Coming from an accounting background, he never once thought of becoming a journalist but today, GEORGE NDIRANGU, 29, a senior presenter and producer at CNBC, who also moderates high profile meetings involving heads of state, is one of the most sought-after broadcasters in the region. He spoke to EVELYN MAKENA
A dozen cameras whirred as a lean, young man spuns on the heels of his meticulously polished black shoes onto an elevated dais in a hall in Kigali, Rwanda on a Friday morning in May, last year.
The expansive hall buzzed with activity. In a few minutes, George Ndirangu would be facing one of the most significant moments of his career. On the outside, he exuded confidence and nonchalance, but on the inside, he was tearing apart with anxiety, as he would confide later.
He had lost count of the hours he spent awake the previous night trying to take care of every granular detail that would enable him moderate a panel discussion in the Transform Africa Summit 2017.
The floor was set, his producer gave the greenlight, the audience was ready and it was show time.
It was clear from the beginning that this event would not be like any other panel discussion the seasoned moderator had presided over.
One by one, his panelists walked onto the set with an aura of power hanging around them. Displaying a mix of intelligence, utmost calibration and admirable grasp of Information Technology (IT) and finance knowledge, that formed the bulk of the discussion for the day, the CNBC senior presenter and producer engaged the eight African Heads of State who formed the panel.
It would be the first of several other panel discussions with such national leaders that he would moderate. When it was all done, George remembers getting a rare moment with the summit host President Paul Kagamet of Rwanda. “After the discussion, the president approached me, shook my hand and said “well done young man’,” says George.
Out of obscurity
Reflecting on this momentous occasion, George says he felt immensely privileged. It’s been barely six years since he made his debut in media, horned his skills, came out of obscurity and ultimately stood on the high stage in Rwanda, Kenya’s East African neighbour.
The social media savvy 29-year-old, an actuarial science graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), who loves elegantly cut suits and has a penchant for statement watches, found himself thrust in unfamiliar territory when he left Kenya for Rwanda in 2012.
Having interned and worked at the Ministry of Housing and the National Hospital Insurance Fund as an assistant accountant during his university days and immediately after graduating in 2011, George had started to find his footing in finance when an opportunity in Rwanda came calling. He had also been running a successful fashion page on social media dubbed 2DIE4.
“It was making good money that could sustain my needs. At some point when in university, I moved out of my parents’ house and rented my own place,” he says. George got a hint from a friend about a logistics vacancy in a startup company in Rwanda.
Not one to let a good opportunity slip away, he packed his bags and left Nairobi for Kigali in February, 2012. The company did not pick up as he had expected and within few months of his sojourn in Kigali, it was closed down.
Without a plan of what he was going to do next, he adamantly stayed in Rwanda, despite incessant calls by his mother to return home. “My mother could not understand why I insisted on staying in Rwanda even though the company had folded up. I was stubborn on remaining there. Deep down, I was hopeful something would work out,” he says.
During his short stay, he forged good friendships, and in June 2012, one of his friends in Rwanda, the managing director of Radio 10, would often allow him to go to the studios to get an idea of how things were done. George immediately developed interest to learn the ropes in media.
“I would follow a certain lady, who was a French journalist, into the studio and shadow her. I admired her skills and was keen to learn how she presented, her intonation and all,” he shares.
It was while he was informally training at Radio 10 that the proprietor of the company received an investment that spurred the opening of a television station. “Radio 10 was the first private FM station in Rwanda.
There had been a plan to start TV 10, which would be the first private English television broadcaster in Kigali,” he says. Rwanda’s language landscape was changing at the time. The country that had previously predominantly used French as the language of business and diplomacy was slowly switching to English.
The auditions were held and he was picked to be part of the broadcasting team. “I guess we were partly hired because we were affordable labour and were available at the time. The company had also invested a lot in training us and, by hiring us, it would retain talent in-house,” he says.
Also, coming from a country where English is the official language no doubt gave him a cutting edge.
With no prior experience, George started anchoring prime time news in TV 10.
“It was hard for me to believe it. I kept thinking it was a dream and soon I would snap out of it,” says George of his first anchoring experience. George had adapted to the newfound job and was quickly learning how to navigate his way around the industry, and even landed a gig as a part-time moderator with UNDP, when another opportunity came calling. In 2014, CNBC Africa, a business news television channel, offered him a job.
“The email that outlined my new job is by far the best news I have ever received. I saw it and screamed. I was at home at the time, and I just put on a suit, skipped a shower and went to the TV 10 studios to say that I was leaving,” he recalls. At the time, his contract at TV 10 had expired and had not been renewed, and that presented a fair condition to exit.
The offer was quite lucrative. He would be earning 10 times what he had been earning, and the job had other perks as well. “I went on holiday in Dubai after receiving my first paycheck,” he beams.
George describes his journey in media as a roller-coaster. It has enabled him look at the world with a wider lens, hurled him out of his comfort zone and ultimately helped him grow on a personal level and in his career. “Honestly, I do not know what I would be doing with my life if I was not in media.
Presently, I wouldn’t wish my life any other way. I get overwhelmed by all the emotions that manifest inside of me when I think of my journey so far. It has been tough trying to figure out what is expected of me, but, overall, I am so grateful for the way life has happened,” he says.
Named the Rwanda Media Personality of the Year in 2017, George has no doubt achieved a remarkable measure of success in the media circles. Despite that, in his early days, he never once thought of becoming a journalist.
In Mombasa where he was born and spent a bit of his childhood and in Nairobi’s Mirema, Zimmerman and Jericho areas where the family lived at different times, his dream was always to become a pilot. The second-born in a family of three siblings spent most of his childhood with his mother, a teacher-turned-administrator-turned-entrepreneur.
His father, an accountant by profession, had been away in the US for 12 years where he earned a living as a truck driver. “We kept in constant touch through emails and letters,” he says.
Determined to pursue his dream, he went to audition for a position as a pilot in Kenya Airways after completing high school education in Kagumo High School in 2006. It turned out awfully. He missed the cut by just one point.
“Accompanied by my mother, I went to the auditions very early in the morning, and when I later found out I did not qualify, I cried for hours,” he remembers. Devastated that he would never pursue his dream career, he vowed to one day fly his own private jet. That still features as one of his long-term goals.
OFF THE SCREEN
Coming from an accounting background, appearing in TV screens, immediately anchoring prime time news in TV 10 in 2013, moving to CNBC in 2014 and moderating in high profile meetings, George’s journey seems like an enjoyably smooth career trajectory.
It’s partly so, but not entirely the case. He says it has taken hard work, strategic thinking, seizing opportunities and the right breaks. “I honestly think there were other more qualified people for the job at CNBC. But I think it’s how I put myself out there that gave me an upper hand.
In the Kenyan spirit, I knew that if I wanted something, I had to go for it, not the other way round,” he says. Attracting a huge following on social media also gave him an advantage.
Accuracy and precision, which are important qualities in finance, have helped him chart a path as a business journalist. Having a grasp of the issues in the business field based on his training makes his work even more enjoyable.
His employer, CNBC Africa, is an international versions of US-Based television network CNBC, covering Sub-Saharan Africa. It was launched by CNBC and Africa Business News LTD in 2007, with its headquarters in Sandton, Johannesburg.
When George is not appearing on screen or moderating events, the good natured presenter who is quick to laugh, enjoys spending time with his two golden brown dogs, Sabbath and Nuggets. A sports enthusiast, he confesses to playing at least eight sports including table tennis, basketball, football and swimming proficiently.
“I make sure to play at least one of the eight games once in a week,” he says. Currently single, he enjoys travelling and has been to over 27 countries so far.