May 27

‘Global work experience & an African background are an unbeatable combo’

Kenyan homecomer Michael Awori returned home after finding a top job with Barclays at Homecoming Revolution’s London event in March 2014. Since returning home last year, he is Regional Head of Corporate Debt, responsible for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Click here to read his story.

1.  When did you leave Kenya and why?

I left Kenya in the late 90s, to complete my undergraduate degree in the US.

2. How many years did you spend abroad before making the decision to return home?

After college I moved to Chicago and took a job with a large global bank. About 9 or 10 years later, while in business school, I contemplated returning back to Africa and even spent a summer interning with a private equity fund in Joburg. Ultimately this didn’t turn out to be the right time for me to move back, so I returned to Chicago and post business school, took an investment banking position with another large global bank. In January 2014, I decided to take one last look at returning. After an exhaustive search process, I accepted the position with Barclays and moved back to Kenya in late 2014 after 17 years in the US.

3. How did you find your time abroad?

I truly enjoyed my time in the US and have come to regard it as my second home. While in the US I would call Kenya home, and now that I’m back in Kenya , still call the US my other home. From a professional perspective, I was able to obtain a first class education, including an MBA from University of Chicago. I also gained invaluable experience from spending over 14 years at two of the leading global banks. From a personal perspective, I met my wife in the US, so overall it was time very well spent.

4. What gave you the final push to return home?

In early 2014 I was contemplating a career switch. My wife and I were also contemplating major decisions about our family. As such, it was an opportune time to revisit the idea of moving back in conjunction with the other major life decisions we were in the process of making. We decided to take one last comprehensive look at moving back. Early on in the process, I stumbled across Homecoming Revolution and the London event. Separately, I had also come across several intriguing opportunities at Barclays. The fact that Barclays was going to be at the London event was a win-win.

5. How do Kenya and the UK’s corporate environments differ?

Having come from a US investment banking environment, pretty much everything else in comparison is much more laid back and less intense by several orders of magnitude. I find in general the environment in Kenya is a little more bureaucratic and ‘process driven’. As such, decision making is not as quick as in the US and business units aren’t as nimble. On the flipside, I find that the environment is much more social or family oriented – for example it’s not unusual for someone returning from leave to walk around the office and greet all the colleagues.

6. Was it difficult to adjust when you returned?

Several aspects were a challenge to adjust to. Technology being a big one – on my first day on the job my inbox was somehow already full! Overall though my adjustment wasn’t too difficult given I was coming back to a country I was familiar with. Although a lot has changed since I left, that level of familiarity helped smooth the adjustment significantly.

7. What have been your best and worst things about returning to Kenya?

The worst is easy  – the traffic! Also the bureaucracy of certain legal processes e.g. immigration, has been very frustrating at times. Among the best things is certainly the weather. Also, the quality of life if quite high and it is a great place to raise a family.

8. What would you say to a Kenyan living abroad who is considering returning home?

I would say ‘Come home’. A developed world education and work experience, coupled with a Kenyan or African background are an unbeatable combination. While there are certainly challenges associated with living in Kenya, which are amplified when compared to conveniences of living abroad, the opportunities, both professional and personal, more than make up for this.

9. How does your international exposure contribute to the way you approach working in Africa?

My background is in high pressure, high intensity environments, working under tight deadlines and driven by the end goal of giving our clients high quality products and services, quickly and cheaply. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a diverse group of clients – from small family owned businesses to Fortune 500 corporations. Although I’m no longer in a US style investment banking setting, I strive every day to bring that same level of intensity, client focus and insight to my approach to work.

10. How are you having a sense of impact back home?

I can see my impact directly in my unit’s business performance in terms of us achieving (and in some cases exceeding) our aggressive growth targets. Part of the attraction of the position to me was the opportunity to build a high performing team from scratch. One and a half years on, my team has doubled in size and our impact is starting to flow through into the numbers which is very rewarding to see.

11. Tell us more about your current role?

My day job is managing the East Africa Leveraged Finance business – to be specific, that means that my team manages any long term loan opportunity above $5 million – from building the financial models, determining appropriate structure, managing the credit approval process and negotiating legal documentation the client. We do this in partnership with our Corporate and Investment banking colleagues  in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Aside from this, given my background, I also assist with on the ground coverage of select investment banking clients.

12. Would you recommend Homecoming Revolution – why?

I would highly recommend Homecoming Revolution. The recruiting events are a great forum for Africans abroad to interact directly with potential future employers and I am a direct example of what could come out of this. The events also provide participants the opportunity to not only network with others contemplating the same decision, but service providers and others who have already made the move back.