Karen Hospital CEO on the thin line between family and business

It's not personal it's just business.

Karen Hospital CEO Juliet Nyaga flanked by founders Dr Dan Gikonyo and Dr Betty Gikonyo

Family-owned businesses form a huge part of Kenya’s economic environment from high-value firms such as the Chandaria Group, Bidco Group down to your local “Njoroge and sons” kiosk.

Many family-run businesses have the advantage of strong relationships and shared values but also run the risk of collapse due to feuds or squabbles.

Karen Hospital CEO, Juliet Gikonyo shared a glimpse into how she is able to walk the thin line between family and business, having taken over the hospital from her parents who were the founders.

Perhaps the journey would have been easier if her father Dr Dan Gikonyo and mother Dr Betty Gikonyo did not still work at the facility.

It is hard enough being a CEO to Dr Dan and Dr Betty who are the best in their respective practices, let alone being their child.

In an interview with Daniel ‘Churchill’ Ndambuki, Juliet explained that the two years at the helm of Karen Hospital have been a learning curve.

It has been a very interesting two years. It has been difficult because I think one of the things people never really understand in family business is the intricacies between relationships in a family and then running a business at the same time.

We share the same mindset in many areas but then there are others where you can see there's a bit of a tussle between my opinion and sometimes I have to remember that I as the CEO carry both the directors’ and the founders' wishes but also the shareholders’ wishes so I have to find the middle ground,” she said.

One of the hardest decisions revolves around money where Juliet has to take a stand on what she believes is right for the hospital.

Often times her father Dr Gikonyo will want to buy the latest equipment and she will have to look at the budgets and sometimes decline his requests.

Other times Juliet will have to call him out on things that she believes he would have done better but at the end of the day, it's not personal it's just business.

Since she can’t call her parents ‘dad and mum’ in the hospital corridors, she came up with names such as Dr DK for her father and Dr BM for her mother.

I was in the heart clinic and in the morning it was about 8.30 a.m, I walk in and see patients and then I walk through the corridors but I don't see any doctors so I pick up my phone and I send a message to Dr DK and tell him 'I see patients in my reception but I don't see a doctor and you're not here, what time am I expecting you’,” she gave an example.

Almost all firms start as family businesses, but only those that overcome the problems associated with this form of ownership are able to grow, retain harmony as a family, and achieve long-term success.


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