At 33, Brian Onyino is rated one of Kenya’s top 40 under 40 finance leaders to watch. In fact, in the finance circles, he is known as the ‘The Derivatives Man’, due to his knack of coming up with structures that raise certainty across different financial risks. Currently, Brian is the East Africa Lead, Derivatives Structuring at ABSA. He has previously worked for Barclays, Equity Bank and the London Stock Exchange Group among other organisations. He shares some of the career lessons he has picked up along the way.
Don’t burn your bridges when exiting an organisation…
You have to be deliberate on your life plans. Career is just one small part of it. One of my career rules is when I make a decision to resign, I do not take counteroffers. If you have identified your deal breakers or evaluated your decisions, do not second guess yourself but rather manage the exit process in such a way that your employer will be happy to hire you back in future.
Ultimately, I have learnt that in life what really matters at the end is how peacefully we lived and the social impact we made; these form a major part of our legacy. Being deliberate on these things and with a strong mentorship circle across various life facets has helped me improve on my output, not just at work but with personal life. You have to always show up every single day and strike to leave everything better than you found it.
Asking for a promotion…
As one grows older, you quickly realise that life and career success isn’t really about money. Starting up my career 11 years ago, I once walked to my boss and asked for a promotion. I was young and restless, and when I was rejected I opted to resign. I ended up out of a job for eight months, a painful lesson on priorities. I later learnt that the best way to manage such conversations is by focusing on what skills you feel you would add to the team. With consistency, one builds a track-record which makes it easier to be headhunted for even better roles.
What do you do when you feel stuck in a job?
You have to be passionate about your job. With passion, one finds innovative ways to learn new skills and position themselves for future roles. Sometimes it’s okay to ‘jump off the career cliff’ whenever you feel the passion is no longer there. ‘Jumping off the cliff’ in this case could be quitting your job or moving to a different company, but with calculated plans. This gives you an opportunity to discover skills and potential previously undiscovered. A few years back I took a challenge to join a major multinational company despite the risks and it ended being a major career break. I got to be exposed to board level engagements and significantly widened my network and skillsets specifically in derivatives structuring.
When a good job pays too little…
Career, as with life, has to be a deliberate outcome that involves planning. I have always believed in being five years ahead of your employer in whatever specialisation you craft your expertise. Over time, I have come to appreciate the power of one’s 24 hours and how a simple decision like quantifying how you spend your every day can impact your output at work and in life. Luck plays a part too but you need to be always prepared when an opportunity strikes. The mistake we all make at some point in our careers is to value earnings over experience. It generally pays long-term to focus on being good at a skill, working as a team and building networks. When starting out your career, you have to strive to be genuinely passionate about the work that you do even if it’s not what you really wanted. As the saying goes ‘the dots always connect looking backwards’.
How long is too long in one job?
For the longest time, career breaks were generally defined by the number of years one has served in a role. In the past few years, however, the rate of change in required skill sets has far outpaced the traditional trend as such we have to always be hungry to learn. Experience isn’t necessarily defined by the years served in the role even though I strongly advise that the longer you serve in a role, the deeper your understanding. Outliers, however, do exist and it’s perfectly okay.
Want your bosses to recognise your work?
Working across different institutions has taught me how important company culture is to a robust team. I have learnt to thrive in collective team success and this makes it much easier for our leaders to validate our contribution. It is important to also appreciate early on in life that not everyone can become a team leader and companies are increasingly creating alternative career paths for those interested in growing up the technical skills ladder. Know what you want to do with your career then focus.
Academic qualifications or work experience?
I believe one has to learn to strike a balance. Academic qualifications are important for the initial roles. As one climbs up the career ladder, it becomes less about qualifications and more about the experience, people skills and expertise. That said, education is important in that it opens some doors that wouldn’t otherwise. I hold a first degree with a major in actuarial science, an MSc in quantitative finance and an ongoing MBA in strategic leadership at the Edinburgh Business School with various professional qualification such as ACI and coding basics in Python.
How do you self-promote, tastefully?
I have been lucky enough to have built credibility by working closely with teams and delivering on objectives. Personally, I have never seen the need to endorse oneself to your seniors, your output and values should be a mirror of what you truly are at all times.
The one leadership lesson I’ve learned in my career…
You can tell the quality of a leader by the number of leaders he/she has left behind and nurtured. The role of a leader is to inspire others and create an environment where ideas and criticism alike flows without any restrictions.
What are the three biggest virtues you need to be able to keep a steady career?
Purpose, spirituality and integrity.
I have built my life and career around my life’s purpose. Happiness for example is achieved when one is at peace financially, health-wise and comfortably living no matter the social status. I purpose to be free and happy and work towards it every single day.
Being spiritual accelerates one’s path to achieving their purpose, along with accountability partners who keep you in check. I am a big believer in journaling my life and my goals with frequent check-ins.
You can lose everything else but never lose your integrity. It is the single most important virtue that makes people believe in you and give you second chances in life.