The first time I met Anita O’Donovan, I made the terrible mistake of telling my friends in Swahili that she has lovely hair. Hours later, Anita came and thanked me for the compliment in Swahili leaving me in utter shock. I could have bet my mortgage (If I had one!) that Anita is anything but Kenyan. An experience that she confesses that she has come across so many times. Getting to know the Marketing Manager of Thackray Museum in Leeds has been such an inspiration to myself and I believe will be to many young people out there. Below is a detailed mapping of her road to career excellence.
1. Take us through your pre-university life, what schools did you attend?
I went to Banda Prep. Then Hillcrest Secondary. I think attend is probably the right word, I was probably there more in body than in spirit- always more interested in the extra curricular stuff, but I always did enough to get where I wanted to go.
2. What was your childhood dream job?
I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, my ideal then and probably still would be, to win the lottery and just to charity work; like create a scholarship fund and build safe and affordable housing for people in Kenya. On a more practical level I guess it would be to run the Kenya Wildlife Service or a private equivalent.
3. At what point did you decide to come and study in the UK?
Well by my A-Levels my opportunities to win the lottery seemed unlikely, so I had to come up with a “b plan”. I always just assumed I would go to University but didn’t really think about where, until I was doing my A-Levels. By this time I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in restaurants/hotels/tourism and the only course that seemed to fit in Kenya was at Utalii College. Unfortunately I would have been too young to start straight after my A-Levels, and my Dad was against me taking a year off, so with Utalii not being an option the UK looked like the best all round value for money.
4. Why Surrey University and what did you study?
My degree is in International Hospitality and Tourism Management and I chose Surrey because the course had the best reputation my course in the UK. The course has also produced some of the biggest players in the Kenyan industry including Martin Dunford of the Tamarind Group.
5. Did you ever think about going back to work in Kenya?
I did consider it at the end of my degree, and I was completely torn between Kenya and the UK. I had a job offer in Kenya but I was going off the idea of working in hotels or restaurants and I was scared that I would be trapped in a job. I speculatively applied for a couple of jobs on the tourism and attractions side but I didn’t even get a “thanks but no thanks” letter from any of the companies. In retrospect I would probably done a follow up phone call and hounded them.
6. What was your first job post graduation and what did that involve?
My first job was temping in a car body shop as a purchase ledger accounts clerk. Which wasn’t the glamorous job I was hoping for but it paid the bills and gave me a practical understanding of accounts. Which surprisingly really helps me now, when I have to make strategy decisions based on the accounts.
7. You have risen up the ladder so fast, what do you put that down to?
I put it down to two things; I am an all-rounder and can do a fairly good job of anything I put my hand to. I have also always been willing to take on tasks outside of my job description, which have in turn earned me respect and opened all sorts of doors. If you had told me 5 years ago I would work in marketing, let alone have won an award for it, I would have laughed in your face.
8. What does your normal day at work sketch like?
On paper I work 9-5, Monday to Friday and I am office based. However that isn’t always what happens, as I frequently attend breakfast meetings, community meetings and events out of hours. I claim the time back in lieu for those all important hairdressers appointments, sleep ins and long weekends away.
My main responsibility is to increase awareness about the Thackray Museum and I can basically do whatever I want to achieve that as long as I don’t bring the museum’s integrity or reputation into question. So, I basically spend most of the day writing adverts, leaflets, articles, manning stands at fairs and I do the occasional interview for TV and Radio. The wackiest thing I have done is co-ordinated a Ghost Hunt round the museum, which got us TV and newspaper coverage and loads of word of mouth.
9. What do you do outside work commitments with your six-figure salary (ha! ha!)?
SIX FIGURE!! Someone, somewhere is definitely taking more than 100%. My job actually comes with quite a healthy social life attached, with loads of events like concert and theatre tickets available free or discounted, and well frankly it would be rude not to go. I also like to swim, go out drinking, clubbing, shopping, eating out, travelling, and walking in the country.
10. Any plans for the future?
Yes, to win the lottery.
11. Would you advice young Kenyans considering career paths to come and study in the UK?
Do your research! A degree is going to cost you in excess of a million shillings a year, so don’t make any decisions lightly, you don’t want to be half way through a French degree only to decide you want to be a doctor. If you aren’t sure try and find a degree that covers all your bases.
Many companies will take unpaid volunteers on board to work for them. If you think a life in civil engineering is for you, then approach a couple of Civil Engineering Companies and ask them if you can spend a month working for them free of charge to get a feel for the job. The work will probably be unpaid to begin with, but it gets your foot in the door and gives you the opportunity to make contacts that could be useful in future life, or could even help you get a job when you are finished. Your Dad may be the president but remember you aren’t yet, so if you have to make the tea, ask whether that is with milk and how many sugars! Get yourself involved in as many different departments as you can, the information will help you understand the industry and your future job much better – don’t discount hands on or on the job training. As Confucius once said "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand"
If you can’t open any doors like that see if you can talk to someone who works in your chosen career, but don’t expect to speak to the big guy and don’t waste their time. You also need to find out what salary you should expect, and ask yourself if your salary at the end of the degree will justify what you have paid out.
Aside from that work hard, play hard and you will have the time of your life
12. Married, single engaged?
Well my best friend did promise me to a waiter in Tunisia for a herd of camels. The deal is still in negotiation, as she needs to find somewhere to store them. ‘You can see me with my fiancée and illegitimate child in the attached photo’
Full-time writer and lover of life.