Senator Son's Rise to Contolling Ksh20.6 Trillion US Firm

Going to school, studying hard, and getting a good job is a plan many people have been taught is the key to success. 

Like William Shakespeare is often quoted, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

A glimpse into the impressive career of Nyagaka Ongeri, son of incumbent Kisii County Senator Sam Ongeri, spanning over two decades is nothing short of sensational and a true definition of scaling the heights of success.

Ongeri, 49, is arguably the most senior-most Kenyan to have worked in the US financial sector, famously referred to as Wall Street.

According to his LinkedIn account, he boasts over 23 years in experience, 18 of them at Barclays.

He left his last job as a managing director responsible for global corporates at Barclays International, New York in July 2019 after eight years serving at the capacity he assumed in July 2011.

On February 20, 2019, it recorded a net asset value of over Ksh20.6 trillion ($20.52billion) as indicated in the firm's strategic report on the performance review for the financial year 2018.

The young Ongeri's journey to the helm of corporate America is a rather impressive one, comprising stints at other giant institutions.

“I have never thought of that really,” Ongeri conceded when asked if he knew he would make it to where he is by US magazine Lifestyle.

He seeks refuge in understanding the demands of his career and the moral belief in work and religious ethos of the Seventh Day Adventist Church is an alumnus of St Mary's School, Nairobi, where he completed his "O" levels.

“My faith has been central in my life through the highs and lows,” Ongeri stated.

After St Mary's, he landed a job at Kenya Savings and Mortgage, a housing finance entity that later shut down.

He is an alumnus of Moi Forces Academy in Nairobi where he completed his "A" levels, specialising in mathematics, geography and economics, and is a profound fan of the abolished 7-4-2-3 education curriculum that was scrapped by former President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi in 1984.

“Don’t undervalue the skill sets you have accrued from learning in Kenya. These, coupled with the experience I had at the firm, gave me the essential skill sets to pursue finance,” he told Lifestyle.

Ongeri joined the National Youth Service in Gilgil, at a time when it was compulsory before advancing to university. He credits his stint at the NYS for the relationships he built and exposure to fellow Kenyans.

He was drafted to join Kenyatta University in September 1988 but later received an admission letter from Howard University in the US.

Ongeri was drawn to the university because of its black population. He left Kenya in January 1989, to pursue a degree in business finance.

“I had these concepts of the US from the media. People were open and didn’t have qualms about speaking their minds. I just wasn’t used to that," he stated, noting the cultural adjustments he had to make then.

To supplement the money he got from his parents, he served part-time at a petrol station in Washington DC, working what in the US is referred to as the graveyard shift, that is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

He performed exceptionally well, earning a full scholarship from the university, easing the financial stress. In 1990, he interned or three months at then-Maryland Bank National Associates, later acquired by the Bank of America.

“This was my first introduction to corporate America. It opened my thinking to the idea that I could work on Wall Street,” he narrated. In 1991, he interned at JP Morgan, a financial behemoth in New York.

“Until then, Howard had taught me how to write a CV, how to dress and what to say. But at JP Morgan, I learned the things that you are not taught in school the business etiquette. For example, I learned how to dress and to show up on time,” he recounted.

In his senior year at Howard, he sought interviews and was the subject of offers from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch, probably among the largest financial entities in the world. He settled on Merrill Lynch.

He worked there for three years, starting in 1992 before he went back to school (Havard School of Business) in January 1996.

“Books have been written about surviving the year at Harvard. It is incredibly intense. You are taught to make decisions, stand by them and fight to succeed. Every night we were given assignments which we were required to present in front of colleagues the following morning. These are smart and opinionated. If you are mediocre, you get exposed quickly," Ongeri stated.

After graduation in 1997, he got a job at JP Morgan and was placed at its African Branch in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He worked at the firm's capital markets division, servicing both local and international clients for four years before he left to work at Barclays in September 2001.

He served at the capacity of managing director responsible for the financial institution's debt capital markets at Barclays Bank Plc in New York for seven years, till July 2009, when he was relocated to South Africa yet again.

While in the southern Africa country's city of Johannesburg, he took up the role of managing director, head of global finance and risk solutions at Absa Capital, an affiliate of Barclays Capital, where he worked till July 2011 before he returned to New York as managing director in charge of corporate banking coverage at Barclays, a position he held till he left in August 2019.

Ngagaka Ongeri's career is a true epitome of success to society and Kenya as a country.

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