Lilian on pioneering innovation, motherhood and marriage

By: JACKSON BIKO

Lilian pioneered the innovation function in 2013, a new concept in the Kenyan financial services industry that is pegged to regulation.

She has also pioneered key partnerships within the ecosystem, most notably with iHub Kenya that saw Chase Bank win recognition in the 2015 Think Business Awards under the Product Innovation category.

She’s a mother of two. Wife. Lover of long drives while listening to strange music.

We met at Chase Bank offices in PwC, Delta Towers.

What did you think I’d ask as the first question?

I thought you’d ask why is a 29-year-old woman heading innovation for the whole bank… something like that.

I’m sure you have a ready answer…

(Laughs) You know it’s funny, when doing stuff you never really sit back and think about yourself until someone mentions it. But I think it’s an overall imposter syndrome that women face. You always walk around thinking, “I’m probably a fraud and someone will discover me any time now.” It’s natural and always comes up.

(Pause) For me, it’s passion and a deep desire to – and I know it might sound text book right now – have the ability to make a difference. That is what drives me. My parents always pushed us beyond our abilities.

My parents are very… (long pause) I hope you don’t mind periods of silence.

Not at all…

Well, it’s always been about taking opportunities. Trying things that are not ordinary excites me. I dislike comfort zones. I’m an economist, and for me, innovation is always about the question “how do we make our lives better?”

‘Head of Innovation’ sounds out there… fancy. What is it about exactly?

It’s about creating new value for businesses or individuals. My role is to enable that within the bank; opening ideas, synthesising and analysing. Chase was a regular bank and growing from two years ago. Now things have changed.

You can open an account in two minutes, and these are ideas that came from within the bank, not some consultants from somewhere else. Innovation and ideas should come from us, from within because we have the capacity in Africa.

What’s the one message you wouldn’t want women to pick from this interview?

That things just happen. I don’t want anyone to read this and think, “Oh you were just lucky.” Nobody hands out anything to a woman. I didn’t become head of innovation because it just happened. Nobody wants to give leadership to someone who is always waiting for something to happen to them. You have to work for it.

So you had to knock on doors to head this department?

Many times. It’s about persuasion. Nobody is really receptive to change – even people who will show enthusiasm to new ideas that challenge the norm. When the rubber meets the road and you tell them to sign here, they won’t be as enthusiastic. Selling ideas is what we do on a daily basis here.

Would you call yourself a restless person?

(Sighs) That’s a dangerous question. (Laughs) But I think my restlessness has come in periods, it’s not like all the time. I would like to sit down and flesh something out then I become restless, especially after I have achieved what I wanted.

Do you find motherhood innovative?

Everything about motherhood is innovative! It’s about recreating things you never thought you would ever do in your life. Everything about raising a child is different. The art of motherhood is different and you have to learn things on your own. I mean it doesn’t matter how many books you read or who mentors you. When it comes to being a mother, you are on your own.

Are you enjoying it?

Motherhood? I love it! (Smile) It defines me. There is always something new when raising two kids. Seeing them laugh and smile. Life is about those simple joys, watching your children make fools of themselves.

At 29, heading a department, mother of two kids, would you say you have moved quickly in life?

Yes, I would say that. Especially when I look at my peers, I’d say I’m a bit of a fast mover in many things. I never let anything get to my head. I can never wrap my head around the word overachiever.