By Goodnews Buekor
For as long as we know, vehicles and their concerns have always been a man’s thing. However, for Rita Kavashe, they are her world, and she perfectly understands them. In the automobile industry, Rita has broken stereotypes and reset standards.
The Kenyan businesswoman attended Moi University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 1988. She later obtained a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Nairobi in 2005, and in 2013, she attended the Business Leadership Program at Harvard Business School.
Kavashe started in 1995, shortly after her university, as sales personnel at General Motors East Africa Limited. She held various essential positions in sales and marketing over the years. She spent six months working in South Africa in 2010 at the company’s establishments in the country.
In 2011, she was appointed as managing director of General Motors East Africa Limited. At that time, the company was the largest assembler of automotive vehicles, based in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. When Isuzu acquired the bulk of the shares in the company in 2015, Kavashe was retained as managing director.
Under her administration, the assembly line for pick-up trucks was moved from South Africa to Kenya, creating 150 new jobs.
Rita Kavashe’s journey has not been a walk in the park. On many occasions, people would call requesting to speak with the managing director, and when she got on the line, they would say they wanted to talk to the MD, not his secretary.
Also, her presence in male-dominated auto conferences has left them uncomfortable, with apparent displays of unwelcoming facial expressions. Despite being regarded as an outsider, years of steering Isuzu to unimaginable heights, and her dedication to the advancement of the auto industry in general, have earned her respect from colleagues.
“Initially, there was doubt about whether I would make it. Eventually, they realized I was making it happen, and therefore I earned their respect,” says Kavashe. Earning the regard and recognition of key industry stakeholders, Kavashe got elected chairperson of the Kenya Vehicle Manufacturers Association and the Kenya Motor Industry Association, positions she served at different times.
Aside from being an industry guru and Managing Director at Isuzu, Kavashe is sought after by many companies, including some listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange. She is also a champion of the Women on Boards Network – Kenya, which handles issues on how more women can prepare for board positions.
As an executive coach certified by the revered Academy of Executive Coaches (AOEC), UK, she uses her experience and expertise to mentor young girls on career and family, among other issues, and to give them the much-needed inspiration they need so they too can rise to the peak.
She also serves as the chairperson of Bamburi Cement and the Kenya Roads Board, as the vice-chair of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance and sits on the boards of the Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Board, Boma Panafrican Ltd, and the University of Eldoret Endowment Trust Board of Trustees. Also, in September 2020, British-American Tobacco Kenya appointed Kavashe as the chairperson of its board.
Kavashe has been an epitome of the fact that hard work and perseverance pays, regardless of someone’s background. When she joined the automobile industry, she had no engineering background, so she had to learn on the job.
In a 2017 interview with CNN, she was referred to as “The queen of commercial trucks in Kenya”. The same year, she was also awarded the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear for exemplary service to the country as a business leader.
“I did not imagine I would be where I am, not at all,” she says, adding that growing up, her father built in her the culture of establishing relationships, leaving a good impression, working hard and, when in a position of leadership, serving with commitment.
“Whenever I am given a responsibility, I discharge it to the best of my ability. I tap into other people. I will not sleep with a problem. Instead, I look for someone to help me solve it. I connect easily.” Indeed, we can be who we choose to be regardless of our backgrounds, race, and gender. Kavashe is proof that women are not disadvantaged, and we can stand out in whatever sphere we find ourselves in.