Vision and persistence key to success, Kenyan businessman says

Shaka Kariuki honored as 2013 Distinguished Alumnus at LDSBC

Published: Thursday, April 11 2013 6:02 p.m. MDT

Shaka Kariuki and his wife, Shellee Kariuki, at their Bountiful home on Thursday, April 11, 2013. Shaka Kariuki is the 2013 Distinguished Alumnus at LDS Business College.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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.

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