Pearls And Heels: Barbara Olesi


Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Barbara Olesi. Barbara Olesi is a project management executive. She is currently working for one of Kenya’s leading market research companies. Barbara has worked in the market research industry for close to 5 years. She also doubles up as a gospel artiste. She recently released her latest single Niokoe and is looking forward to releasing her album later in the year. Music Review: Barbara Olesi’s Niokoe Is Worth A Listen


  1. Describe your typical day?

My typical day starts with talking to God say at around 5 am to around 5:45 am. This is followed by a quick shower then I rush to the stage to find my way to work where I will start off by going through my emails then responding or action on the requests depending on importance or urgency. I work in a deadline driven environment so most times important and urgent sound like the same word. Very thin separating line.

After which I will start on my everyday routine jobs which will range from training to project set ups or updating on ongoing projects to the closure of done projects. In really busy seasons which is pretty much all the time, I will end up doing most of these activities in one day. I might or might not attend a number of meetings if the need arises. This routine will go on until around 5 pm.

After 5 pm I will stay in just to clear my desk of any jobs that I know I don’t need to carry forward as I also wait for the Nairobi traffic to ease up. My office day ends most days at around 5:30-6pm after which I will go looking for a quiet matatu where I can either hear myself thinking or listen to music on my phone on my way home to rest so that we can start it all over again the next day.

  1. What did you want to be when you grew up?

I really wanted to be a nurse for pretty much all my primary school days then in high school I badly wanted to be an air hostess, that is until I mentioned it to one of my CRE teachers who shut that dream down with a few words “that job needs no thinking at all. You might as well stop thinking of going past high school!” Sigh! Part of me still wishes I didn’t listen to her. Then in university, I wanted to be a journalist, that too subsided I can’t really explain how. Just life.

  1. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would take my current job seriously from the moment I joined the university. I do project management for a market research company. I learnt about the career by default and God sent my way two amazing bosses who nurtured me, pretty much still do and I just fell in love.

Also, I would take my music seriously, like I always do but I would not quit my job to do music only (I did it once and it wasn’t a wise thing) because I could always delegate some of those music jobs and service them using my day job pay.

  1. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?

Communication skills are key. You are responsible for making sure everyone knows their responsibility in the process of the project execution and see to it that they fulfil it.

Team management because you have to coordinate all the members of the team working on the project and ensure that they are all moving towards giving the client what they paid for.

Finally, you need a sixth sense for risk because all the plans you had for the project can go so very wrong if just the tiniest detail has to be changed because of a problem you did not foresee.

  1. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?

I think that is going fine because there are so many other people doing what I do here and universities offering courses for the same so now I have a chance to major in project management when I do my masters. I think that Nairobi is open for this. More and more companies in Nairobi and maybe all major towns are realising how important it is to have a project management person working on any major project.

The main challenge is that if you work with a team that needs supervision to work then you will really struggle. Also, some risks that come up during execution are totally unpredictable but you still must get a way around the project to make sure you execute in or around the agreed timelines and with the least error.

There are opportunities in this profession. Project management is quickly being realized as a major function in any company that wants to realize quick and efficient turnarounds for their projects so there are more chances for growth and excellence.

  1. What motivates you?

Growth. Wanting to get the grip on what I am learning without wasting so much time so I can move to greater things seems to be my greatest thrill lately. Life has over time taught me that nothing stays the same for too long so adapt and move ASAP.

  1. How do you define success?

Set a goal, hit it. Set another one. Hit it. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Just know what you want, go get it.

  1. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My boss. She is one person who is respected for her job. People almost think that she can’t go wrong. I want to be trusted like that.

  1. What is your favourite aspect of your job?

The fact that I have a very clear vision of any project from the very beginning and I have to walk the team I am working with through it. I am a natural planner and this works to my advantage.

  1. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?

You must have a clear vision of what you are targeting. It is the only thing that will let you know if you got there.

Be willing to adapt if anything changes amid execution of your plan. Have a contingency plan and be willing to share your vision with trusted individuals in case you ever need to delegate.

  1. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?

Whatever you do, make sure the client trusts you and the team you are working with trusts you even more. You will almost never execute a project on your own but if your team can listen to you and take your word, you will talk to any client with confidence and back your word with a well-executed project. Everyone is happy but you are the happiest.

  1. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?

Being able to finally find something I love by default and growing into it almost naturally. That must be the best thing that happened to my career life thus far.

  1. What makes you happy?

Music makes my world go round. I sing because I am happy, sad, bored, excited. Whatever. Music makes life happen.

  1. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

Singing, listening to music, writing music, anything that has to do with well-done music. I write music and sing. You should check out Niokoe by Barbara Olesi on YouTube.

  1. Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?

Mentoring musicians and project managers either at my own firm or employed somewhere but having moved up the career ladder a few steps.

I also want to be changing lives through gospel music.

If you would like to interact with Barbara you can find her on twitter at @Olesi_tu, Facebook and Youtube.

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Managing editor and blogger at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories. Find me at [email protected]