Gladys Ogallo, Founder & Managing Director, Virtual HR, Nairobi, Kenya

Words of Wisdom: “You need to realize you are special in the world. As small as you are, you have to make a difference.” – Gladys Ogallo

Interview with Gladys Ogallo, Founder & Managing Director, Virtual HR; Nairobi, Kenya

Gladys Ogallo, Founder & Managing Director, Virtual HR; Nairobi, Kenya

Gladys Ogallo’s rich 13 year career in HR management has seen her consult for leading African organizations across the continent where she deploys expertise in talent management, talent development, Labour law, recruitment, selection, performance management and motivation.

Gladys HR career has spanned several countries in Africa including Ghana, Cote d’ivoire, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Swaziland, Uganda, and Tanzania.  She currently consults for the International Telecommunication Union, a UN body, among other international assignments.

Gladys is a board member of several boards. In 2009 was recognized as top 40 under 40.  She also is the pioneer of ‘Put your best foot forward’ program; a mentoring program for teenage girls at a Kenya school.

Gladys Ogallo ~ YouTube promo video (approx. 2 min.)

Virtual HR website:

Gladys Ogallo, Founder & Managing Director, Virtual HR; Nairobi, Kenya

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version above. Please comment on the site, we want to hear your wisdom!

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Why did you decide to move from the corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur?

[ Gladys Ogallo ]:

  • The corporate world didn’t provide me all that I wanted
  • I reached a point where I knew I needed to take a bold step
  • The corporate world did prepare me for entrepreneurship. I was heading a large
  • organization in ICT that was moving fast.
  • I reached a point where I thought there was a lot more I could be doing. It was less
  • about hitting a glass ceiling; it was more about what I was capable of achieving.
  • I stepped out two years ago on my own.

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: How did you start Virtual Human Resources?

[ Gladys Ogallo ]:

  • Before I left the corporate world I thought through what I wanted to achieve as
  • an entrepreneur
  • A year before I left the corporate world, I formed Virtual Human Resources
  • Company and I employed a General Manager. A fresh graduate from
  • Strathmore University. She was ready to go and was running the client
  • assignments.
  • By the time I stepped out, I was not stepping out to a void, but I was stepping
  • out into a company that had a bank account, bank statements and clients.
  • I decided to take a bold step into entrepreneurship, but I went into a new business that was already running.

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Advice for starting your own business

[ Gladys Ogallo ]:

  1. Don’t be unfaithful to your employer; meaning don’t be hustling other employment or have side business in your handbag. It will affect professionalism perception.
  2. You don’t want to step out of a job when you are tired. You want to step out of ajob when you are fresh.
  3. Even though you are currently employed, you need to deliver until the very end.
  4. However, do not step out and start looking for forms to register a company
  • This can take quite some time in Kenya
  • I hired a lawyer to do running around – following the progression all forms
  • If you try to register a company once you step out from employment you will
  • become very frustrated and disheartened as it quite a web that needs to
  • be dealt with.

5. Once you set-up, get clients. You don’t have to personally provide them with the service, but at least get clients, people who already have confidence in your skills and abilities and the person you hired to service them.

  • This will assist you when you step out into entrepreneurship. You will be starting with an income stream already being established.

6. Maintain good relationships with your previous employer.

[ Suzanne ]: What have you found the most rewarding element of being an entrepreneur?

[ Gladys ]:

  • When I walk into a CEO’s office and he says: “you left your employment, now you are able to do a job for me.” I didn’t know I had such a great reputation as a Human
  • Resource professional.
  • I didn’t know that people would look at a company that I was running as a leading edge HR company; this has really helped with receiving consulting contracts.
  • Clients are also giving me more and more mentally and financially rewarding jobs, which is really motivating.
  • When I get a job because of my professionalism and people who have not seen my work, but they believe I will be able to deliver and give me the business, that is extremely rewarding.

What has been the most challenging in starting your own business?

  • Managing people the most challenging even though that is as a HR professional I advise on.
  • When I was in corporate, there were systems and processes in place that made it easy to manage people.
  • People had grown up in the ranks in the organization. I also was dealing with a certain level of people, which made it easier.
  • Now in starting my own organization I hire someone who is extremely intelligent and hardworking, but is still learning and perfecting her HR skills.
  • I also hired two young graduates, eager to do the job, but not yet experienced.
  • I can’t hire more experienced, because the revenue we are getting is not justifying me hiring at that level
    • I have found delegating difficult
    • I have found motivating difficult
    • And keeping the smile when I see substandard work
    • My drive is not at the same level as everyone elses’. I don’t understand why someone else cannot keep up. I need them to catch-up. There is some concern however; in the process of catching-up I run the risk of breaking them. It also may affect their ego, which I really don’t want to do.

What would an organization need to do to keep their high producing employees?

1. Keep the employees engaged.

  • Make sure there is always another challenge and opportunity for them. Doing mundane work will disengage them.

2. People must feel part of the strategy. It doesn’t matter if this person is head of department, mid-level manager or entry-level manager, they must feel involved. When people in the organization don’t feel a part of the overall strategy of the organization then all they are doing is clocking in a days work.

  • I tell heads of organizations that they must ensure everyone in the organization knows where you are going.
  • It is not uncommon to find the head of the organization and the managers know where they are going, but the rest of the organization has a vague idea of the direction.
  • It is a very difficult and painful task to get everyone involved in the vision, but it must be done.
  • Those organizations that are all inclusive and everyone is working toward a common vision, their retention levels are extremely high.
  • People need to know where they are going.

3. Another key to engagement is organization is a personality. The organization’s personality has developed over a long period of time. Management gurus call it ‘culture’; I call in ‘personality.’ If the ‘personality of the organization is radically different then my personality, it is unlikely to stay with the organization.

  • It is like fighting yourself to be part of the organization. I.e. banking organization may have stringent rules; they require that you talk in certain manner, dress in a certain manner and deal with clients in a certain manner. If those requirements are not inline with your innate behavior, you will continue with the job in order to pay the bills, but I never fit into the job.
  • This is why I encourage companies to profile itself with the basic characteristics that everyone in the organization must have. I.e. if a company is an innovative company and they employ people that are trying to achieve the “status quo” they are not in-line with the company characteristics

1. Profile the personality of the organization

2. Conduct scientific psychometric profiling for all the people that join the organization and make sure they have the common denominator of those characteristics.

a. The characteristics may change depending on their role, but there are common characteristic that need to exist.

b. When you find 80% of the organization’s personalities are compliant with the personality of the organization you find the retention levels are higher.

What are some of the biggest mistakes organizations make in creating a winning team?

1. Assuming that money is the most important thing to employees.

  • Even though we are developing country where money is tight, but as people move up the career ladder, money looses the important of motivation and retainer.
  • This is most common mistake business make especially in the affluent business in this country.

2. Hiring people who are not the right fit for the organization and then trying to make them fit.

As an organization what can people do to draw the right candidates?

The key is what brand has the organization created around itself?

  • Brand includes everything from “do you keep the brand promises when you deal with customers?” If you can, it is likely that you will keep that promise when dealing with staff members.
  • A lot of people concern themselves with being associated with the ‘right’ brand.

As an entrepreneur with limited funds, what is some advice you can provide to ensure they hire the right employees?

1. Hire people who have a strong belief in your vision

  • Having information in the public domain may assist with your profile as well as provide perspective employees with insight into your goals and vision

2. Hire people that want to be mentored. That feel they can learn from you.

3. As a small entrepreneur with limited funds you have to be promising something to these people, i.e. that you will mentor them. I will make you the best you can be in your role.

4. Be an authentic leader. If you are authentic people will stand by you.

What changes have you seen to hiring and development organizations over the last 10 years?

Kenya is very certificate oriented. People want to know what degrees that you have. Masters? Two Masters? PHD?

We are a society where parents are willing to sell land to ensure their children and their extended families children get an education. Our investment around education in Kenya is huge. Which follows that employers have also put a lot of emphasis on having certificate.

I will compare Kenya to South Africa, where I spent a significant amount of time in the employment industry. In South Africa:

  • The focus is lot on the personality of the person
  • The previous experience of the person i.e. have you done this job before?
  • Are you trainable to do this job?
  • Are you retainable?
  • I think in Kenya we need to move from being too certificate based, to “you have the papers, what else can you offer?”
  • Secondly, does your personality match the personality of the organization?
  • Once we know what else they can offer and if their personality matches, then we need to move to the scientific element of HR i.e. Psychometric Analysis and assessments to discover if you actually do fit in the organization.
  • This move is happening, but slowly. It is happening with a lot of the multinationals and the companies in the fast lane.
  • The reality is, once you have two MBA holders, how do you differentiate them?

What occupations do women have in organizations?

  • Women occupy entry level positions in several banks, insurance and IT companies. Women account for 40% to 50% of those jobs. There are many women graduates who are ready to run.
  • They reach a point where women then tend ‘fall in line’ – because we get tired because they get passed over for promotion. They may move to different organizations, or they start their own businesses or they drop off. The women that are making it are so visible, and so attractive. Now the younger generation is motivated because they can see women succeed.
  • There are a few women at the top trailblazing.

What characteristics do you see that women have that is bolstering them ahead of the pack?

  • Most of the women are at the top are authentic.
  • These are the women leaders that keep their word.
  • These women are willing to work hard. They put in many hours of genuine work
  • Many women who make it to the top have a desire to mentor other women. I often will say to women it is important to succeed, but you don’t want to get there alone, you will be lonely. Lets get there, but also carry our sisters along with us.
    • That mentoring mind frame is something that I think is lacking in many of the men leaders.
    • For women it comes from our nurturing skills.
    • It comes naturally for women to take on the ‘mother hen’ role.

Suggestions for mentoring

People can become dependent if you don’t put limitations on your mentoring

I will only mentor someone for six months.

  • In the six months we have come up with a project plan
  • We have come up with vision board
    • A vision board has time lines attached to it.

Do women in Africa work harder then Men?

Absolutely. The women in Kenya have four to six children.

  • Women need to keep the home running
  • In Kenya women run the homes single handily
  • You will have house help, thank goodness. You may have gardener if you can afford it.
    • You do the shopping,
    • You are called into school
    • You help kids with homework
    • The work at home, is a full-time job
    • The men on the other hand, the work at home is about he cheque they bring home.
    • They may play with the children for awhile.
    • The woman puts in 5 hours for the family, the man 30 minutes.
    • When you go to the office, I am going to be evaluated on the same terms as my male counterparts.

If you made enough income to provide for the family, how would you feel if your husband wanted to stay home with the kids?

It would never happen in Africa. That being said, I would want him to keep his day job even if he wanted to stay at home with the kids.

Is the women’s voice being heard in the corporate world?

  • More and more, but not as loudly as in the civil society. Women’s voices are being heard in the NGO’s.
  • The corporate ladder is more structured focused, and women are not making their
  • voices heard as loudly as we should.

What has been the most difficult aspect of working in Human Resources?

  • To balance the biggest personalities I have to deal with, with the scientific structures that state how HR should be run.
  • Sometimes I have made the wrong decisions or extremely good decisions based on the personalities around me at that time. i.e. the personality I report to or the personality I am dealing with.
  • When at time I should focus on what does the ‘performance management’ say is the best course of action
  • The balance between dealing with the HR structure and the personality of the individual is somewhat difficult to deal with.
  • When I was younger in my career I had to do a retrenchment. I realize now that it was very challenging because I got my emotions involved. It impacted me for an entire year.
    • The problem was I was entrenching people I loved
    • I knew their family too well.
    • I was too entwined in peoples lives
    • So when I had to let them go, I felt it wasn’t the organization firing them from
    • their duties, it was me.
    • It still remains a big weakness in me, because I get too close.

What would you do differently now if you had to do a retrenchment?

1. I would ensure I get the right legal systems in place

2. Withdraw my emotions

3. Separate personal from business – ‘this is decision and it may not favour you, but this is how we are going to do it.’

What is the most rewarding element of your career?

Mentorship –there is nothing more rewarding then when I do training and there is a significant change after the training. However, even more rewarding is when six months later their managers see the person continue to improve performance.

I also get kick to see the young graduates who could barely afford anything and I invest them and they are able to buy a new car, they get married, that they develop. I know I had a small part in that.

What is the most significant decision that you made in your career?

My most significant decisions have been to leave an employer and jump to the next level.

– When I had a job that was in comfort zone I would leave.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of you when you push the edge of your comfort

zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continueto do, in order to make you as successful as you are?

Is to take the bold step. To say this is not working anymore; that I need to jump out and moveto the next level.

What does success mean to you?

Getting there on all fronts

  • Financially, socially, family, health, mentally, spiritual
  • Getting their with others
  • Having a holistic life

How do you define leadership?

Futuristic. It is what is going to happen as a result of what I am doing now.

Leadership Lessons Learned – Gladys Ogallo

  1. You need to realize you are spec in the world. As small as you are, you have to make a difference. Leaders should not feel they are too big that they are indispensable, and that people cannot survive without them.
  2. The world only needs 1% of the population to be leaders. That can be leaders and who want to be leaders. 99% of the population are followers and are happy to be lead. If you find yourself in that 1%, take it seriously. You are caring 99 people with you.
  3. Always be able to answer the question, “Why am I in business?”
  • To see satisfied customers
  • To make money
  • To grow the people under me
  • To give motivation people

As a leader you must go through the thought processes in every situation of why are you there. Are you doing the right thing?

There is a danger that you may fall into just being motivated to make money.

What is next for you?

  • I want to speak more. “Put your best foot forward” is a leadership and mentorship program.
  • I also enjoy a leadership program that I am put together for children that are 16 & 17 year olds.
  • I would like to do more of these leadership programs for kids.

Reflective Realizations from Gladys Ogallo

Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yr. old daughter?

What ever you have to do, do it well so no one has to come up behind you to clean it up.

As a leader, it will be clear what they need to do.

Q What do you wish you were told at 10yrs?

You will be what you want to be.

Words of Wisdom by Gladys Ogallo

The women of Africa are the ones that will save Africa. Where women have taking charge politically in a positive way, there has been a huge impact.


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