Being HR manager at one of Kenya’s largest flower farms is no bed or roses, especially considering that this is a subsector where strikes are a common occurrence that require the manager to find a fine balance between the interests of the company on the one hand and the needs of employees on the other.
Mary takes all that in her stride, managing a team of 4,500 employees, who have about 6,500 dependents living within the Oserian premises.
And out of these dependents, 2,300 are children.
She is also the first — and youngest — female director to sit on the board of the company with an annual turnover of more than Sh3 billion.
"I was extremely excited when I finally turned 30, I felt validated as I could speak of my age without second guessing..."
That, however, is not Mary’s claim to fame.
Nor is the fact that she is the Vice President of Fairtrade International — where she has been able to push for the interest of the producers — and chair of the Fairtrade Board — which champions for the fair treatment of workers.
But by virtue of this position, she recently lobbied for the institutionalisation of a minimum wage for workers across Africa.
Mary, a mother of two, is a transformative leader.
For instance, in January this year, she introduced a feeding programme for the 2,300 children who attend the Oserian schools.
The initiative provides a balanced meal to the children, thus reducing cases of malnutrition and with the ultimate aim of improving academic performance by ensuring that no child misses school due to hunger.
She was also instrumental in starting a micro-lending programme through which the company’s employees can take loans at five percent interest annually, thus saving them from exorbitant mobile phone-based loans that have ensnared many a worker in Kenya.
Also significantly, she has introduced a health wallet, an innovation, which has become instrumental in the management of the health of the company’s workers using data.
“My drive is the people,” says Mary, who is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Nairobi.
“I believe that good leadership can make a difference in the world and as a leader I want to be that difference.”
Despite these contributions, Mary’s main challenge remains her age.
On many occasions, she has had to conceal her age to get the respect of the position that she holds.
“I was extremely excited when I finally turned 30, I felt validated as I could speak of my age without second guessing,” she says.
“I do not struggle like before.”
Her parting shot to the younger generation is that they must work hard and be ethical.
For her, these are the two truths every young person must embrace.
— Gerald Andae