June 2006

Career in International Investment Dream Come True for Kenyan Native Timanto Marima, '99

A stranger’s generous gift of help can transform not only the life of the individual recipient, but also the lives of many others through a ripple effect, as Timanto Marima, ’99, can attest.  

When Marima, a native of Nairobi, Kenya, and a member of the Masai tribe, graduated from high school in 1992, her prospects for pursuing a college education appeared dim. The faculty of Kenya’s four public universities went on strike November 29, 1993, after the government rejected their application to unionized, effectively shutting down Kenya’s university system for a prolonged period.  

Without access to higher education, Marima pondered her likely fate: a lifetime of submission and servitude in a traditional Kenyan marriage.  

But her forward-thinking parents wanted more for her. Marima’s father, then a civil servant in Kenya, had studied biochemistry at Ohio State University in the 1960s. Her mother had attended junior college in Kenya. Active supporters of women’s rights, they encouraged their daughter to obtain a quality college education abroad, Marima said. But how? 

Enter Evelia Gonz├ílez Porto. A native of Cartagena, Colombia, Porto arrived in the United States in 1979, eventually settling in Richmond, Virginia, where she has cultivated two great passions: supporting Hispanic women in the arts and finding scholarships for international students, especially underserved women, to attend U.S. colleges and universities.  

“Educating young women has always been a priority for me,” said Porto, a former principal of a Colombian girls’ school. “If you change a woman, you change a family.”  

Porto met the Kenyan ambassador to the United States at a function in Petersburg, Va., and the ambassador subsequently put Marima’s father in touch with Porto. With Porto’s help, Marima came to Virginia. Porto, who served on the Richard Bland College Foundation Board at the time,  used her connections to enroll Marima in classes at the two-year junior college in Petersburg, Va., in fall 1995.  

Porto’s friendship eased Marima’s transition to a new country, as did the friendship of another mentor, Linda Jefferson, an English professor at Richard Bland College. 

Fortunately Marima did not have to contend with a language barrier, as she already spoke English (the official state language of Kenya) fluently, in addition to Swahili and Masai. With time she adjusted to the cold winters, and accustomed to a spicy diet, she learned to compensate for the relative blandness of American food by pouring ketchup on everything she ate, she said.    

In fall 1997 after completing two years of study at Richard Bland College, Marima received a scholarship which enabled her to transfer to the Jepson School to pursue a four-year degree in leadership studies, Porto said.  

“Timanto added a unique cultural perspective to our [class] discussions,” said Joanne Ciulla, who taught Marima in an ethics class. “She had a great passion for learning and for social justice. We all learned more in the course because she was in the class.”  

Marima, for her part, responded favorably to the different approach to higher education in the United States, particularly in the Jepson School.  

“Very formal relationships between the students and faculty characterize the educational system in Kenya,” she said. “In Kenya, students don’t interrupt the professor in class, wear shorts to class or drink coffee in class. Jepson students had a much more relaxed, comfortable relationship with their professors.  

“The Kenyan system doesn’t encourage critical thinking. At Jepson, I liked the small class size, the fact that students could question the professor in class and the school’s team approach to learning.  

“The team-management skills I learned at Jepson have enabled me to get to where I am today. The team-building exercises and case studies from my Jepson classes became the foundation for the way I run my meetings at work.” 

In particular, Marima recalled a class titled "Leadership in International Contexts" taught by former Virginia attorney general Mary Sue Terry, then a visiting professor at Jepson. The course helped ignite Marima’s interest in international business and introduced her to the cultural differences that affect the way business is conducted in international contexts.  

Marima also remembered the first time she met University of Richmond president William Cooper. “I was attending a reception for international students,” she said, “where I had a one-minute conversation with him. He emailed me the next day and asked me to come by his office for a chat.”  

When they met for that chat, Cooper, who had been the executive vice president at Georgetown University before coming to the University of Richmond, suggested that Marima pursue a master’s degree in Georgetown University’s elite foreign-service program. “He gave me direction,” Marima said. “I would like to thank him for that.” 

Marima took Cooper’s advice. After graduating from University of Richmond in spring 1999 with a major in leadership studies and a minor in business, she entered Georgetown’s foreign-service graduate program in fall 1999. She focused on international economics and international diplomacy and completed internships with the World Bank and Citigroup.  

When she graduated from Georgetown University in May 2001, she went to work in the New York office of Citigroup. Today she holds a middle-management position in Citigroup’s Global Transaction Services Division and is on track for advancing to upper management.  

In her current role as a vice president of cash-sales consulting, she offers investment advice to multinational corporations with minimum revenues of $1 billion and a geographic presence on at least three continents, she said.  

Although her job often requires long hours—a request for a 9:00 a.m. meeting from a Korean client, for example, translates into a 9:00 p.m. meeting for Marima—and extensive traveling, Marima described her work as “absolutely magnificent.” She enjoys staying abreast of international news and earning the trust and respect of her clients, she said. 

“In my job it is important to understand how global economic events affect different countries,” Marima said. “I have to understand how multinational corporations strategize in response to the U.S. trade deficit or to a spike in oil prices, for example.” 

Marima credited her Jepson education with helping her develop the presentation and communication skills so essential to the work she does with her clients. “You must quickly understand your client’s issue, come up with a solution and then articulate that solution in a way your client can understand,” Marima said. “If you can’t articulate a point, your client loses confidence in your ability to deliver." 

“I have a strong work ethic that enables me to take the initiative, take risks and lead something,” Marima said. “I am constantly challenging myself, always working within the purview of what is ethical and moral.  

“Every day at every meeting I want to impart something to someone else, to offer value to someone else and not just be taking, taking. I want to be a transformative leader rather than a transactional leader.” 

Marima exercises transformative leadership in the work she does outside the office as well. She talked about her friend Twana Twitu, who left a successful career to found and operate an orphanage in Kenya for children whose parents had died of AIDS. Marima and others do their best to help Twitu raise funds to ensure that the 200 children now living at the orphanage will have access to such basics as clothing, food, medicine and education.  

Once helped by a stranger-turned-mentor to achieve her dream of a college education, Marima expressed a desire to help others achieve their dreams. One day she would like to start a micro-finance banking program for poor women in Kenya. “I hope to give back to the world through this type of initiative,” Marima said.  

Porto couldn’t be prouder of the young woman she fondly calls “my daughter.”