I still recall February 2015 like it was yesterday. One early morning, I rise up to beat the Thika Road traffic madness so that I can be in the office by 8:00am as is expected of every employee. That Tuesday mid morning, the PA to our then Managing Director steps into my office in the middle of a meeting and says, Sylvia….stop what you’re doing and join the rest of your colleagues for an emergency meeting. I was like, ” What the hell is happening”? So I join the other employees in a what seemed to be a very important ongoing session. The mid level management were still not in the room, so we all sit tight and wait patiently. The previous day, one of the bosses had asked us during our usual Monday staff morning meetings to carry our resumes again for the third time as the Human Resource Manager from the mother company would be visiting the next day. So in my mind I was like, I hope this “mama” is ready to give me a raise for being a competent employee for the past one year. Perhaps she was coming for a job evaluation. After all, these people have never reviewed our salaries upwards, not to mention the times I had to work overtime and take on extra work after their payroll manager was on maternity leave, all these without asking for an extra dime in a what was considered to be a start up in the local media industry.

In a few minutes, the managers accompanied by the CFO and a few executives from the head office join us and a guy in a very sharp suit stands up and addresses us in a less-than-ten-minute speech. His exact words were, “I am sorry to let you guys know that the PPO was successful but we simply can not afford to keep some of you as employees from next month moving forward. We have terminated your employee contracts and we will compensate you fully for three months pay. I have signed your termination letters, you will be entitled to a free counseling session after you clear with the company and receive your final cheques in two days time”.

The silence in the room was so loud, you could see the anger and disappointment written all over people’s faces including that of the Managing Director. In short, this CFO guy was saying, “Thank you for your services but I have to fire some of you. The Print and Radio department were shut down with immediate effect. So, in a span of 10minutes, people had lost their jobs. We were now waiting for the HR to call us one by one and issue the letters and if you were the unlucky one, get your stuff and head back home. The MD was so infuriated, he left immediately and asked his junior managers to deal with the B/S. I mean how do you just show up and fire half of my staff without my knowledge?

Eventually, people are sent home but for some reason, my letter is hidden till Friday, because they have to do their internal controls and be sure that the accountant(me) does not leave with any company money. I begin to connect the dots. That’s why they had sent me an auditor to come and have a sit down meeting with me just before they relayed the news. I am cleared. I tell the auditor that I will be there the next Monday to hand over, as was expected of me. Before I leave, I insist to have a word with the manager. I had a good working relationship with him, so I thought he owed me an explanation at the very least. I mean how do you just show up with a letter and three months advance payment and exchange that with termination of my services? Like really… It’s like saying to me, “That’s the end of your career”. Considering that this was my first job immediately after campus. We all know what tarmacking means for the Kenyan graduates. I walk up to his office and there he is, somewhat depressed, I boldly ask him to tell me the truth. At that moment in my life, I was seeking for an honest answer, I wanted to know why he would let them fire me, I wanted to understand why I was sent home, I was in denial especially because the year was still relatively new.

This guy forgets that he is my boss and at that moment, he spoke to me like one of his daughters. He told me his next action plan, that he has written a letter to the CFO asking him to buy the whole company: including his staff and be totally independent from it. At that moment I’m thinking, ‘Damn you!…..The things money can do. Money is good”. He asks me as his accountant to estimate the value of the company and give him feedback within the shortest time possible. He also assures me that my job is not lost, my efforts are not forgotten and that I should expect a call from him any time within a month. I am obviously shocked by his response, one minute I am fired, the next minute I still have my job. So I tell him, I need some time to think and process all that information, it was too much to take in. I go back home and the first person I talk to about it was my mum. As I was telling her, she noticed a smile on my face. She told me that it has been a while since she last saw me smile. She welcomed me with motherly love and told me, “It’s going to be alright”.

I mean it was like I was relieved that I had lost my job, and in all honesty I was. It was one of the most toughest jobs I had to deal with in my life. It was stressful sometimes. I called in sick on some days. I had to deal with endless calls from suppliers who were not getting paid on time. I had to deal with negotiating for the company’s working capital as though it was my own company. I had to deal with all the financial challenges a start up encounters within its initial stages. Sometimes, the management would give me a thumbs up and a mention me during the usual staff meetings. That was their way of saying, I appreciate your job, and that, that kept me going, not the salary because it meant nothing.

One month later, my former boss calls me for a meeting. He says to me that the company was in transition and that he would like me to continue offering my accounting services as they figured out how to to be totally independent. If only this guy could read my mind, he wouldn’t be offering me a second chance. So I sit there and listen and have a cup of tea. When my turn to speak comes, I start negotiating for a pay rise. It was the most reasonable thing for me to do at that time. You can not fire me and expect me to come back and work for you with the same terms and conditions. At that time, I had a chance to be proud of my achievements and rightfully ask for fair compensation. However, my request could not go through as he was not the only guy with a say when it came to matters of remuneration.
The other senior manager tells me, Sylvia you’re a young girl, if you were to come back, we would still pay you as we were paying you initially, it’s not like we have started to make profits a month after you left. Those words ignited a spark in me, deep down inside, this guy was saying to me you’re coming back to the original position and for the same remuneration I paid you before I fired you. So I did what my gut told me, I walked out. Then called the manager and told him, I appreciate your gesture but I can not work without a pay rise. He asks me how much are you worth? I can pay you from my own pocket……and at that moment I’m like damn you, the things money can do….money is good.

Long story short; I said no to the job offer and decided to go solo. During that one month that I was at home, I took some time off to think and ask myself tough questions. I asked myself, the very same question my boss asked me, “How much are you worth?” It was not an answer I could figure out by myself in one day, so at the end I resolved that no employer can actually pay me what I consider to be my worth. It was a combination of job satisfaction, passion, flexibility in terms of my time, the freedom to work, sleep and meet people at my convenience, the patience to know that I can make it if I put my mind to it and work towards achieving my own goals and aspirations.

It was my wake up call, my entrepreneurial journey. Two years later, I am a happier girl, it’s challenging YES, it’s also very rewarding YES, YES, and I can not trade my last 12 months experience for anything. I have gone through some milestones I wouldn’t have if I was still an 8-5 employee, I have learned how to value time and money, I have made new business partners, I have made new mentors and fellow entrepreneurial minds, I have gathered the courage to know that I can determine my own paycheck.

This note is dedicated to all the Kenyan youth going through a hard time trying to find jobs, there is hope, you just need to believe in your gut!!!

4 thoughts on “Leaving The 9-5

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