His day starts with meditation, prayer and a cup of sizzling hot coffee. Mr. Peter Kibet Biwott, Chief Executive Officer at the newly established Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency (KEPROBA) is no stranger to Trade and Economics having led teams at the Export Promotion Council, Dubai Chamber of Commerce, KAM among others. A motorbike enthusiast with a passion for the open roads and cycling over the weekend, Mr. Biwott speaks to us on his life journey, the merger processes between Brand Kenya Board and Export Promotion Council and his vision for the new organization.
My life story is quite complicated. I used to run to school with bare feet. I would apply tractor oil and grease on my legs and the dust would cling to my skin. I would have to dip into stagnant water to get some of the dust off because we weren’t allowed to go to the school that dusty.
I grew up in a tiny village in Uasin Gishu county. I went to a local primary school and while I was there I used to read a lot of newspapers. My father used to have a lot of newspapers so I would read the Pulse. I also read the True love magazine. I also followed a lot of cartoons. I used to draw them in high school and people would get very amused by them.
While in high school, I slept on my first mattress. I remember it was two inches wide. I worked hard and qualified for admission to the university. At the time I wasn’t really aware of what I wanted to become, I was just focused on working hard and I got a B+. Initially, I had been called to Kenyatta University to do Physics and Mathematics related course but I preferred to pursue economics. Through reading the newspaper I had come to know of Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and saw they were lawyers and economists.
Since I had always had political aspirations, I decided to go with Economics. People did not approve because they thought economics was not a good course but I finished and joined the government in the ministry of trade. Three years later I went abroad for my masters through a World Bank Sponsorship. I am a World Bank Scholar of 2008, I went to school in the Netherlands in Rotterdam University in the International Institute of social studies where I majored in development economics. It was a nice set up for me because I got to meet people from over sixty countries, Latin America, Indonesia. We also got to travel to France, Brussels and Iceland.
After my training, the world bank noticed my exemplary performance and I was invited back to the Netherlands to speak at the UNESCO college to speak to the students about the importance of going back to their country after finishing school. I went to the US, and also to Japan to speak to the Asian students. After completing my masters I wrote a letter the World bank, which I still have to date, just to thank them for helping with my education and giving me all that exposure.
How old were you at the time?
I was thirty-two.
What does your current job entail?
The job entails providing strategic leadership to the team to implement board decisions that are aligned to Government policy on trade promotion and nation branding objectives. It also entails seeking partnerships and collaborations in this regard.
Is this what you always imagined yourself doing or what did you want to be when you grew up?
Yes, I have always aspired to join a league of Kenyan leaders to make a difference for our country. My vision is to see that I adequately play my role and contribute to the development of Kenya. This calls for sacrifice and over the few years I have been working, my objectives have been well met. I continue to work hard and influencing my colleagues and other Kenyans towards patriotism and sacrifice to make a difference for our country.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you have gone through climbing up the corporate ladder?
Well, I don’t think they are challenges but opportunities. I have realized that moving up the ladder you must convince everyone of your capacity to deliver on what you do. It is an opportunity that calls for more learnings and reading widely to ensure that you are always ahead just like the discoverer of Polio vaccine Jonas Salk said: “there have got to be people ahead of time”.
Of course, I see a lot of opportunity in improving to create one indivisible Nation called Kenya. A road to greater heights of one’s career is faced by tribalism pumps, nepotism and too many interests most of whom are not progressive towards vibrant institutions or nation-building. But for optimists like me, this is only meant to strengthen and harden leaders for bigger roles.
What motivates you?
My motivation is to make my contribution to nation-building. While I did my studies abroad, there were offers to have me remain there but I left all to come and contribute to the development of Kenya and I can say so far so good. Through this kind of attitude, the Joint Japan World Bank Graduate Scholarship to which I am a beneficiary send me to the USA, Netherlands and Japan between 2010 and 2013 to urge students pursuing higher studies there to return to their countries and contribute to the development of their economies.
When did you consider yourself a success?
Being patriotic and advancing nationalism ideals is my best success over the years
What are your success habits?
Humbling self and mentoring others to create a pool of successful Kenyans.
If you had to do it all again what would you do differently?
I would mentor young Kenyans towards entrepreneurship for sustainable living.
What advice would you give to people trying to climb the corporate ladder but who sometimes feel like they are hitting the glass ceiling and they can’t move up?
Stay focused on the trophy. Take challenges as they come as opportunities and be positive about them.
Which books or podcasts would you recommend to people who want to be more successful but who may not currently be able to access a mentor?
Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. You can also read Eric Reinhert’s Why Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor. Also, read Gwynne Dyer and David Nandes’s the Poverty and Wealth of Nations.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not in the office?
I enjoy travelling locally. Our chairman tells us that we should know our country and that is a principle that I like to live by. So I enjoy adventuring Kenya and visiting new places in this wonderful nation of ours.
I think this can also be a type of branding when people travel to different parts of the country and get to know about people from Kwale, Western, Kisumu, Rusinga festivals. We need to bring all these festivals and unique cultures to the limelight by giving them coverage and creating documentaries about them so that young Kenyans and people around the world can see and appreciate what we have.
Other than that I am also a biker, this weekend I will be riding for 80km. It’s a good activity that I really enjoy. Sometimes I fall off the bicycle, I recently injured my knee but the next day I was back on the bike and did an extra 20km.
What legacy do you want to leave?
I want to ensure that by the time I leave this organization will have reached a take-off stage as a model public sector organization and also a centre for excellence in public service. While in the Kenya School of Government, I was clear about my intentions of wanting to retire by the time I get to 45 years. I also want to leave a legacy of a fulfilled happy staff, who are committed, patriotic and living true to the Kenyan dream. Staff who can be good examples to the others.
We need to make sure that we are a model institution for government issues of accountability, transparency and efficiency, a place where people want to come to benchmark and do case studies on how to achieve accountability and how to use the least amount of money to generate high returns. I want to leave an organization which works to promote youth and women empowerment both internally and externally in the staff members and also the stakeholders outside. I would also like to inculcate the culture of support to government reform agenda. That we can all fully support government reforms when they come such as the merger even if the process might lead to leaving us out.