Sammy Muthui’s Nairobi nightlife fun tips

Weekend with the CEO

Sammy Muthui’s Nairobi nightlife fun tips


Sammy Muthui, Minet Kenya Insurance Brokers chief executive officer. PHOTO | POOL

Three of the following four statements are true: Sammy Muthui is a perfectionist. Sammy Muthui is a painstaking planner. Sammy Muthui writes everything down. Sammy Muthui loves Rihanna.

Actually, all those statements are true. Another truth is that Sammy punctuates his sentences with laughter. He laughs like the gory movies he watches: dry, unexpected, and like a misfiring gun, first in spurts, then in ricochets, bouncing off the walls for even more dramatic effect.

But what remains long after our interview is the haunting feeling of a man in deep thought, trapped in a straightjacket of structure but yearning to be free.

“I lied that I am okay,” he says. “Are you now?” I ask. “Largely, yes,” he says. Straightjacket, but with wiggle room.

At the Minet offices on Mamlaka Road, where he serves as top dog, between grooving to Old jack swing and New jack swing, between his appetite for samaki dry fry and beating heart for Rihanna, something else, a melancholy, lingers in the air: that Sammy is a workaholic. Allegedly.

Are you a workaholic?

Haha! I used to be. When I started my career, I’d get an adrenalin rush at night, and that’s when I’d do my best work. I’d prepare for a presentation all night, go home at 5 AM to change, and come back and do my presentation.

But that was before my family came. I love my job and get to be detail-oriented. Before, I was creating structures that have guided this company, but now we have teams. You are never quite relaxed, but now I can concentrate on the bigger box.

What’s your favourite part about being CEO?

Creating structures, coaching people, stepping back, and seeing them succeed. I get very excited whenever I acquire the best talent and see that person grow.

What’s it like being you?

When I look at myself from my wife’s eyes, haha, my natural inclination is to carry the world on my shoulder and take everything seriously. Yet I am an easy-going guy who enjoys a good laugh. I always try to balance those two.

I don’t find it hard to live and let live. I want to be more easy-going and fun-loving. I always tell my people to enjoy the ride.

The destination is not the goal; the ride is the goal. Take yourself less seriously without undermining the hard, admin side of life.

Speaking of, what do you do for fun?

A lot (chuckles). It may sound strange, but I really like my children’s company. Just going to the mall, doing shopping and whatnot. But I also love to travel. My travels are very deliberate.

There is a name I have come up with, ‘cultural tourism’—go to Zambia, see how they do their things, go somewhere else, and see how they live. It fascinates me. Also, I watch movies a lot. I love movies. Sana (a lot).

What kind of movies?

Period pieces. Gladiator, The Last Samurai, Spartacus. Oh! Game of Thrones. But I also like political and war dramas and fantasy films—Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit.

Which place has stuck with you from your travels?

Mauritius, for its culture and history. As a financial hub, it fascinates me how small it is. They have a well-organised tourism sector, and their culture has French influences.

It is such a melting point, and they have got it just right. Locally, Kisumu is the best city in Kenya. It is clean and well-organised.

What’s the first thing you do in a new place?

I talk to the taxi drivers, waiters, and concierge to get the local nuances. And then, I read much of that material to contextualise before planning the key events with my family.

I am big on planning because there are things you can always miss. I also love sports, particularly rugby—South Africa, Namibia for the southern hemisphere, England and Scotland for the northern hemisphere.

Where do you find your 48 hours in a day?

If you use your time well, there is enough time. Plan well; it all starts there. I have two schedules that dictate my life. I have my own strategic plan, which covers things that are important to me.

Then there’s the day strategy—my personal calendar and work calendar. No one is perfect, but there is enough time to do much within regular hours. You either plan, or the day will plan you.

Do you have me-time in that plan?

I am a man of faith, so I have quiet time, my me-time. That’s essential, never mind my movie time, haha! I used to go to retreats, sometimes with my wife, but I discovered I’m not good at that.

What’s a special treat you do just for Sammy?

Oh wow. I realised I do very little for Sammy because everything I do is for my family. [pause] But I love to eat out. My wife and children are foodies—they love to watch TV shows on food. I am no foodie, but I love to eat.

When I go out, it’s about my family and travel, but when you ask it like that, probably…hmm. Let me think. I used to be a dancer, but now I can barely hit the floor, haha! Outside of the family outings, I do very little for myself.

What’s that one meal you can eat every day?

[Chuckles]. Look, I just turned vegetarian. It’s still early days, however, haha! But Ugali has my number. And that samaki ya Mama Oliech, kwanza dry fry. Whoop! [smacks lips] But sasa, I am turning vegetarian. It’s delicious, but let’s talk after one year, haha!

What’s your favourite childhood memory?

I did the pre-8-4-4 syllabus. My family went to live in Nyeri, and the school I joined did not have Standard 3 pupils. So, I jumped to Standard 4. At the end of the first term, I was number 7 and 6 the next term.

My mum dared me to be number 1—which I did. At school, we also used to have high jump competitions. I never told my dad about my exploits until, one day, he saw a picture of me in a newspaper, haha! That is when I started watching The Eagles’ Claw, the first movie my parents took me to watch.

What was your nickname growing up?

My sisters used to call me Sam Cooke, after a musician. In college guys started calling me ‘ITE’. Don’t ask me how it came to be, ata mimi sijui, (I don’t know) haha!


Minet Kenya Insurance Brokers Limited’s Chief Executive Officer, Sammy Muthui at a past event. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Have ITE’s dreams come true?

My biggest ambition in life was to be in the military. In Standard Two, I would match for visitors at home. I went on to be a troop/scout leader.

I love the uniformed world. I went to NYS and got the best recruit award. A career in the military was my dream. Even the movies I watch remind me of that — The Hunt For Red October, Saving Private Ryan, and Commando. I just love structure.

What is one thing you do that is not structured?

I was spontaneous when I was younger, including doing stuff with my wife, at least before the children came. We’d pack up and just leave.

Now…[long pause] Not so much. But I will have to go and ask my wife, “That thing of spontaneity, kwani I am no longer spontaneous?”

What remains unchanged about you since childhood?

My love for people. I really get affected by people in distress. One of my core beliefs is that we are custodians of what we have and are here to help others.

Also, this perfectionism thing has followed me for too long. I love structure and winning.

What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?

I write everything. I take notes about everything. My wife really roasts me about it.

What’s the dumbest thing you have spent money on?

[Chuckles] Okay, I shouldn’t have bought my first car. I did not even research whether its spare parts were readily available. It was a Fiat Mirafiori from an Italian guy. For half its life, it was in the garage.

I went to Sarit Centre, saw the car, it looked sporty, it called me, I answered. I was a dancer but with zero cash. Ah! When I could afford another one, I quickly offloaded it. It served my ego though, haha!

What’s something you wish you were better at?

Golf and reading, I wish I had more time. Being spontaneous and worrying less is what I wish I was better at. I live for tomorrow instead of now.

Do you have a secret talent no one knows about?

I am crazy about old comic books. I have read all [The Adventures of] Asterix. And TinTin from when I was 10 years old until today. You should hear me laughing when I read them. That’s my secret.

What is a weekend hack that makes your weekends better?

[Long pause] If you are deliberate to discover new eateries, Nairobi has become very expansive. Nairobi has depth. There is a nightlife few even imagine exists. If you enter that world, there are a lot of discoveries—including art galleries.

There is a Nairobi life that is nonexistent to the naked eye. If you want to enjoy Nairobi, open your eyes to the new experiences it offers—music, art, books, and hang-out joints. My children do research on my behalf, finding out the new spots.

What is your weekend soundtrack?

Haha! Oh goodness. [proceeds to review his music playlist] Let me play it for you. My generation is Old Jack Swing, New Jack Swing, BoyzIIMen, and Baby Face. Don’t tell anyone this story, but lately, I have become a Rihanna guy, haha! But I am always into gospel. Bebe and CeCe are my favourites. I prefer local music. And Rihanna. I don’t even understand why people say Beyoncé is bigger. Rihanna that’s where it’s at, haha!

Who do you know that I should know?

My nyama choma guy. He works at Roadhouse. He makes the best roast meat in Kenya. His name is Mose.

Too bad you are turning vegetarian?

Haha! It is what it is.

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