Eunice Mathu – The power behind the winning Parents magazine brand

Eunice Mathu is the only publisher to sustain a Kenyan magazine for several decades uninterrupted. As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, she takes pride in her passion for journalism and mentorship. As one of the country’s power brands, Parents has nurtured some of the most outstanding Kenyan writers and journalists.

Parents is easily Kenya’s longest-running and most successful lifestyle magazine, a remarkable feat pulled off by Eunice Mathu, who has steered the publication for the past three decades.

As a young woman in the early 1970s trying to figure out where she would fit in the professional world, Mathu really wanted to pursue a degree in Commerce. At the time, the Kenyan government had a scholarship programme for young girls to study at Makerere University. Mathu applied and was enrolled.

“I accidentally stumbled into journalism,” she recalls, explaining that it was a new course and in its second intake. “Since I had received sponsorship to pursue this particular course, I decided to give it a chance.”

Words of Wisdom

  • “Success is measured in different ways. You need to define what you want to be successful in.”
  • “You should ensure you have knowledge in what you want to succeed in. I wouldn’t have come this far without the knowledge I have gained over time.”
  • “Be original, persistent and consistent. Being a copycat will not get you far.”
  • “Integrity is important. If people around you do not trust you or have faith in you, you will not succeed.”
  • “Always remember to work hard. You only reap what you have sown.”
  • “Carry people with you and have confidence in them. Not all of them will let you down.”
  • “Know your values. Define yourself.”

The sixth born of nine children remembers how she and her siblings were brought up under strict Christian instruction. Their father had died early on and their mother brought them up single-handedly. This made her appreciate and love her mother even more for her enormous sacrifice. “My mother is my role model,” Mathu proudly states.

Mathu holds journalism in high regard as a highly practical subject to pursue. While still a student, she worked for the Nation newspaper and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation in their print departments. By the time she was leaving university, she had secured a position as a film reviewer for the Daily Nation, a commendable achievement in those early years. “I got to see all movies, you know. A big deal it was.”

Soon after, she was promoted to Features Writer. However, this was a rather short stint as she realised she did not fit in. “A drinking and smoking atmosphere defined the journalism environment when we were young. I was not amused by the smoke-filled rooms and the general partying culture,” she recalls. “I simply did not fit in.”

It was therefore a relief when she was head-hunted by Unilever to join their Communications Department as a Management Trainee. Her experience in Management helped her become more grounded. Instead of letting her youth derail her into vices, she channelled her energies into learning the ropes of her new job. She helped create content for Unilever’s in-house magazine where she also put her Management and Journalism training to good use. In 1982, after two years at Unilever, she left to start her own company. About the same time, Mathu was approached by a Rome-based media organisation, Inter-Press Services, who were in need of a Kenyan coordinator for news features on women’s activities. Since it was a part-time engagement, she was happy to accept. That is how her company, Stellan Consult Limited, was born.

Subsequently, Mathu started her first publication, Consumer’s Digest, a public relations platform for Kenyan brands. Thereafter in 1986, her second project, Parents magazine, was born. Three years later, she stopped publishing Consumer’s Digest to concentrate on Parents.

In spite of numerous challenges, Mathu soldiered on. She recalls, for instance, how hard it was in the late 1980s for a woman to obtain bank credit to advance her business. “It was a difficult but beautiful time for me. Parents magazine was growing into a super brand.” She would occasionally meet people who thanked her for changing their lives and inspiring them through the magazine. “I felt assured that I was doing a good thing,” she says.

Staff retention was another challenge. At the time, poaching of good staff was rampant among the newspapers and “here I was with my magazine”. To survive, she began to train some of the interns to grow within the company.

“The magazine industry is saturated,” she says. “There will always be dominant media houses.” Mathu notes that to grow a business in this sector, one needs to have good content, consistency and resilience. She also welcomes the emergence and growth of new media and says that it has some great potential. She is hopeful that it will help grow the already saturated industry.

She is not entirely convinced that social media is a good thing. She feels it is pulling more and more people away from reading good books. “The value-added tax on books and magazines is undermining the growth of a reading culture in Kenya,” she adds sadly.

Mathu’s passion, resilience and will to succeed and learn new things keep her going. She also enjoys nurturing young journalists and seeing them blossom as they pass through her hands. For Mathu, being able to change a society through a magazine has been a most humbling experience.

Thanks to her Christian upbringing, she believes that honesty is one of the greatest values an individual can live by. She is a firm believer that honesty is a sure path to success. She also includes hard work and positive relationships as keys to success.

Her proudest accomplishment is her family. She adores her three children. Her eldest son is a banker, the second-born son an architect and her last-born, a daughter, is a marketer.

For a pacesetter in the media industry, Mathu’s regular day seems rather simple. She wakes up at 6am and spends the first hour in the gym. Thereafter, she has hot water and lemon while reading her Bible. As she is having breakfast she also reviews her to-do list to confirm her activities for the day. Sometimes she works from home and takes some time to tend to her farm and garden.

Mathu also sits on various Boards, including Amref Health Africa and Kenya Community Development Fund. She is also a Trustee of Starehe Girls’ Centre.

In her downtime, she enjoys reading. “I cannot go to bed before opening a book,” she reveals. She also enjoys spending time by herself and travelling when time allows. She used to enjoy playing golf, but after an injury she stopped playing.

To give back to the society, Mathu offers internship opportunities at her magazine and consultancy company. She also enjoys mentoring young professionals. Her approach to mentorship is relaxed, making it easy for the mentees to feel right at home.

Apart from her mother, Mathu’s other role models include Dr Eddah Gachukia for her outstanding contribution to the nation as a former nominated Member of Parliament. She celebrates freedom fighters all over the world for their selflessness to achieve the greater good. Her wish is to have all leaders and individuals emulate them.

“We all need to do our part in the society to build it,” she concludes.

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