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Dr. Lucy Gikonyo: Pioneering Hospitality Industry Research

Often times our destiny is steered by childhood dreams and inklings, how we envision the future to play out, and the decisions that we make thereafter serve to fulfil that childhood dream. From a tender age, Dr. Lucy Gikonyo had a passion for hospitality, she knew deep in her heart that she wanted to study something connected to food, perhaps food technology, or even bio-chemistry related to food; a paradox, because her strengths in high school lay in pure science subjects, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. It was not until the gap year just before joining university that she had an opportunity to experience hospitality while teaching in a tertiary college and her destiny was sealed, she fell in love with it.


Upon commencement at Kenyatta University; she had been admitted for a Bachelor of Science majoring in double Chemistry, she requested for a change to study a Bachelor of Education, Home Economics  major, the rest as they say is history. She later undertook a masters in Hospitality from Cornell University, US.


Dr. Gikonyo’s work experience saw her carry out roles of a varied nature within the hospitality industry that equipped her with a solid grounding in the intricate operations and strategies of hospitality industry. For 11 years, she was teaching in a middle-level college and carrying out consultancies with government agencies in the same sector. During that time, one of her consultancy assignments was from the then Strathmore College to set-up the College Cafeteria and to restructure its existing housekeeping department.


In 2006, Strathmore, by then a University was in the process of setting up the School of Hospitality and Tourism, and she (Lucy) working in partnership with a nutritionist, Mrs. Bernadette Theuri, wrote a curriculum for hospitality and tourism. Lucy says, ‘The curriculum for the course was greatly enriched from culinary/hospitality schools in the USA, to ensure it was well grounded and ensure a fantastic product of the graduates’. When ready, the curriculum was sent for approval to the Commission for Higher Education (CHE), now known as CUE. The launch of the school for hospitality was delayed by the political environment in 2008 with post-election crisis. Nevertheless, this did not stop the admission of students, and even growth of the team that is now comprised of Dr. Wadawi, Joy Goopio among others.  Lucy takes a strong sense of pride in the CTH product, she beams, ‘Inasmuch as CTH is a small school, the graduates have been received well in the market and have our students have scooped the Chancellor’s award 2 years consecutively, and a good number are well placed locally and internationally in management trainee positions.’


PhD Research

Dr. Gikonyo’s drive towards acquiring a PhD in hospitality was propelled by the desire to influence industry through education and to engage with the industry to raise standards from within academia in a sector that is very practical. Her choice of topic, ‘Critical Success Factors for a Restaurant Franchise System Entering the Kenyan Market’ came about as a result of a phenomenon that occurred in Kenya in the 90’s. Urban areas, largely Nairobi were for a while dominated by a hype of foreign franchises in fast foods such as Nandos, Steers, Kengeles that came into the market, but within a short time fizzled out.


Watching this from the sidelines, she challenged herself to get to the core of how franchises can successfully enter into this market, by studying what had happened to those that left and consequently what are the lessons learned from this for the future. In a bid to understand it better, Lucy attended seminars that discussed this topic and she believed that there was enough content for a PhD.


Research in the sector of hospitality is relatively young and hence the formidable challenge to find documented research and even get a supervisor. ‘I needed a supervisor who could add value in area of franchising in Kenya or East Africa. After combing through East Africa to no avail, she eventually got a professor from University of Johannesburg, Professor Adele Berndt, who has since moved to Sweden. ‘Prof. Adele helped me aligning various angles of the proposal, from her background which is marketing with a bias in franchising’ says Lucy. She explains that Prof. Adele‘s diligence literally kept her on her toes, since she was quick to read, her turnaround time was amazing, prompt and thorough. She inspired Lucy so much that she aspires to be a supervisor like her, when the time comes.


Dr. Gikonyo defended her proposal in 2010 and by March 2014 she had completed her research.


Findings of the research

‘I came up with a model that can assist any restaurant franchise to enter the Kenyan market’, she explains. ‘The critical success factors are explained from many perspectives; the franchisor the franchisee and customers. She explains that one must study the environmental factors, those specific to Kenya for a restaurant franchise to succeed. These will include government policies, good knowledge of existing competition, political stability and the state of the economy and so on for one to enter, succeed and excel in the market.


Lucy‘s research revealed gaps in the country’s dispute resolution mechanism and the application of it with regard to restaurant franchising business. Kenyans can copy a franchise concept and it would take a very long time to have the dispute resolved currently. This makes it difficult for franchises to protect their intellectual property, and thrive. There is a need to rectify this from a legal perspective.


 Balancing life/work and pursuing a doctorate

Though on a light note, Dr. Gikonyo describes the journey towards attaining a PhD as a love/hate relationship between supervisor and supervisee because of high demand of the supervisor on the supervisee. Her supervisor wisely advised her to select a topic in an area of passion, so that when the going got too tough, at least the passion would keep her going.


Lucy admits it was very challenging to strike a balance between work, study and family. ‘I was not ready to disengage and study fulltime’, she explains. “I opted to study part-time”. She was teaching and running the CTH snack-bar. She did not want to take long breaks from the studies so as to keep the thread of the research running.


Dr. Gikonyo reckons that much as attaining a doctorate is demanding, it is no small achievement and it is necessary for impacting selected industry. ‘With this I become an authority to influence hospitality sector through education, produce good graduates as well as raise the industry standards’, she says.


Work published

As a requisite requirement for her studies, Lucy has already had three papers published in international journals and a fourth one is with the publishers. The papers have been published in the Introduction Journal of management and sustainability (2014), International conference on Social Science (2013), Journal of management and sustainability (2012) and SAGE (2015).


We congratulate Dr. Lucy Gikonyo on her achievements and wish her all the best in her research endeavors.