As Gina walks across the lawn to meet me, I wonder what makes her tick. During the interview, I get to know that it has not been a walk in the park for her. It was hard, difficult and challenging. Countless times she contemplated quitting.
Congratulations on your appointment as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Kenya Honorary Ambassador. What does it entail?
I am very excited. The mandate of UNFPA covers a number of areas such as FGM, early childhood marriages and maternal health; which are issues I am passionate about. We simply cannot have children having children without the women in the room speaking out about it. Far too many women die giving birth and that should not be happening at all. We must encourage girls to aspire to become leaders and not just followers. More women should be portrayed as leaders and in positions of power in the media and women in leadership roles should be depicted as the norm instead of the exception. I hope my platform at UNFPA will help articulate these issues.
The year is 1997, and you have quit a lucrative position at Barclays Bank. Tell us about that and the genesis of Gina Din as a brand?
I think I was a person way before I was seen as a brand… And people like to do business with people. Look at Steve Jobs with Apple or Richard Branson with Virgin. So I have always been my brand. Scaling my business at the beginning was not my focus. It was about building relationships and standing out in terms of excellence and quality and essentially making a mark. I built a strong persona before I built a brand. I think its interesting today where so many people consider themselves “brands” when they haven’t really invested in their persona.
Did you at some point feel like, “I think I made a mistake quitting employment”?
Yes. I have, not just once or twice but had several points of wanting to give up. Throughout my working life I was always so invested on the outcome of a project. Starting my own business was really different. I didn’t have the structure and support that came with my corporate job at Barclays. Suddenly I had met my match. Me! Of course producing great work was much easier when I was working on very generous budgets but suddenly I was on my own and I was picking up the tab.
I had to learn to accept failure which to be honest I struggled with and I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable often. I have learnt that failure isn’t the opposite of success, and often it’s a stepping stone to success. I have become pretty badass when it comes to failure and now able to look at it in the eye and take it on. Too often the Gina Din story has been about our awards, trophies and successes and all that is great but I do think I would not be honest by pretending it’s all been straight sailing and celebrations. The real story is much more volatile and human.
It is the story of a lot of risk, long hours and a great deal of sacrifice. It is the story of pushing outside of what’s is comfortable and predictable. Most successful entrepreneurs have failed. My failures have been my learnings and I am much better now at things perhaps not working out. I keep reminding myself of why I started and the incredible journey I have had.
What kept you going?
Because I am unemployable and happily so. I have been my own boss for way too long now and I don’t think there’s any job in the world that would give me this crazy adrenaline rush I have now. I also doubt that any boss would take kindly to me constantly questioning the status quo which as an entrepreneur I do all the time.
I think I would go crazy having to observe a tedious decision making process. I value my freedom way too much… I guess these are some of the reasons as well as the fact that I can’t imagine myself observing a dress code. The overriding reason though is because I have this crazy idea that my purpose is bigger than me.
One of the biggest impediments to one getting to their full potential is fear. What fears have you personally managed to overcome?
I suppose the fear of failure has always been my Achilles heel. I have historically held myself to very high standards and anything that wasn’t 100% wasn’t good enough. I have now come to understand that we all struggle with fear. Most of what we want to achieve is only available outside of our comfort zone and that is a scary place to be.
You can be comfortable or you can be courageous. You can’t be both. I no longer pretend I am not afraid, I feel the fear and think through why I am afraid and no longer allow it to paralyze me. I never allow a season in my life to define me. To be honest my greatest fear now the fear of being average.
What would you say defines a person?
Integrity. Kindness. Intelligence. Courage. Resilience.
You are passionate about the youth. What is that one thing you always emphasize in the youth fora you speak?
I tell the young people I spend time with that success is not just fame and fortune but hard work and integrity. Role models are not those that we see on TV. Role models are in the communities we live in. Too many young people build their lives wanting to be like someone they see in movies or TV shows.
I find many young people feel hopeless and I always encourage them to trust their future. That we can become whoever we want to be. That where they came from is not what’s important, it’s where we are going that’s important. That we must either be all in or be all out. There is no half way measure.
What are the key things young people should embrace for them to be on the right path of success?
Don’t watch the clock. Be willing to ask help but also willing to take charge. Don’t treat your job like a chore. You and your employer are on the same team… Define success on your own terms. Achieve it with your own rules and build a life you can be proud of.
It’s a dynamic world, opportunities are flying left right and center. How can the young people tap them?
You won’t be youth forever. So start building your future now. Be tenacious. You can be as bright as anything, but if you are not tenacious your intelligence will only get you so far. Keep learning. It’s a competitive world and the more you know the more marketable you will be. Remember everything started as nothing. Entrepreneurs aren’t people who own businesses they are people that make things happen. Over deliver every time. Don’t worry about competition. The only competition you have is yourself. Become the go-to person in your field. Become an authority.
Gina’s famous last words….
Life is a series of trades. We only have limited time energy and resources. Young people today are in a big hurry to have it all… and want it now! They often have difficult choices to make in their pursuit for success. I see so many young people giving up what they want most, for what they want now. Whatever you chose will determine your effectiveness, quality of life and ultimately your legacy. My question is, what are you willing to trade for the life you want?