The Guy at The Top


Every week I meet someone at the peak of – or peaking in – their career or profession. A revolving door of CEOs, entrepreneurs, businessmen, wheelers and some dealers. We sit in a cafe or an office for an interview. Sometimes we meet early in the morning for breakfast (my favourite), hardly ever in the afternoon. Sometimes it’s lunch (dislike those, too loud for voice recording), seldom for drinks because you never know what you might say two Martinis in. Often they pick the tab, sometimes I do. Some come confident, most come wary. Sometimes I have fun, other times I pretend to be having fun. Those are the times it’s a job. A deadline. A byline.  

There comes that moment after small talk with me trying to get them to relax and them trying to show me that they are easygoing and affable and have nothing under their nails, that I put my phone between us and right before I press the record button I say, “Remember, if it’s off the record you have to say it’s off the record,” then they sort of get squirm-ish. And I love this part because mostly it’s reminiscent of theater where the roles are clear; they wear their hats and we raise the curtain.

Often the interview hardly ever goes past an hour because if they do then Magunga – who transcribes all these interviews before I re-write them – will have to spend more than four hours listening to the recording and that doesn’t come cheap for me. There are those who speak from their hearts and those who speak from a PR handbook kept under their desk. There are those who have their communication people in the room to stare me down if I ask “inappropriate” questions and then there are those who sit alone because they can handle it.

Mostly I have to go to them, to their offices. I have ridden countless lifts to get to these men and women. Raised my arms to be patted down by countless security guys at the metal detector to get through their doorways. I have stood before countless PAs and answered the question, “Is he/she expecting you?” or tried to respond to “You don’t look like you write!” I’ve been to offices with beautiful paintings and with bare walls that spoke of the men and women who inhabit such spaces. I have stepped on office rugs that cost more than a Probox. I have also been in offices that surprised me, like Mbugua Ngugi – MD Rift Valley Winery; a small humble room with a noticeboard (ga!) and a window with no curtains. From there he sat behind an unremarkable desk doing remarkable things. That threw me off. I have been to offices that looked like war rooms, like Vimal Shah’s office in Thika. The wall had a hall of fame, and the rich leather seats in the room mooed softly. I have sat with men (and women) in rooms that reeked of academia, like Grand Mullah’s office, where we sat in his boardroom; a deep and contemplative room that he turned into a forest of hard-spined law books. If you ever wonder whether words have a smell, you just have to sit in that room to get your answer.

Then there are offices with stunning views like Bob Collymore’s at Safaricom House and Joe Mucheru’s office when he was at Google. Joe – if my memory serves me right – sat with his back to the view.  It made me wonder, what do CEOs do with these views? Do they, at the end of the day, when the last worker bee has punched out, swivel their chairs around and stare at Nairobi’s night skyline and let their system decompress? Or do these views become a blur.

UAP is building UAP Old Mutual Tower in Upper Hill. It will be the building  sitting on the highest point in Nairobi, and by extension the tallest building. Up on that tower will sit highest office in Nairobi. The top office is all glass. You go up and for a moment, you are completely disoriented as you try to place the buildings below you with the only landmark being KICC. Roads wind and curve. Nairobi, believe it or not, is still green. Trees and foliage sprout between buildings. City Stadium looks like a colourful landmine. Afya House looks like a dusty brick. The railway line trots alongside the city.

In a few months someone, a CEO, will sit in this space, making him the guy with the office closest to heaven – if heaven indeed is up there. The guy will be some corporate hack, probably in his 40’s who favors white shirts and money clips. A chap who gyms five times a week, plays a round of golf every Friday afternoon, has his kids in private schools and a second mortgage on his tail. Maybe he will be a senior bachelor, engaged to a girl who never goes out in the sun without lipstick. Maybe it will be a lady. She will have mastered the language of men, fought men – and women – to get there. She would probably be the type who loves to burn scented candles as she soaks in a tub at the end of the day and on some weekends sit with a book in a spa as fish nibble on her feet. Maybe.

I picture the guy at the top running around all day, not bothering to really LOOK at this stunning view because there are meetings to chair, emails to respond to, board members’ asses to kiss in long vacuous telephone conversations and reports to pore over. He will sometimes sit with his back turned to his office and his phone pressed against his ear, staring into the horizon, past the airport and right into the hazy smog beyond, where they felled Mohawk, but he doesn’t really see anything. He doesn’t appreciate the view.

In the evening the sun will slowly set beyond the skyline of Nairobi, casting a long orange glow on the city. That he will stop to notice and if he has a meeting, he will stop the meeting and say, “Guys, there is a reason God made sunsets, and a reason men built high buildings like this. Can we have a moment and suck this sunset with our straws?” And they will all turn and soundlessly stare at the sunset, with the realists trying not to peek at their watches and roll their eyes.

Sometimes the view might be a blur of events. When someone on the board will sit him down in a darkened lounge over a cognac and, knees almost touching, tell him in strictest confidence of a plot to show him the door. And so he will start fighting to survive. Fighting powerful men with more clout and less powerful men with evil. He will spend nights standing at this window, looking out at Nairobi at night, now lit like a modern city, a city where men come to make dreams happen and some come for redemption, and the future will make him nervous.

Maybe he will be new on the job and battling niggling insecurity. Afraid that people might see what he’s feeling, or figure out that he doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s doing. And so he locks himself up in there, in his gilded glass cage, and sits alone with panic, talking to it, as he stares at this view with his door closed. On those days, that office, suspended high up over Nairobi, will not offer him any joy. It will represent how far he is from the ground. How far he can fall.

Or maybe this guy is ecstatic. He just got this fourth baby. A son this time. Named after his father. He sits in his high-back-120K chair staring at the view and grins the whole day, surprised and a little embarrassed that he is so relieved that it’s a boy. He stands at the window and stares down at Don Bosco church below, crosses his heart and whispers a thank you. He’s Catholic, after all.

Maybe he will be one of those eligible 41-year old CEOs with shiny suits. The ones who ended up there by being the smartest in his class, schooled with HELB, and when they finished they didn’t send their papers to rich powerful relatives, they shook the bushes and once in the system, nobody could stop them. Now they sit in the tallest building, literally on top of the world.

He will definitely use his office as an angle. He will be the chap you will overhear telling a girl at a do, “My office is at UAP Old Mutual Tower.”

“Oh which floor?” She asks disinterestedly while looking over him to the other guy in a burgundy tie.

“The top floor.”

“Oh.” (Looks at him more closely).

“Yeah, we have some insane sunsets, you should come see it one day.”

“Oh. OK. What do you do, again?”

He hands her this card with titles and she shifts from one leg to the other and says with a coy smile, “I love sunsets.”

In one wing of the building there will be a boardroom that will be open for hire. A place to throw high-end cocktails. A place to hire out to suited men who want to impress other suited men in order to get business. They will stand in sinking carpets and hold long stems of bubblies as they dance that corporate dance of seduction. The view will be a conversation starter. Someone will walk up to someone standing looking out at KICC’s Samsung necklace and say:

“First time in Kenya?”

“Oh yes, it’s nothing like I thought it would be. I could be standing anywhere in the world.”

“What did you think it would be?”

“Oh well, certainly not THIS! This is magnificent.”

“Yes, then we start shooting our lions.”

“Oh that was dreadful. Poor animal. He didn’t deserve it.”

“They will probably name a street after him. Mohawk Lane.”

“He deserves it. He deserves a building named after him. Do you get lions roaming around often?”

“Lately yes, I just saw one at the basement as I was parking.”

“You’re shitting me, mate!”

“It was struggling to reverse.”

He laughs.

There are days that he will not want to leave the office. Days that the Missus and him are not talking. He will work late, way after hours. Then when his brains is fried, when he can’t do much more, he will sink in the couch and stare at Nairobi, now closing shop, the glittering lights and the roads emptying of cars and he will be lost in this view and in his thoughts. Then his phone will ring, interrupting this silent moment and it will be the Missus.

“Hey. You aren’t coming home today?” She will ask with sarcasm.

“ I am. I will.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in the office.”

“Really? It’s going to 11pm!… It’s awfully quiet there.”

He will be tempted to say, “well, that’s because you aren’t here,” instead he will say, “Well, the band has left for the night.”

“Well, no need for sarcasm. You have been working late lately, I wonder if you won’t move into that office one day.”

“See you later.”

Then he will sit there for another ten minutes, log off, ride the elevator downstairs to the basement parking where his Audi Q7 will be waiting in his parking spot then as he reverses he will actually look out for Mohawk.

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    1. What the hell is wrong with you? Like seriously? So after being first to comment do you want an award or something? Anyway Stupidity is not a crime, so you’re free to go. * Whistles away*

          1. Let Ninja be, if he is happy to comment the first just whistle away quietly with no insults

        1. Was this insulting? When you read an article, the comments section are usually like dessert. Many are so interesting and you get another good laugh like you did when reading. This comments about being the first to comment are a total put off. That’s why he probably didn’t mince his words. Let’s take it easy on Cliff.

          1. Yes.. Plus i think that biko should say something now… I just hate it when i see sijui first to comment.. A waste of the comments section

      1. In the world we live in today, any achievement is worth celebrating. Let ninja celebrate his achievement and record it for posterity!

      2. You maybe the one who’s stupid. Coz you keep fighting guys who boosts of being the first to comment. How does that pinch yah ass.!!

    2. Okay, i apologize. Not disappointed at all. Neither am i a newbie…does it matter anyway? No i bet. Ninja am sorry. I don’t normally insult people.

      1. Wow Clif I’m officially impressed. I find it next to impossible to apologise whether I’m wrong or not. Big up

        1. Hehe. I believe that when someone apologizes it does not make him less of a man or anything. In fact it makes someone stronger. Well yesterday i had a bad bay and i let it get into my head and i really wanted to channel it somewhere and unfortunately i channeled it to Ninja. Once again my apologies.

          1. You really are the bigger man. I disliked you for a second there, then you had to go and be all big and mature about it and am like.. Well, you know we all have those days. Good on you.

      2. I understand where Cliff is coming from.
        We have come here for years to enjoy excellent writing.
        The comment section used to make for great reading as
        well until Generation xaxa came onboard and made it a
        “who comments first” contest. Seriously what are you?
        A bunch of teenagers with self esteem issues?
        “First to comment…now let me read!” Such mediocrity.

    3. When I grow up, I want to have my desk there, right up there @the UAP top floor, but knowing that the higher they climb, the faster they fall……so I will climb slowly. One day I’ll sit my self up there, when aim done with growing up!

  1. Spot on!
    To all like-minded young men out there working for this, and much more, remember: “You cannot hit a target that you cannot see”
    -Written from the 8th flr. of CiC Plaza (two overlooking all of UpperHill)

  2. Nice read. Check thus out

  3. Lovely lovely lovely as usual. Some CEO’a have a complete wardrobe and bathroom in the offices. On a good day, they get good kickbacks, profits and can wash and change twice or thrice from the office. On a bad day, they get evicted from their offices by chaotic, erratic and loud-mouthed founder’s kids like the Tuskys’ CEO. It is an illustrious position when everything works in unison but a treacherous path when the odds are not in your favor. I do not envy our big brothers/sisters at alleast but the salary …Jamaica

  4. My best interview was with Charles Njonjo,especially when he told you next time you come without a suit he will kick you out.I kept wondering at 90+ years why could someone still be going to the office at 7.But then again as you said they are the people at the peak

  5. He hands her this card with titles and she shifts from one leg to the other and says with a coy smile, “I love sunsets.”

    that is a guy at the top.. awesome literal depiction i can almost see him

  6. I salute all the men who, every grain of sand and pellet of ballast passed through their hands to come up with such a poignant tower. It is magnificent.

  7. He he he…’Rugs that cost more than a Probox’…. My mum would definitely be offended. She drives one.
    Nice one!

  8. Great read as usual, reading this made me think of the struggles we men go through before we occupy that top office….The struggle is real and there will always be to look up to

  9. The view only fascinates the office occupant when he/she moves in there & when there’s a win to be congratulated about by the old investors or board members. The rest of the time, it’s just another wall like the others in the room. I know that all too well.

    1. Wheep not child, in this painting, others lives are illuminated-found my kith and kin there. Tomorrow is another day and Bicko will paint your world. He doesn’t dissapoint….

  10. As a car enthusiast i was waiting for that part where i spot the kind of car the big guy will be driving.You sure never disappoint as of my imagination 100

  11. Can we have a moment and suck this sunset with our straws? and KICC’s Samsung necklace. Who would have thought. My favorite lines today. Thank you Biko – great read as always.

  12. this article brought out the chasing after dreams feeling in me, sometimes i wonder if our dreams are all we have in this world.They make you get up and work even when you don’t feel like it. They bring you to Biko who is busy fulfilling his dreams by ensuring i not only know about the UAP building but also wish and crave to be there.

  13. Why did you abort the conversation so abruptly? I was enjoying the sarcasm. Or you did that to protect that guy’s sex life!

  14. Damn Biko! How do you do that, the description is amazing. Could as well have been there. Amazing read!!

  15. Biko, ever thought for a moment the CEO at UAP could be a woman? Probably the lion(ness) that struggles to reverse at the basement!
    Wonderful piece though. That cheque from UAP must be real fat. What with everyone angling to have a piece of the tower, even if just for the view. So much better than the ho-hum script I went through in the morn.

  16. For some of us still a milestone from the top, we live through such stories.

  17. “Maybe he will be new on the job and battling niggling insecurity. Afraid that people might see what he’s feeling, or figure out that he doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s doing” My killer line.
    Everyone can easily relate to the wishes of working over there but few will put in the works.
    “In the hopes of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.”
    Albert Schweitzer

  18. “Nitumie CV yako”. I hate that phrase. Not because it is a bad one but because it is misused. Biko I honour men and won that were schooled with HELB money and shok the corporate world until they got themselves in and worked their asses to the top. It takes blood and sweat to do that. Relative who know a guy who knows another guy simply ruin everything. We end up with assistants, clerks, accountants who dont know shit. I want to be at the TOP of UAE towers. Overlook the city and draw some sense of satisfaction. Knowing I never bribed anyone to get then. Not owing that uncle who knows a guy any favour for hooking me up with a jobo 🙂 I want to do that. I want to look at a girl and tell her “the sunsets are insane up there. You need to come and see for yourself”. If i get there…wait…BRB my lion just escaped 🙂 🙂

    1. I love your comments.. always witty and at times, if not most, feel like its a continuation of Biko’s thoughts.

    2. I hate that nitumie CV yako line. And they use it to please our parents. I may be jobless but once I hear that line I quickly roll my eyes (inwardly). I’d rather start from the very bottom than have someone try to appease whatever gods with Nitumie CV

    3. Wesh. Peter Wesh, did you get your lion?
      What’s his name? Most importantly, what’s your twitter handle? 🙂 *pretty please?*

      1. Lol TinaK I never found my Mufasa 🙂 And things have not been the same. Days a longer, nights colder, milestones elusive, and moments empty. I need me another Mufasa 🙂 Find me on twitter @Beingwesh and if you’re a government spy trying to bring me down I will deny any knowledge of that twitter account.

        1. Wesh, Ssshhh…..there there. Another Mufasa will come.
          If I were a government spy, I would have found you ages ago !
          Okay, now on to the real spying…

  19. In a few months someone, a CEO, will seat in this space, making her the lady with the office closest to heaven-if heaven indeed is up there. The lady will be some corporate….probably in her 40’s who favors…
    I love the description and imagery created. But it could be a woman seated up there!!

  20. I love when Biko tries to capture the feelings, emotions, vulnerabilities? like this. Something that is often beyond our reach. It’s beautiful.

  21. “When someone on the board will sit him down in a darkened lounge over a cognac and, knees almost touching, tell him in strictest confidence of a plot to show him the door. And so he will start fighting to survive. Fighting powerful men with more clout and less powerful men with evil.” Reminds me of ‘House Of Cards’.

  22. It’s only lonely at the top of you ain’t there.
    Why do the missus always interrupt quiet hour! I thought for a second this was going to lead to some sudden twist.

  23. The irony of life is that we’ll celebrate the occupants of that building rather than the actual builders. Men and women who sweated day and night to place one floor on top of the other. Builders – worth celebrating!

  24. Nowadays I seem to notice articles that he a gender bias. This story could be told of a lady at the top too…
    But Biko isn’t a chauvinist. It’s much easier to write about guys, he’s a guy anyway.

  25. Cheers to the imaginary conversations running through Biko’s head (I bet the frontal lobe). Always brightens the day no matter how dark (the day not the frontal…) it might be.

  26. Cleverly contrived… Words that elavate any soul to the upper echelons of the corporate world, even if just to watch the sunset for as long the read lasts.

  27. Really nice article.The only issue i have is once reaching at the top instead of
    relaxing and enjoying you still have to fight to keep the position.
    Maisha haina kupumzika!

  28. I don’t know but I felt the articles which didn’t have sponsors felt soo much better.. but young ones need shoes. sawa tuuu

  29. When I think about all the sacrifices it takes to get there, I wonder sometimes if its really worth it.

  30. What is it na being the 1st to comment? Nwey Biko that kadream is valid pia,,if u wanna be that guy too u know.

  31. “He hands her this card with titles and she shifts from one leg to the other and says with a coy smile, “I love sunsets.””
    Biko i admire your imagination…you’ve made my evening

  32. Good one.
    the success CEOs have verses the trials of possibly being ousted reminds me of the story of the Sword of Damocles.
    But still I wouldn’t mind sitting in a high tower with a 360 view overlooking Nairobi

  33. Got bored reading today’s post.maybe am in a mood .came scrolled to the end for EMTs
    No funny ones today either.oh well CNT have it all

  34. First to comment? No? Its ok beat by a Ninja, those fellows are faster than Chuck Norris. Good article and a good tribute to Mohawk

  35. Last comment yeiy! Don’t hate me, just whistle away. Awesome read this one, gives you hope! We going to get there and when we do, when I do, I will look back at 5th April and say thanks chocolate man, you have me hope, you ignited me now am lighting up this city might not be Nairobi but still I will be lighting up a city somewhere on earth. Awesome read chocolate man.

  36. We should appreciate our being! eyes, ears, nose all the senses, everyday we should take a moment to “Breath” not just draw in air, to see not just look, to feel and not just touch.., that’s when we begin to appreciate life and smile whenever we wake up. Good read BZ.

  37. Such lovely depth to your writing, Biko. You can be flippant with the most serious of subjects, and also turn the most mundane into deeply contemplative posts. One can almost derive a Philosophy of Life with this one…

  38. In my mind I have decorated my office in that office on the top most floor. It is indeed a treacherous ascend to say the least. However somebody has got to get up there and it might as well be me. So Biko save me some space on your recorder because I am half way there.

  39. I had to google up images of the UAP Towers after the read! Eish!! Nairobi ni shamba la mawe for real;buildings coming up quicker than it took Kidero-grass to show the middle finger to its critics. Great read as always :

  40. Before me ,there was me before i discovered this yarnwindle.whenever biko yarns he never dissapoints and this me is so proud it stumbled upon this space.kudos!!

  41. A road should be named after Mohawk. or the tall building should be named after Mohawk The Lion King.

  42. ‘a rug that costs more than a probox?’ You’ve seriously dented the image of probox owners Biko. Nice piece bro.

  43. I want that top floor office at UAP tower to be occupied by a female CEO, and i will strive to be that CEO. Such a good read, bless you Biko

  44. Biko you should come meet our CEO. He is a big man with a thick kuyu accent. He says Regendary when he means Legendary, and shage when he means Change. But he has a head on his shoulders like few others. He is man who knows which buttons to press, and which ones to simply graze your finger lightly across, he knows even better which buttons should have a blaring ‘DO NOT TOUCH EVER’ sign. He is a man of great vision, and even though he falls short often, as does most people, he is not averse to apologizing. But don’t look for his office on that top floor, in fact, you will not even need to ask his PA if he is in his office, he sits with the common ilk. His open door policy is exactly that.. Open door, and he continually proves that even if you are the CEO of one of the largest firms globally such as his, in as long as you are human, be humble. That your faults might be forgiven as human, not as the man who should never ever make mistakes. TO GG! The man is a regend! 🙂

  45. Great piece! The views and sunsets will probably be spectacular and hopefully not lost on the “big” man or woman in that office!

  46. “Lately yes, I just saw one at the basement as I was parking.”
    “You’re shitting me, mate!”
    “It was struggling to reverse.” hahaha…This line cracked me up!
    On another note, I come here for the fine writing, and the just as interesting commentary..which sadly now seems to be watered down by people whose major achievement in life is to comment ‘I’m first!’

  47. Awesome read . . . .. . especially the last part.“Where are you?”
    “I’m in the office.”
    “Really? It’s going to 11pm!… It’s awfully quiet there.”
    He will be tempted to say, “well, that’s because you aren’t here,” instead he will say, “Well, the band has left for the night.”

  48. Maybe it will be a lady. She will have mastered the language of men, fought men – and women – to get there. She would probably be the type who loves to burn scented candles as she soaks in a tub at the end of the day and on some weekends sit with a book in a spa as fish nibble on her feet. Maybe.
    I yearn.