Helping people unleash their full potential
With successful businesses and a family, JAMES GITAU’s life was what many would consider fulfilling. Yet, he wasn’t happy. He talks about finding his purpose and impacting others
While in his late 30s in 1998, James Gitau, a trained economist was running two successful businesses in private investigation and debt collection. He was married with four children and his two childhood goals of amassing wealth and enjoying life seemed to be aligning.
Then he experienced a road to Damascus moment that got him re-evaluating his life’s path and realigning his priorities. He was drinking and smoking heavily; he was overworking and was battling excess weight. “I had struggled with cigarette and alcohol addiction for 26 years, but I couldn’t seem to break the cycle. With a weight of about 100 kilogrammes, my children referred to me as overweight,” he says.
He was also grappling with low self-esteem emanating from traumatic childhood experiences and often that would manifest through a flaring temper at the slightest provocation. Gitau paused and realised he was on a path to self-destruction.
That conclusion altered him in a significant way. He remembers walking into a bookshop in Nairobi in search for answers and an attendant recommending a book, Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins. As Gitau engrossed himself in reading the book, his curiosity on how to change his life grew and he became obsessed with personal growth. This led him to travel to the US in 1999, where he undertook several courses under the guidance of renowned American life coach, Tony Robbins. He also read numerous books to understand human behaviour and personal development.
The lessons gained, Gitau says, resulted into an instant shift of attitude. He came back home and in about six months, he quit smoking cigarettes and taking alcohol and begun his weight-loss journey. “I confronted the self-limiting beliefs that had constantly made it difficult to make these adjustments. I came back and started running one kilometre a day then five, then 15 and in 2003, I managed to run from Nairobi to Mombasa in eight days,” he recalls.
In 2000, his soul searching and zealous relationship with self-improvement, led directly to the launch of Peak Performance International, a personal development training firm. Two decades later, Gitau has grown the concept, to impact on over 200 companies and over 200,000 individuals across the world.
Gitau was born in Murang’a county in 1959. His father worked as clerk in a post office first in Nanyuki, then Nyeri and later Nairobi. But his father’s meager salary could barely sustain the family of seven children and Gitau’s mother hawked vegetables to supplement the income. At about nine years, while studying at St Teresa’s Primary School, Eastleigh, Gitau remembers helping his mother hawk vegetables at Uhuru Market and Mlango Kubwa. His family had settled in a small house in Eastleigh where Gitau shared a bed with his younger brother and they would constantly argue about who wet the bed.
“After school, my mum would leave the business to me, as she rushed back to the house to do other chores,” says the third born child. The experience taught him several entrepreneurial lessons. “I learnt risk management. My mother taught me not to put all the vegetables in one place for ease of running when city council askaris came,” he says. Likewise, he was taught to ensure to never get caught by kanjo askaris. Her advice was that if the askaris were too close, he should leave everything behind and run.
Gitau’s turning point about money came when he joined Lenana High school in 1974. At Lenana, Gitau met children from affluent families, a sharp contrast with the realities of his neighbourhood where scarcity was the norm.
In pursuit of wealth
To ensure that Gitau stayed in school, his father resorted to writing bouncing cheques on opening day. “Cheques took about three weeks to mature back then. Often my father would be broke on opening day and he figured out that if he wrote a bad cheque, I would stay in school as he looked for money to pay my fees,” says Gitau.
His experiences at Lenana made him vow to work hard and become rich at whatever cost. He joined University of Nairobi for a degree in Economics and Sociology in 1979 and begun deejaying and showing movies to earn money. Gitau was creative and had a keen eye to see what customers responded to. That convinced him that he was meant to be in entrepreneurship. But on completing campus, he landed a well-paying job with Plan International and then International Labour Organisation (ILO), temporarily abandoning his ambition to venture into business. But when ILO failed to renew his contract leaving him jobless in 1989, getting into business seemed the most obvious option. He ventured into a string of businesses.
First it was a company specialising in investigating claims for insurance companies. The company attained great success becoming one of the best private investigations companies across the country. Then he started another business in debt collection for insurance companies, which did equally well. But then his obsession with making money and achieving success changed when he realised his life lacked depth.
Two decades after launching Peak Performance, the founder and Chief Executive Officer, says he has found that depth in helping other people unleash their full potential. The firm offers training programmes for individuals and corporates on soft skills, emotional intelligence, creative thinking and financial freedom. “Our programmes look at various areas of your life; finances, health, emotional intelligence, spirituality, relationships and career. Gitau concludes by saying money is important because it makes us comfortable, but ultimately it shouldn’t be the sole priority.