He does not particularly accept his obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) but Mark Dunford’s immediate environment speaks otherwise. At the table where he sat in the Art Cafe, 14 Riverside, his tools were arranged around him in a very careful order, like a queue: leather-bound notepad, two telephones, an elegant pens, a laptop with the flag of Kenya, a car key and a wallet.
He wore two watches on each wrist because he is Mark Dunford. Her hair was combed, not a strand out of place. Dress shoes, spit-polished. Her costume was something you appeared in for your wedding. Or a very important date in court. He’s deliberate, you can tell, and extremely confident, not to mention charming.
He brings all of these qualities to a new job as CEO of Knight Frank Kenya. Previously, he worked in the strategic advisory and commercial real estate industries and is currently Partner-Head of Investment and Trade, Cavendish Maxwell.
He was also at one point the head of East Africa at Jones Lang LaSelle [JLL] and also worked as Vice President, Hotels and Hospitality Group, Sub-Saharan Africa.
“I am a Kenyan born in the Seychelles,” he recently told JACKSON BIKO. “When I travel abroad and say people say ‘no way’. But I am. My dad was born here. I lived here for a while and then I didn’t.
He talks about patriotism and the competence of Kenyans in business. Interestingly, his cufflinks were of a Kenyan flag, which says absolutely nothing as his socks had little frogs on them while turtles featured on his tie.
What does a good suit say about a man?[Chuckles] That’s a very good question, assuming you’re implying that I’m wearing a good suit. [Laughter]. Well, the environment is a complex place. There are things you can control and things you can’t. So I urge anyone to control the controllable. So your appearance is one, your level of knowledge is another, then your state of mind.
In my professional environment, I like to dress well. I think there is also an element of discipline. Make your bed when you wake up, put your things away. I may have OCD. I think the discipline that comes with it can be transferred to other areas of your life.
I learned a lot going to boarding school, playing rugby and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do. And then realizing the value of, I won’t call it hardship, but the stress of it. And then the ability to turn around and say, yes, I can get up at 6 a.m. every day, dress well and shave properly, etc.
Of course, all these things come from somewhere, this order…
I do not know. Everyone is unique in their complexity. I think I’m very lucky to have been exposed to a variety of learnings throughout my life. A very diverse range of learning opportunities. I certainly didn’t fully appreciate them, but in hindsight I gained the ability to identify my weaknesses and work on them.
So naturally, I’m a pretty laid back, disorganized human being. If you get down to the fundamental core of who I am, I’m in a kikoi in a bush somewhere, but I appreciate that I have to fulfill the roles that I do and that means I have to be more disciplined and structured.
Accordingly, I put the nine meters. And I think going through boarding school, rugby, etc. etc., gave me the self-discipline to be able to put in those tough yards.
Is there a personal trait you admire the least?
Yes. There are probably too many to list. I think I sometimes bite off more than I can chew so I don’t necessarily pay people the necessary attention. I feel like I’m not giving everyone who deserves my time the time they deserve. I know that sounds mega arrogant, but that’s not what I meant.
I’m not saying I’m this hugely important human being who needs to give everyone their own time, but I’m saying there are a lot of friends I haven’t spent quality time with since a long time. I think the ability to break away from work and go do something is important for my relationships with certain people.
Is there a certain virtue that has not served you in your life? A completely useless virtue?[Chuckling] This is a very good and complex question. [Long pause]. I should probably say that I’m not a very virtuous person, so I don’t have one. [Laughter]. But no, I don’t think so. I think there is an evolution going on in everyone and certain virtues take on more value at different times and vice versa and sometimes you have to take a step back.
If I think about my character traits over time, I have always been blessed with a certain amount of self-confidence, some may have called it arrogance in my youth. And at the time in some ways, it served me well. It certainly helped me to reach some leadership positions, because if you are pushy and confident, you move up the ranks pretty quickly.
But I also realized that I needed more humility and empathy. Now, I think empathy is probably my greatest leadership quality, or virtue, attribute.
Speaking of confidence, how did you build your confidence, where do you get your confidence from? Is it genetics, experiences or your environment?
Who knows? [Laughs]. I think one part of it is genetics and another is your environment. There is also a bit of luck. If you’re wearing something that you think is fantastic in terms of outfit or clothing, whatever it is, and you walk into the office, and someone you respect turns around and says you have the look ridiculous. Your confidence will go from very high to very low, right? Trust is therefore something very fluid.
I was lucky that my surroundings as a young man instilled a certain level of confidence in me. But at the same time, I went to a boarding school in Nairobi, then another in Scotland, and later to a university in Switzerland. So already at the age of 19 I was used to living with very diverse groups of people. Defend myself. And I think the knowledge that you can gain through this kind of stuff gives you that kind of baseline confidence.
How was your childhood?
Uh, yeah, good. [Laughter] I grew up in Nairobi until I was 13, then my parents banished me to Scotland. Scotland was not an easy thing for a 13 year old to do as I had only known sunshine.
Yeah, in terms of rigor, school wasn’t necessarily as rigid as I had been here. Certainly the food was better in Scotland. But the weather was worse and I was away from home.
But, I think back on that and I really, again, in your opinion, I was part of a really good group of people in my year, and that helps boost your confidence, doesn’t it not ? You make some great friends, have a great time, and have done well in sports, and in no time you’re a confident young man.
Are you related to the Dunfords of Carnivore?
Do you remember the hut I talked about, I live in Gigiri before starting the interview? It is his place. [Laughs] He’s my uncle, my father’s little brother. We are actually a small family.
So if you go back to the original Dunfords in Kenya, there was my grandfather and my mother, my father’s side obviously being the Dunfords. And then there was my father and Martin, the two brothers. And now we are five in my generation, my sister, me and my three cousins.
When have you experienced less personal growth in your life? [He’s 41]
Another good question, Mr. Biko. [Chuckles] To be honest, I think I make a concerted effort to try to learn all the time. Now, whether or not that translates into growth is a whole different story.
I certainly think as an extremely curious human being, from a professional standpoint it slows down, I mean you have a lot to learn in the first 10-15 years of your career. And then once you go in a sort of general direction, there’s a bit of a plateau.
You need it, as the number of people you manage grows or the diversity of your lines of business widens or expands, there is continuous learning that needs to happen there.
Why do you need three phones?
One of them is yours. [Laughter] I have two but with three SIMS so you are right in a way. One of them is my Kenyan work phone. I am transitioning between Dubai and Kenya at the moment. So I still have my Dubai number.
And the third SIM card is a Swiss number that I keep taking back just to get it. This is my Whatsapp number, my wife is Swiss. She works in learning and development. We got married in January 2018 at Sheria House, February at Mombasa Beach, Fort Jesus actually.
She loves people, what we share. It’s something that really motivates me. A priest from the UK asked me a month ago what motivates me and everything. And I had to seriously think about it.
Because I think if I watch this, I really enjoy watching people who don’t believe in themselves achieve things that they didn’t think they could achieve.
How do you let your beautiful hair down?[Ha-ha] I like to read. As demonstrated earlier in our conversation. I like movies. I also like any kind of sporting activity. I am a big foodie. So if a new restaurant opens, I have to go there and check it out. I’m seen eating with friends all the time, as you can probably tell by looking at me. [Chuckles]
You are fit enough. Kids?
Adapt? That’s not what my doctor says. No children yet. I am lucky to have a wife who is almost ten years younger than me. The decision is therefore firmly up to his court on this matter. I think there are merits in having younger children like some of my friends did, even though at that time it felt like a nightmare.
If I could go back I would probably do it this way, I don’t know if I would have ended up where I am today if I had. You are more energetic. You don’t have a lot of responsibilities at work. But I can’t wait to have children.
What have you learned from marriage so far?
I don’t know if I learned much from the marriage itself, but I think it’s a lesson in empathy and patience. You must be able to understand the other person’s point of view. You have to be big enough to say yes, I strongly disagree with that perspective, but it’s more important to them, so I have to drop it.
Maintaining a lasting relationship, whether it’s a marriage or if you’re in a civil relationship with someone, that ability to draw a line and say, yes, okay, that’s important to me but it’s more important to them.
Did it teach you anything about yourself?
That I love to win. [Laughter]
But no one really wins in marriage.
Certainly not if you are the man; happy woman, kind of happy life. I think my wife taught me how important someone else can be in your life, and how for most of my life I was a young bachelor who fancifully changed countries, was changing jobs and moving up the ladder at all costs and not really thinking about the relationship.
But now I realize in this relationship that I want to compromise. To show that his happiness is more important than my happiness.