CFO Catherine Ogol advocates for purposeful living, at home and at work

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Losing her mother at the start of her career was one of the lowest moments for Catherine Ogol, CFO of Rea Vipingo Plantations, the largest sisal producer in Africa.

As her mother was paying for her CPA studies at the time, Catherine had to find a job to fund her studies.

“I joined Kenya Orchards as a junior accountant in 2004,” Catherine recalls. “It was by God’s grace that I got the job as I had only reached level two of CPA studies at that stage. This was the start of a long and difficult academic journey as I was working and studying at the same time for several years, which was draining from both a financial and social perspective. It was a tough season but all for a good cause.”

Both of Catherine's late parents were teachers in their village, travelling monthly to Kisumu or Siaya to draw their salaries from the bank. Occasionally, her dad would take her along to National Bank Kisumu, where she admired a relative who worked there, always dressed in a suit and counting money behind the glass. Inspired by this, Catherine decided she wanted to be a banker. In high school, she took up accounting, but after missing the university entry mark by one point, she was devastated.

Her mom encouraged her to continue chasing her goal, and told Catherine that missing university wasn't the end, so Catherine pursued a CPA course despite her elder brother's warnings about the challenges and potential failures that came with the course. Undeterred, Catherine started her CPA journey, discovering along the way that she didn't need a CPA to become a banker, but she had already fallen in love with accounting.

Financial constraints were a concern, but her parent’s support helped her push through the initial stages. Catherine has today achieved her career goals, and her brother, who was once sceptical about the course, is a father figure proud of her accomplishments.

Leadership at the highest level

Today, Catherine is a qualified CPA and holds a BCom from Strathmore University and an MBA from USIU Africa. She joined Rea Vipingo in 2005 and has risen through the ranks - taking on the CFO position in September 2023.

“The appointment is definitely a high for me as I have been entrusted with a position of significant responsibility. It calls for leadership at the highest level where we make decisions that have a profound impact on people, business and systems. I am now involved with strategy formulation for the group, working with the board and have a number of people who look up to me for guidance and inspiration. It is a real high despite the pressure that I am under to deliver,” she explains.

Growing up in a big family of nine children, adults would fondly call Catherine Ochok Wang’e Dongo, a nickname referencing a rural wild fruit in Siaya. The nickname was inspired by her large eyes and, although Cathering initially thought it was insulting, she has come to appreciate that it signified praise.

“Looking back at my younger self, I am proud because I see a lot of hard work and resilience through difficult circumstances. The only thing I would do differently is to start investing early and to get a mentor to help open my mind to the world. This is what I do with the young people in my life, as soon as they start working, I get them to start investing and I mentor where I can. I also advise them to seek mentors for different aspects of their lives,” she says.

Catherine believes that mentorship is her purpose in life. She began actively dedicating time to this after reading Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren four years into her working career. Prior to embracing this perspective, she was in “survival mode”, waking up each morning with the simple objective of getting through the day. Today, success means much more to her than just getting by.

“Personal success is multifaceted, encompassing work, parenting, marriage, spirituality and social life. Achieving balance in all these areas simultaneously is challenging and can lead to burnout. You can never have it all at the same time. For me, personal success therefore means managing these aspects of life without straining my physical, spiritual or mental health. I prioritise based on the season of life: focusing on work during critical projects, dedicating time to my children when they are young, and maintaining my spiritual life, which is my belief in God at all times, to stay grounded," she explains.

Today and the future

Professionally, success for Catherine means delivering on her mandate and adding value to the organisation. Success also entails empowering and inspiring a team, having them understand the why and how of what they do. At this level, she relies on her leadership skills and the technical skills of others.

Each of the five companies in the Rea Vipingo Group has a finance team led by a chief accountant or accounts manager who reports to the head office through Catherine as the CFO. She also manages the outsourced IT function. Her role involves not just finance and accounting but also strategic, commercial and corporate responsibilities, requiring working closely with the MD, the board and collaborating with various managers across operations, HR, compliance and more. Catherine's management style is rooted in helping people understand their roles, leveraging their strengths, and empowering them to perform efficiently.

Becoming a mother profoundly changed Catherine's perspective on life. She now makes decisions that directly impact her children's lives, thinking about their future even beyond her own lifetime. The responsibility of shaping her children's lives is daunting, prompting her to think deeply about their preparation for today and the future. Motherhood has humbled her, brought out both her best and worst traits, and made her more gracious and less judgmental of other parents and children.

And in those fleeting moments of respite from the demands of motherhood and corporate life, Catherine immerses herself in witnessing athletics live and on TV and the tranquil sanctuary of spa treatments.

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