SALT LAKE CITY — Before Shaka Kariuki and Shellee Wheatley got married, he sat her down to discuss their individual and mutual goals.
After reviewing the extensive list, she agreed to support him but was not sure they would get to everything they had planned.
“Little did I know he would guide us successfully down the path he had envisioned traveling,” his wife said. “Now I have learned when Shaka sets his mind to do something — whether it be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, running the New York Marathon, attending Harvard University or starting his own business — I had better be prepared to hang on and enjoy the ride.”
More than 20 years later, Kariuki is now the 2013 Distinguished Alumnus at LDS Business College. He will speak at commencement ceremonies Friday when 362 two-year degrees and 187 certificates will be awarded. Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Seventy will be the keynote speaker.
“It’s had a tremendous influence on the things I’ve been able to accomplish,” Kariuki said.
A native of Kenya, Kariuki learned at an early age that "no" is not always the final answer.
Fresh from missionary service in Oakland, Calif., Kariuki headed to LDS Business College, recommended to him by Ralph and Elaine Gibbons, a missionary couple he met in Kenya. He requested an interview with the college’s president, which was denied when the secretary found out he did not have an appointment.
“I realized that conversation was not headed in the right direction,” he laughed.
Not taking no for an answer, he recalled advice from his mission president, who had coached Kariuki as a missionary to tell everyone who answered a door that he had come 6,000 miles to meet them, and ask to be let in. Kariuki decided to try his luck with the secretary.
“My name is Shaka,” he told the secretary. “I’ve traveled 6,000 miles from Kenya to come and meet with the president. Is he available?”
He secured a meeting with Jerry Bryan, then the vice president of administration, and told him he wanted to get an education, did not have the funds to pay for it but was willing to work to earn his way through.
Bryan picked up the walkie-talkie from his desk, radioed the head custodian and told him Kariuki was their newest employee.
He knew at that point that he wanted to work in investment banking and with people in his native Africa. He kept this goal in his mind as he gained relevant experience from internships, schooling and professional work.
As a member of the Marriott School of Management Advisory Board, he tells students to have a clear goal in mind, and to find ways to work toward that vision. That includes finding meaning and direction in experiences and being willing to take less conventional paths.
“You take advantage of all the opportunities you’re presented with,” Kariuki said. “You have to be prepared so that when the opportunities come your way, you are able to take advantage of them.”
Before a dinner out on Wednesday, his wife, Shellee, in a white button-up blouse and neck scarf, reached over lovingly to fix the collar on his baby blue button-up shirt. The two seem to enjoy a close relationship, despite his frequent travels to Kuramo Capital in New York, where he is a partner and co-chief investment officer. The company manages investments and concentrates its efforts on businesses in sub-Saharan Africa. In the next few weeks he will travel to Minnesota, Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt as part of his business.
The Kariuki family shares a Google calendar and they plan his travels so he can be home for the children’s band concerts and soccer games.
“The family priority is first and then the business priority,” Shellee Kariuki said.
A large part of the work at Kuramo Capital deals with managing their clients’ money, said Kamal Pallan, partner and chief operating officer. In this sense, the partners are fiduciaries, which he explains as someone who puts the clients’ interests ahead of his own
“You want someone managing your money who is a fiduciary in every sense of the word,” Pallan said. “(Shaka) is a fiduciary in the best sense of the word.”
In addition to good judgment and investment selection, Kariuki makes sure that the investments are what is best for the client.
“Whether he is in a work meeting or a business meeting or a personal meeting, he’s very funny, he’s very charming. You can see his passion for his family. You can see his passion for his business,” Pallan said.
Kariuki had plenty of time to master the art of balance. After transferring to BYU, where he and his wife both graduated with degrees in economics, he went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration with finance emphasis, all the while gaining relevant experience from his work at various companies. After graduation, he began working as a portfolio manager for Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators in Salt Lake City.
During this time, he decided to pursue his dream to attend an Ivy League school. He enrolled in a master’s in government program at Harvard while still working for DMBA, coaching his son’s soccer team and fulfilling church responsibilities.
His wife, who runs a bookkeeping company, was also working with the PTA at the time.
His schedule during one semester went as follows: Monday night was family night, Tuesday nights were for his church calling, he left on a flight to Boston Wednesday nights, spent Thursdays attending classes and doing schoolwork, and was back on Fridays for work by 9 a.m.
“He was very good at not letting (school) interfere with what needed to be done here,” said Kent Misener, vice president of DMBA. “He was just able to manage that really quite well.”
As much as he has accomplished, Kariuki said he is nothing special. He has simply created a vision and intentionally charted a course to get there.
“By no means am I an exception,” he said.
Persistence has become one of his guiding values. Just because someone said no once, that does not mean it is the final answer — a lesson he learned from applying to and being denied jobs and internships.
DMBA denied Kariuki’s applications for an internship and a full time position. He kept in touch with the company and they reached out to him years later with a job offer. He worked there for almost 11 years.
“In life you never give up,” Kariuki said. “Always follow up and always be persistent because if you have a passion for something, it usually pans out.”
He acknowledges that he could not have done all he has without the support of his family.
“I’ve obviously accomplished a couple of things. However, the reality is I’ve not traveled that journey alone. I’ve had wonderful support from my family, specifically my wife and my two wonderful kids.”