Would you quit a corporate job to hawk items in the streets? Your most probable answer is no. Not too many people would take this route, especially at a time when jobs are scarce and hawking is perceived as preserve of the unemployed and the unemployable.
Yet this is the bold decision that one Kenyan took. Edgar Otieno reportedly left a promising job at Barclays Bank (now Absa Kenya) to sell pencils in the streets of Nairobi.
After trading his corporate career to pursue his passion Edgar became a familiar face to those who frequented the city center.
Some wondered why a man with a banking background would choose to sell pencils, but Otieno had a simple answer. “In sales, people buy you first before they buy whatever you are selling,” he explained in a past interview. And it’s clear that Otieno’s impeccable dress sense, his easy smile, and his willingness to speak multiple languages won him plenty of customers over the years.
“I’ve made an effort to learn basic phrases of most languages spoken in Kenya. Years on the street have taught me that most Kenyans prefer to buy from their own, or from someone who speaks their language. Kenyans are still tribal,” he claimed
Otieno had determined that the compensation he received from the bank was inadequate, leading him to leave his job and pursue his true passion.
Some of his previous colleagues confirmed that he had been employed as a banker, but had decided to switch to selling goods on the street.
Born in a polygamous family in Butula, Busia County, Otieno was brought up to value neat dressing and hard work. After arriving in Nairobi, he stumbled upon a company that was recruiting sales agents for their pencil and cutlery products. He was hired on commission and quickly proved to be a top performer, earning the title of “best agent” multiple times.
When the company folded in 2005, Otieno didn’t let that stop him from continuing to sell pencils. “I was so good at it, that I was named best agent multiple times. When the company folded in 2005, I decided to continue with the job,” he added.
He enjoyed the flexibility of his work and the ability to set his own schedule, which allows him to pursue other interests such as farming and education. With his earnings, he was able to take himself to college and obtain a diploma in social work.
“In 2012, I enrolled for a diploma in social work in hope of a better job, but nothing has come up yet,” he says, adding that he has politely declined a number of job offers. “I’ve not received an offer that would pay more than what I earn in a day,” he said in a previous media interview.
However, some people still held misconceptions about Otieno’s job. Some believed he was an undercover policeman or a government spy, while others questioned why he would choose to dress so impeccably for a job that involved chasing after customers. But for Otieno, it was all part of the sales pitch.
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“People buy with their eyes first,” he said. “If you dress well, they’ll be more likely to trust you and buy from you.”
Otieno had found fulfillment in his job, despite having previously worked in the corporate world. He had politely declined job offers, as he had yet to receive an offer that would pay more than what he was earning in a day.
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