Susan says she has always “gone where the wind has taken me, trusting in the direction it is blowing”. It has blown her into a myriad of different paths and she always had the support of her partner. “The decisions were mine, apart from my dear late husband. I would ask him “what do you think, is this a crazy idea?” and he would always say “but that’s you, you’re crazy, but that’s you””.
With both their parents working in Europe Susan and her sister grew up in the small town of Maseno in a house with 5 “highly spirited” cousins. It was a happy time with a lot of love but Susan believes living without her mother and father had an impact “it made (us) people who do not always expect too much from life…I’m somebody who is unafraid, I’m someone who has no sense of entitlement ….somebody who is going to go out there and create what they want because its not always going to be given to them on a silver platter.”
Susan and her siblings were eventually brought to Nairobi. It was there that she was “introduced to a sport that simply changed my life, tennis”. Tall and athletic Susan was a natural, and with the backing of a great coach she rose to Kenya number 1, eventually winning a scholarship as a “scholar-athlete” to attend university in upstate New York. Though she excelled at the game, and there were opportunities and offers to turn professional, this was never an option for Susan. She says “I grew up at a time when sports could not be a career it was more around academics….you could be great at it but it was always the hobby.”
After working for 15 years in the development field Susan made a huge segue and joined the for-profit side, the “corporate sector proper”. Going to work for Coca Cola Susan excelled and climbed the ladder fast. “It was heady…flying around, doing great work.” But she had questions “I found myself asking Why do you do this work? Is it the money?”. Soon “it was time to architect a new chapter.”
“The biggest risk I believe I took with my life thus far was deciding to say goodbye to the money, and the prestige, and the comfort of the corporate world, and starting my own business” she says “I had never dreamed of being an entrepreneur.” She set up Human Performance Dynamics Africa (HPDA) a Human Resources Consulting Group. Two years on Susan was looking for more challenges “I felt it was too close to the work I was doing at Coca Cola. Given that I was free, I was a free agent, I could do whatever I wanted.”
The genesis of Footprints Press was a book about high achieving women in Kenya. It began as a mentoring exercise, successful older women imparting their knowledge and experience to ambitious young girls. Susan’s thought was “Lets produce a book that has been concocted by the village”. The book was a national success and today Footprints is one of the country’s leading publishers. Susan says “We’re trying to tell the story of the evolving contemporary African that must equip himself or herself for the future that is unfolding…We want to tell the story of the continent, and its a beautiful story, of a beautiful continent that needs to stop denigrating itself.”
Now she’s set off on this creative journey there’s no holding Susan back, she says “I can see once you unlock the creativity within you it doesn’t stop”. She adds “You’ve got to find a way to harness it and leverage it. Just letting it out can leave you completely unstructured and not fulfilling anything.”
It looks like she’s all set to Shape The City for the foreseeable future and new developments are ahead. Just before we leave she admits “there’s an idea that has been marinating for about 11 months and it won’t go away. There’s going to be an interesting evolution. I think it will capture the imagination of a few crazy people like myself, I’m excited!”