A high school science project to make a candle out of beef fat. That was the point, many years ago, when Carol Koech realised she could pursue a career in science. “When I was younger, I had an open mind and the one thing I knew is that I didn’t want an ordinary job,” said Carol, who grew up in rural Kenya.
“I didn’t have a lot of role models in terms of careers. My parents were teachers and I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher, but I also knew I had to do something different because I had to get out of the village. I didn’t have a specific career in mind when I was growing up. I didn’t even know what was available, however, when I was in high school, I started getting involved in science events and when we worked on projects, I felt that this was a path I could pursue. I was also very good in science subjects, so I found it easy to study science.”
Carol, who is based in Nairobi, is a GE Sales Leader in SSA aero services. She studied electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Nairobi, Kenya and is also a qualified accountant. She has an ACCA qualification, an MBA from Strathmore University, London and Carol has been at GE in Kenya since 2008 in various divisions, including finance, commercial operations, energy connections and now, power services.
“I can’t say that I was always interested in the field I’m currently in, but once I got into it, I loved it. I take care of the aero gas turbines, which are used in power plants, so my job entails taking care of things like maintenance contracts, repairs and upgrades.”
Carol was recently involved in an exciting project, which involved selling an upgrade to one of GE’s power customers in Tanzania. “Their turbines were very old and we needed to negotiate and agree on what needs to take place in the next three to five years. In the history of aero services globally, we have never sold such a big upgrade before. I’m really proud of this $60-million project, but I’m also proud of the projects where we work in countries that we’ve never worked in previously.”
Carol believes that STEM could benefit from more women getting involved in these fields and she is involved on a personal level and through the GE Women’s Network in encouraging girls to consider careers in STEM. “Women have a lot to contribute. They usually see things differently and add a lot of value in this way. The fact that we have fewer women in STEM roles means we’re missing out on that value. I’ve also observed that women often have a better way of connecting with customers.”
To inspire girls to consider STEM careers, Carol usually shares her journey with them. “I have had an amazing journey. When I look at my background and where I am today, I could never imagine being where I am, so whenever I share my journey, that’s usually enough inspiration for the girls. Being in a STEM role opens up sustainable opportunities for girls because the kind of skills you acquire are very transferable from one organisation to another.”
Carol’s career hasn’t always been smooth sailing. More often than not, she is the only woman or occasionally, one of two women in meetings. When traveling, her male colleagues also need to be reminded that she will need time to freshen up before client meetings. “I see being the only woman in a group in a positive way because they will always ask for my opinion and I take advantage of this opportunity to say what I need to. I’m not there to be a flower, to look pretty. I’m there to make a valuable contribution.”
Thankfully, Carol’s family has always been supportive of her career. “I have a lot of support from my husband. Of course, I always feel guilty when I travel and I’m away from my children for a long time, but I make up for it by spending a lot of time with them over the weekends. For others who might face more challenging situations, it’s all about finding a way to do what you want to do with balance.”
Carol’s advice for young people is to be grounded in whatever they do. “Be an expert in your profession because when you have a good foundation, the next job that comes will be easier for you to do because if you grow too quickly, you won’t have time to build a good foundation and that will catch up with you.”