Racheal Njoroge is in the diesel industry, but her career is on a rocket-fueled trajectory.
Cummins named the Ball State alumna as managing director of its Southern Africa Operations in Fall 2018. Njoroge is responsible for the leadership, operations, and strategic direction for the Columbus, Ind.-based engine manufacturer in 12 countries.
She joined the Fortune 500 company as an intern in 2006, having just graduated from Miller College of Business with an MBA.
Originally from Kenya, Njoroge lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, now. She earned her undergraduate degree in management information systems and business administration with a minor in computer science from Winona State University of Minnesota.
Njoroge sat down with Ball State Magazine for an hour-long interview at Cummins Indianapolis Distribution Headquarters this winter while in town for executive training.
To start, how do you pronounce your last name?
Joh-raw-gee. Just forget there’s an N. It’s much easier that way.
I should have given you a little test. You try it.
For some reason, I thought the j might sound like a y.
I get that a lot. I say, ‘I’m not French. I’m not exotic at all. I’m just Kenyan.’
Why did you go into business?
Ever since I was a young girl watching my mother, I thought about business. My father was a Presbyterian minister. He was a leader, a man of the people, very much admired by many people, and he inspired me to become a leader as well. My mother, she was a hustler, making ends meet for the family.
Do you understand what hustling is? She had all sorts of businesses. She farmed. She also had a shop — you don’t really have them here. A corner shop, maybe. A place where you can buy milk and sugar and necessities. She had cows and goats. She raised chickens. She did whatever she needed to do to make sure her six children were well-fed and dressed. We all ended up educated. She was impressive. But I still thought there had to be a better way of doing business.
What made you want a master’s degree?
Kenya has a very well-educated population. Our literacy rates are quite high. If you have an undergraduate degree, join the queue. You have to differentiate yourself somehow. We are getting to the point now where even master’s degrees are getting saturated.
Why did you choose Ball State?
Entrepreneurship was top of mind. Back then, there were not many schools strong in entrepreneurship. So, after graduating with my bachelor’s, I applied to a few schools, and Ball State was one of them. Then I packed up my bags and went back to Kenya.
I started working for an insurance company as a system administrator. Within six months, I got a note from Ball State offering a graduate assistantship. They were going to pay for my schooling and give me a stipend. And by the way, it’s one of the top schools in entrepreneurship. So why not?
How did you land at Cummins?
After my master’s, I said there was no way I was going to stay in the Midwest. I am from Africa. We are a place of sunshine.
But I had a professor, and one of his cousins worked at Cummins. He took a special interest in me. He kept encouraging me to apply to Cummins. I’m like, ‘Cummins? Who? Where? Let’s not go there.’ I refused. I did not apply.
Then I got a phone call from someone at Cummins. They said, ‘I hear you are looking for an internship.’ For the sake of my professor, I thought I would just pop in and show face. I was very unprepared.
There was a warmth that came through from a woman named Melinda Patrick [now director of Sales Operations Program and Change Management], who interviewed me. She had taken a genuine interest in someone she just met. I thought, ‘All right, sounds kind of interesting.’ Literally the next day she called and made me an offer.
I was very surprised when I joined. You walk down the hallways in corporate headquarters and you hear people speaking French and Chinese. There are Africans. People from everywhere. In the Midwest! How do you end up with such a diverse organization in the middle of cornfields? So I gelled in easily. I worked in Columbus from 2006 to 2011.
What does Cummins do in Southern Africa?
Manufacturing happens in the U.S., China, India and in Europe. Africa is mostly a distribution business. Our bread and butter is in service and support.
Where we really have opportunities is in natural resources. Africa is a continent where we have all manner of resources. You want diamonds? You want gold? You want platinum? We have it. Fifty percent of our business is in mining equipment.
What’s next for you in your role at Cummins?
A strong delegation of African talent is now leading the charge of expanding into the continent. I have had six roles in my 12 years at Cummins that have leveraged on my strengths of planning and organizing. Along the way, all my bosses have been very supportive but also taken a chance on me. This is something that seems unique to Cummins. I have led four different functions and I am now running the largest business on the continent.
Everything truly has come full cycle. I am running a business as I always dreamt I would. I am leading a large team as I always aspired to do. When I think about the 500 employees in my organization, I know they are counting on my leadership for their livelihood – this is not something I take lightly.
So, what’s next for me? I still have a lot to learn and offer in this region and on the continent. I have much to look forward to in terms of my growth as a leader. I will continue to strive to add value and indeed challenge the impossible as we look forward to the next 100 years for Cummins. I certainly may not be here for the full 100, but I expect I have a few more decades to go.