By Mukurima X Muriuki
Ensconced within his triple-sided executive desk, the impeccably dressed Joseph Karoki looks right at home. In his Texas office, he is surrounded by the physical reminders of his mental activities: African themed books mainly from Chinua Achebe fill the shelves and airplane models serve as décor. Karoki is a perfect example of living an American dream made possible by a healthy dose of American responsibility.
Born and raised in Kenya, he was able to use his boarding-school education as a stepping-stone toward his future success in the United States, his adopted country. His father, a church leader, and his mother, a Central Bank of Kenya employee, were able to send him to Lukenya Academy and Gilgil Hills Academy where he learned to love books and prepared for his KCPE exams.
After this intense study and academic pressure, he was rewarded with admittance to Lenana School which he says “chose him” as his first choice was Alliance Boys.
What was great in Lenana? Karoki, without fear of contradiction offers:
“The pride, the lessons on leadership, the comradery the exposure to music, sports, science, and trying to survive in an environment full of grade ‘A’ personalities; Lenana taught me how to be tough, strong, and confident. These are some of the many things that have shaped my life and made me the man I am today. “
Although academics were the main focus then, Karoki was still able to find time for other lessons: how to approach girls without making a fool of himself and how to succeed in music competitions, for instance. He looks back on these days fondly, remembering the smell of the books on the shelves and the encouragement of Saturday morning “check talks” from the principal, Mr. Maneno.
The typically regimented structure of Karoki’s formative education helped prepare him for an even more disciplined future – serving as a Marine in the U.S. military. His service as a Marine helped instill in him a sense of responsibility, not only for himself but also for everyone in his unit or under his command – in a colorful Marine idiom for this shared responsibility: “shit rolls downhill.”
Expressions like this weren’t in Karoki’s lexicon before his move to America after High School; a transition that happened when he was 3 months shy of his 19th birthday. Did he encounter any culture shock(s) in the new domicile? You bet he did. And he is not shy to talk about it and the learned lesson(s):
“My first culture shock was being told either directly or indirectly that my ‘Kenyan-British English’ wasn’t good enough; that I had to learn how to speak ‘American-English.’ It also took me time to learn basic things like counting American money and paying bills. Moreover, it was challenging navigating the ‘American anthropocentrism.’ The most difficult lesson I had to learn – and the lesson that would later on, serve to be the most valuable in my continued success – was American resilience. There have been many lessons along the way on how to fail and quickly get up! It is easy to fail in America, but America forgives failure as long as there is a will to recover. Put simply, I learned how to adapt and overcome.”
With the tenets of responsibility and resilience thoroughly instilled, Karoki was free to make a name for himself in the aerospace industry where he currently serves as the Global Director of Sales for General Electrodynamics Corporation, a world leader in the manufacture of aircraft load and balance equipment within the aerospace industry. In this position, he leads and manages sales efforts around the globe. While it has taken hard work and many sacrifices to reach the current mark, Karoki has words of encouragement for young people who are looking to make a career in the Aerospace world:
“In my last 2 aerospace jobs, I have been one of the few in leadership without an engineering or other aviation related technical and/or academic background. While I have been fortunate enough to land this job, it is still a disadvantage. I highly recommend that students who want to pursue aviation or aerospace related career field to get a combination of preferably Mechanical Engineering and Business degrees. A Mechanical Engineering degree gives you more career flexibility as opposed to getting a degree in Aerospace Engineering. A Business degree gets you a seat at the table when business decisions are being made. I admire engineers who have a sense of the financial environment, market economics and operations side of the Aerospace field, in addition to the highly technical side that comes with engineering. It is a rare quality to find, and such a person would be highly successful.”
Karoki’s life is far from all business, however. He is a family man; a proud dad to one son-James (14); and 3 daughters: Imara (13), and 2 daughters aged 9 and 8.
“Being a dad is the best job in the world for it means fighting for the right to be in your children’s lives every day: Thankfully, it’s an easy burden to bear when you have beautiful, intelligent children who love you to pieces!” he notes with a broad smile.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Karoki relative to marriage, something he philosophically sums up as thus:
“I tell people that I have lived the entire American dream. Married and divorced. I am single but I have a couple of interesting prospects. That’s the beauty of dating sometimes, the journey counts as much as the destination.”
Although Americanized English was a barrier for him at first, he now enjoys mixing with blue-collar workers, lawyers, engineers, and judges at their favorite cigar lounge, talking about life and filtering the American dream through rich puffs of tobacco. That Cigar has become part of his life:
“I never leave the house without a cigar. They are my escape. My guilty pleasure. My friend Zahir introduced me to Cigars and with that, a whole different lifestyle.”
In fact, Karoki goes to sleep early on Fridays so he can rise early and enjoy this smoke-centered communion. As he savors the cigars worth organizing his sleep patterns around, he may philosophize on his views regarding different societal issues. On Kenya’s corruption problem and its attendant prehensile tentacles that smother development, Karoki believes reform must start at home, with parents teaching their children the importance of integrity around the dinner table, and must continue with a governmental reform of the court system, focused on autonomy and prosecution of those implicated in corrupt dealings.
Karoki is not shy to commiserate with his “brothers” about Trump’s lack of morality and the lackadaisical attitude of the ninety million Americans who contributed to his election win by staying home on voting day. Or, in an optimistic mood, he may express a hope that the current president changes for the better with the weight of the office on his shoulders, changes enough to earn his respect.
And on matters election, Karoki has a message for the Kenyan voter given the importance of the general election set for August:
“Every eligible person should vote, if not for you, but for future generations. Elections have consequences.”
A classy gentleman, Karoki is known by his friends, colleagues, and associates for a stylish and elegant dressing. What informs his dress code?
“My CEO asked me the same question…I’ll tell you the same thing that I told him. Growing up in the house of a Pastor with numerous visitors in and out as well as attending boarding school, specifically Lenana, where your grooming standards have to be high, influences my dress code. People judge you by how you dress. Is it unfair? Yes. Is it something you can control? Absolutely!”
Karoki’s service as a Marine and his accomplishments in the aerospace industry have enabled his success story: an immigrant now indispensable to America. He remains humble throughout his success, however, revealing a lesson that many native-born American citizens have yet to learn:
“This is America. America gives you a blank check. You do not have to do what everyone else is doing. Forge your own path. America rewards hard work, ingenuity, and persistence. It’s a guaranteed formula.”
For those who may not know Karoki, he is a generous person, a trait he says was passed on to him by his mother: “It’s hard for me to say no to people who need my time, money or resources” he says.
And to Kenyans in Diaspora, the man whose favorite movie is Hitch and has a soft spot for Scotch, has inspiring words for you: “Be fearless, be confident and be successful!”
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