My first official encounter with Chris Kirubi was in November 1999. At the time, I was group sales manager at Sarova Group.
My boss, the late Sandy Vohra, had proposed me as his replacement for the chairman position at the Nairobi Central Business District Association.
Kirubi, together with a team of 10 top corporate leaders, scheduled a meeting to meet the proposed candidate. I was in my mid-30s then and the business magnate was in his late 50s.
I was the youngest person in the room when the meeting kicked off, and I was not a member of the corporate millionaires club.
After a few questions on what my vision was for Nairobi was and what I planned to deliver in the first 100 days, it was Kirubi who convinced the other members (including billionaire industrialist Manu Chandaria) that I should be given 6 months to prove my worth.
I found NCBDA operating from someone's private office on Loita Street. I set to change this by writing proposals to development partners. The Ford Foundation responded positively and pledged to fund governance programmes in Nairobi. It was especially keen to support changes in governance and leadership both at the City Council of Nairobi and the Kenya Police.
Ford Foundation gave the go-ahead to source for appropriate office space in the CBD. I then requested Kirubi to let us occupy half a floor at his International Life House building. He was both surprised and amused at my audacity.
"Phillip, we are operating a very prestigious address where only top corporations and embassies can afford rent!" he told me.
However, I insisted that we needed a proper address where we could easily interact with development partners. He relented and directed his general manager to offer us the space - but strictly on commercial terms.
Earned his respect
Kirubi was later shocked to learn that we had paid six months' rent and had committed to paying quarterly rent in advance. I believe it was at this point that I earned his trust and respect.
While he was committed to giving young people a chance, he was firm that they needed to prove their commitment to the tasks they had signed up for.
His bias for supporting the youth was again manifested in September 2002 just before the General Election. He asked me join him for a drink at the Hilton Hotel. Little did I know that he wanted to pick my brain on who was likely to win the poll.
I was open and candid: all odds favoured Mwai Kibaki to be the next President. He looked shocked but graciously promised to send "something" to support Kibaki's campaign the following week.
What captured my imagination was his answer to my query on why he would support Uhuru Kenyatta, my agemate, over an experienced politician of Kibaki's calibre. His answer was: "The future of this country is in the youth".
My 12-year interaction with Kirubi as chairman of NCBDA, first as CEO of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, and later on as the last CEO of Nairobi (Town Clerk of the City Council of Nairobi), empowered me to stand by some core values in the high stakes management of a metropolitan. Be Firm. Be forthright. Be fair.
These values enabled my team to develop the Nairobi Master Plan, an ambitious blueprint that sought to address the growth of our city for the next 25 years.
President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration, through the Nairobi Metropolitan Services and General Badi, have started its implementation.
I consulted regularly with Kirubi, and debated positively on how to make the city better. Alongside that was the view that consensus be sought from many other captains of industry on how to engage in public private partnerships on areas such as street lighting, landscaping, solid waste management and policing among others.
The journey to remake Nairobi is long and tough. And there have been many challenges along the way, especially where politics interferes with principles of corporate governance. But if there is anything I learnt from Kirubi, it is to do the right thing and never compromise on quality.
Nairobi must work.
Farewell CK. This city that you so loved will never forget you.