Edgar Otieno always wanted to have money. Lots of money. Despite having been born to a rural family of modest means, he knew it was a long shot.
But it was not until he landed in Nairobi in the mid 1990s from his village in Siaya County that he realised just how steep the slope of life is and the effort it would require to scale it.
It took the young Otieno nearly five years knocking on the doors of employers before he found a footing in what he describes as the most unlikely place – the insurance industry.
Armed with strong belief in his ability to apply the skills and energy he had acquired from his parents and school, Mr Otieno has in less than five years scaled the career ladder to stand above Kenya’s most celebrated salesmen.
Earning an average monthly salary of Sh2.6 million, Mr Otieno is today arguably among the best paid workers in Kenya yet he is nowhere near what many would regard as the peak of a career in the corporate world.
Having begun his sales career in 2006, Mr Otieno ranks among Kenya’s truly self-made millionaires who are out to re-engineer the stubborn belief that working in public service is a way to riches.
Mr Otieno, who works as an independent insurance agent, has become the industry’s poster child.
Insurance industry insiders describe Mr Otieno’s as an extraordinary performance that has surprised his peers and seniors in equal measure.
Last year, barely four years into the job, Mr Otieno walked away with the runners-up trophy for the Salesperson of the Year Award at the annual Association of Kenya Insurers’ (AKI) having clocked Sh25 million in annual premium sales, just Sh2 million behind the winner’s Sh27 million.
Mr Otieno says his intention is to top the league this year with a record-breaking performance. While industry records show that at no time has a single salesman generated Sh40 million in Annual Premium Income (API) – the insurance industry sales benchmark, Mr Otieno calmly reveals that he touched the Sh41 million mark by the end of July and is aiming to close the year at between Sh60 and 70 million.
“He is peerless as far as salesmanship is concerned,” says his manager, Mr Peter Muchiri.
When the Business Daily visited Mr Otieno at his Hurlingham office for an interview, he was in the middle of a presentation. It costs Sh2,500 to sit in a session.
Mr Otieno eats life with a big spoon. His business is housed in an imposing stand-alone office block with an equally arresting interior design and befitting furniture.
The salesman carries an intimidating aura with a look so intense, but all that disappears once he begins to speak.
Mr Otieno is a master orator who gives the mind little space to wander. It takes only a few minutes to realise that the power of the spoken word is what makes him tick for potential clients.
Mr Otieno’s sales career started in the agriculture sector in 1997. Having hunted for a job for nearly four years without success, he invested the little money he had in buying farm inputs from factories in Nairobi’s Industrial Area and vending door to door in Central province.
“It was such a successful venture that within a short time I was moving larger volumes than established resellers,” he says.
Mr Otieno confesses that this instant success later turned out to be his main undoing. “I had no systems, no control and my staff – I had built quite a large sales team by then - were selling and not remitting the money.”
Within a short time, Mr Otieno found himself in the radar screen of more than a dozen lawyers who were chasing him over a Sh6.5 million debt he owed his suppliers – a sizeable amount at the time. He had to find money fast.
Pressure from suppliers is what pushed Mr Otieno into looking for a job that could earn him enough income to clear his debts.
“My wife came home one evening in 2006 and told me of a product an insurance agent had proposed to her,” he says. “I liked the product and went to Pan Africa Insurance offices the next day to learn more about it – then I offered to sell it.”
Pius Kitela, who headed the Pan Africa Thika agency, saw talent in the man and recruited him on the spot. The rest, as they say, is history.
In the past three years, Mr Otieno has been among Kenya’s top three insurance sales agents; winning all-expenses paid for trips to Australia, USA and Dubai.
Mr Otieno insists the surest formula to success in sales is going beyond the call of duty to listen, understand and help clients find solutions to their problems.
Counting discipline, love for what you do and competing within your strengths as the pillars of success in life, Mr Otieno says that one only succeeds with a well-prepared, documented and executed roadmap. “Without one, you are lost,” he says.
Labels: Association of Kenya Insurers, Edgar Otieno Kenya Millionaire insurance Salesman