Editor’s Choice

Polycarp Igathe: Why he gets new jobs at the speed of light

I have been promoted every six months in every role I have been. It’s been fantastic, but I have also been extremely lucky

Luckiest man in the room: Polycarp Igathe gets jobs with salaries the length of a telephone number so quickly in the middle of a recession. Being mistaken for the son of billionaire business magnate Chris Kirubi (Inset) does help, sometimes.

By Shifa Mwihaki

Feature writer/Essayist

This dude, Polycarp Igathe, is bloody lucky. He drops jobs, paying salaries the length of a telephone number, then gets hired again, for more dough. How come with him, job hopping is not a red flag?

Picture this: He left as CEO of Vivo Energy for politics. Four months later, he got pissed off by Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and quit as his Deputy. Before Kenyans could say ngai fafa, Igathe was hired back by Vivo Energy and before he could warm his seat, Equity bank came calling. Then he was back at Vivo and then now he’s back at Equity, again. All that in under two years.

If any other Kenyan tries pulling such stunts in a country with high levels of unemployment, the end result is crying in the toilet. How does Igathe do it? He was in marketing with Coca-Cola, Africa Online, East African Breweries and 10 years as CEO of Haco Industries…how can Lady Luck smile on one jamaa so often, for so long? 

Polycarp is a marketer. Those who know him pipe that he’s a genius. Listen to him on why he stands out: “I think simplicity and courage make me stand out. I’m very clear who I am and what I’m about, I speak plainly and that, at times, wins me enemies at the beginning and plenty of friends at the end.”

Human Resources experts reckon that people like Polycarp are marketable because they boast “a strong personal brand and established networks coupled with his capacity to market himself.”

Esther Mwangi, the CEO of HR firm, Executive Edge Consulting, told Undercover that Polycarp “is a good marketer. He talks. He is hired for his networks. His wife (Catherine) is a brilliant lady with a senior job. They are a power couple and the network grows exponentially.”

She had reservations though arguing “I think Polycarp is ruining his career. He is a brand. People like a brand that lasts. He needs to ask himself: Am I hired because of my potential or for my name?”

He is a member of the Windsor Golf & Country Club. At Sh1 million joining fee, it is a place for notable worthies

Power couple: Catherine Igathe is a successful corporate woman. That comes with quotable networks and connections for hubby Polycarp Igathe.

 Of his career journey, Igathe said in  2015 that “I have been promoted every six months in every role I have been. It’s been fantastic but I have also been extremely lucky, thanks to God.”

He also thought that “If you wake up every day playing at the top of your game, you will grow. If you think you are hot because of what you achieved yesterday, you will die.”

Having worked for and with Chris Kirubi and banker James Mwangi comes with serious references in his CV, something many Kenyans don’t take seriously.

Esther Mwangi, our HR expert, argues that many companies for ages never checked with the referees listed, perception which has persisted but nowadays HR does do background checks via calls and emails. There are several mistakes Kenyan job seekers made when it comes to referees like “listing very senior people to scare HR,” says Esther. “Majority pick referees randomly as long as it’s an older person with more experience. Today, HR does background checks. So avoid relatives, friends and list immediate line managers who can vouch for you.”

Some candidates fail job interviews only to be hired after HR confirms with referees as some candidates fail in interviews due to anxiety. “Others fail because of listing malicious managers, though we are able to weed those out,” explains Esther. “Most Kenyans also list just three referees. They can be four or five, unless otherwise stated. It also doesn’t matter if you coached the referee on what to say. We check out with referees to gauge a candidate’s suitability.”

Polycarp Igathe’s hangout joints might also give leads to how he bags these high profile jobs

Peta otas! Polycarp Igathe’s Bentley in Nairobi’s traffic. It is one of 50 in the world and one of only five in Kenya. This Bentley sets you back Sh43 million minus insurance. It is part of personal image branding.

Someone’s life on social media is the other area HR are keen about with potential job seekers. Polycarp hardly parades his private life on social media like most Kenyans do.

Esther offers that as a HR practitioner she learns a lot about a candidate from their social media pages. “Tales and photos of binge drinking reveal there is a problem of responsibility. This is an employee who will be disappearing feigning illness, but it’s a hangover being nursed. We also check out WhatsApp status. It tells us what info the candidate consumes.”

Igathe’s hangout joints might also give leads to how he bags these high profile jobs. For starters, he is a member of the Windsor Golf & Country Club. At Sh1 million joining fee, it is a place for notable worthies. Like billionaire founder of Scangroup, Bharat Thakrar, tees off at Windsor.

But Polycarp goes there, not for golf, but running in a forest at Windsor most evenings and weekends “you will see me at the golf course running. They always say that’s the guy who pays to run on the golf course instead of playing golf, which I’m hopeless at.”

When Polycarp lists golf as among his hobbies in his CV, it is not the same as those who list ‘listening to music, singing, watching movies, travelling’ and what value does swimming add to a job vacancy in accounts?

Esther explains the role of hobbies in a CV as “a point of connection with heads of department and the organization. Those who list reading as their hobby means they can do research and sporty people come off as team players.”

Polycarp has his steaks and Tusker at Windsor and “I like to socialize. People think I’m a golfer because I hang around lots of golfers. My club is Ruiru Golf Club.” Those are serious potential clients for any business.

Okay, Polycarp was born and brought up in Ruiru but somewhere along the way he looks rich and people mistake him for Chris Kirubi’s son-those 10 years he did at Haco. “I run into people who want to associate with me because of that myth, oh I take advantage of it… you know how Kenyans like to hang out with the Who-is-Who.”

I’m also lucky I’m married to a woman like that. My wife Catherine, she is also very plain spoken. We are Dutch

Dances with wolves: Polycarp Igathe served as Nairobi Deputy Governor to Mike Sonko for less than six months. He was not jobless for a month before positions were created for him in companies he had quit for politics.

People like Polycarp are also well adjusted, domestically. Making quality time in the rush of life for his three children. “Making sure I keep dating Cathy every day. She remains the love of my life. I introduce her as “my life” and so making sure that I spend time with her is paramount, which means no late evening meetings. I say no to those. The word ‘no’ is my friend.”

Of the best things he ever did for Catherine: “I bought her a brand new car, took her along to dream trips and hey, have given her three fantastic babies.”

Polycarp’s weakness is that “sometimes, I’m known for being blunt which I want to think of as plain-speaking…. I’m also lucky I’m married to a woman like that. My wife Catherine, she is also very plain spoken. We are Dutch.”

Polycarp also has fears which are “to be a failure as a husband and a father. I don’t care if I fail as a businessman…”

I just can’t understand how someone can be beautiful and not smart

Meeting at the 19th hole: Hanging out here means mingling with the Who’s Who in corporate Kenya and with it, endless opportunities.

When you get highly paying jobs, indulging in some extravagance doesn’t hurt. For Polycarp it comes in Range Rover, Classic Vogue. “That’s my vanity. I love it because I love road trips and travel a lot. I said, let me reward myself after working so hard for all these years.”

As for growing old, Polycarp would want to grow old with Cathy: “Because not only is she beautiful but she is also smart. You know there are many beautiful girls who aren’t smart? I mean I just can’t understand how someone can be beautiful and not smart. She has been at the heart of my success. She’s the core. The engine.”

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