduate trainee for 18months, working in different departments such as Operations and Customer Care.
I then moved to Citibank Uganda as a risk analyst for three years. It was a great opportunity and a great learning curve. I was part of the team that consolidated a new corporate unit that advised companies mainly on credit facilities. Between January 2004 and September 2008 I worked in Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda as a trade product manager. I then became the consummate banker involved in structuring trade services products for clients in the mining, public sector, agribusiness and manufacturing sectors and also identifying supply chain financing opportunities for them. I took up the position of Citibank Director of Treasury and Trade Solutions in Zambia from 2011, after which I moved to Kenya as the Citibank Kenya Director of Treasury and Trade Solutions.
C: At just under 40 years, you have achieved a lot. What has it taken to get to where you are?
E: I believe it is important to frequently ask yourself the question “Am I being true to myself and doing what I would like to be doing?” I believe intelligence exhibits itself in different forms. Growing up in university I had a vision board which had the goals I wanted to achieve in my life. This helped me to consolidate and focus my efforts on attaining my goals. Throughout my career I have always purposed to be curious and adaptable. This curiosity has enabled me to apply myself in diverse roles. I appreciate diversity.
C: Outside from your professional hat, what kind of person are you and what do you like to do?
E: Above all, I am a wife and mother to three beautiful children. Family is everything to me. I love to garden, I derive a lot of pleasure in watching things grow. I also love décor, this stems from my love for all things creative. I am also an avid reader. I strive to stay healthy by exercising regularly. When I was younger I used to love to sing and compose songs for Christmas carols.
C: You mention you love to read. What are your all-time favourite books?
E: I especially loved “Timeline” by Michael Crichton. Crichton combines technical details and action, addressing quantum and multiverse theory. This completely fascinated me. Another book I loved was “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis. The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior Demon screwtape to his nephew, a junior tempter. It’s a must read. Lastly, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde. It is about a man named Dorian who desires to sacrifice his soul to ensure that a portrait of him, rather than he, will age and fade. It is a very thought-provoking read.
C: If you could describe yourself in one word, or using one animal or thing, what would that be?
E: A butterfly. A butterfly is curious and independent with a sense of freedom. I believe this bests describes me, and I in turn value these attributes in other people.
C: Tell us something unique, different or quirky about you.
E: That’s a tough one, but I would say I knit and sing. As I mentioned earlier, I used to compose Christmas carols in my childhood. Interestingly enough, years later I was amazed to hear one of the songs a friend and I composed in childhood being sang at a church service.
C: What legacy would you want to leave?
E: For my children- I want my children to understand that happiness is a choice. I want them to live life to the fullest and really enjoy their lives. I want my children to grow up as good, honest and kind individuals.
At work- Through effort, partnership with my great team and fate I would like to make a huge difference and impact, and grow the business exponentially. I want to be known for great ambition and tangible impact.
In life- In the end I want to have loved and lived life. I believe “You do this ONCE. Just once!” We have one life and with each passing day, we never get younger. This creates an attitude of fearlessness and you become possessed with clarity.
C: The purpose of Calibrated Blossom is to inspire young people to seek and chase inner perfection, encourage a shift in mindset and spur people towards the direction of their dreams. What is your take on this?
E: There is no shame in effort. It builds resilience. With resilience comes capability to do and be more. Achievement is a journey. Belief and confidence will make you soar. Build success incrementally.
To all the young people my challenge would be: Do you have a dream? Does it seem crazy? Are you going for it? If so, keep at it!