Dr. Joyce Gikunda: The pharmacist who dared to dream of beauty

An interview with Dr. Joyce Gikunda, who made a successful transition from the pharmaceutical to the beauty industry. She is an exceptional entrepreneur.
Dr. Joyce Gikunda

As I sit in her corner office waiting for her to wrap up her early morning meetings and corporate devotion (they do this at the start of every month), I realize that beyond the accolades laid out on her walls, there is an aura of achievement and content in the room.

You see, Dr. Joyce Gikunda is an exceptional woman of firsts; she is one of the first African young women in Kenya to own and run a retail pharmacy outlet, the first to incorporate beauty products in a pharmacy and the first pharmacist in the region to make the full transition as an entrepreneur into the beauty industry.

This is the incredible story of Dr. Joyce Gikunda, co-founder of Lyntons pharmacy and now Lintons beauty world.

They say that a key part of our personality is shaped by our fondest memories. So, what would you say are your fondest memories growing up?

(Laughs). The thing I loved about growing up as a child in the village is that I didn’t really need much to derive joy from an experience. For instance, what makes me smile right now (actually smiles) is the memory of care and love that I experienced from my stay-at-home mum.

You know the small things; ensuring we were fed, we had clean clothes on our back, a safe place to lay our heads at night, the like. Those are the memories that bring me the greatest joy.

What about your dad?

Yes, I quite often reminisce about him. (He passed on in 2018).

I firmly believe I would not be where I am without his influence. I remember the extra Mathematics and English lessons he would give us at home just to ensure we got an edge when we attended regular classes. That was important for me.

You see, he was a teacher and in those times teaching as a profession was given the respect it merits. So, by virtue of being the teacher’s children, my siblings and I were considered the ‘elite’ in the eyes of our village. However, that didn’t’ prevent him giving us one key life lesson: the value of humility and hard work.

When you joined the pharmacy program it was a relatively unknown course. Was it always your dream to be a pharmacist?

(Shakes head) No.

I never knew pharmacy as a course existed to be honest. It was never in the realm of my thoughts. To put it in perspective, I was in the second cohort of pharmacists to ever graduate in Kenya back in the late 70s.

When I was thinking about a career, I knew for sure teaching was never in the cards for me. For two reasons; one, I struggled with communication and public speaking and two, I found it at the time to be quite involving timewise (based of what I saw from my father)

On the other hand, I really admired agriculture and agricultural extension officers. I just found them professional, committed, knowledgeable and drove big cars (laughs). So that’s where I thought my future would lie and that is why I selected Agriculture as my preferred first choice course for university.

Fast forward years later while in Alliance girls I am appointed the dispensary prefect, I realize I am good in sciences and pass well in my O-levels.

After a chain of events, my applications at the University Registrar gets lost and someone proposes a relatively new course (Pharmacy) that they believe I would thrive in.

I have never looked back since.

Tell me about your journey from a pharmacy student at the University of Nairobi to a beauty entrepreneur with 30 outlets in the region.

Well upon graduating in 1979 and subsequently qualifying as a pharmacist, I secured employment with the Government. It’s funny thinking about it now because I was earning 6000 shillings but I was as happy as I had ever been. As a provincial pharmacist for Nairobi, I had an office in Nyayo house and I had created extensive networks, deep friendships and I had embraced a certain level of comfort. The plan was never to move.

One of such networks was the late Dr. Prakash Patel (founder of Cosmos Limited) who I had worked briefly with in his retail pharmacy.

Prakash was a dear friend, father figure and mentor. He used to tell me that my future lied in retail and he was convinced of it. That was confusing to me at the time because I had no knowledge of a single pharmacy owned by an African, let alone a young woman.

So, one day out of the blue, he calls and tells me that a friend is selling his pharmacy and he believes I would be perfect for it. The name of this pharmacy was Lynton’s pharmacy.

After a conversation with my husband, I quit civil service and dived into the world of community pharmacy.

So then how did you transition to cosmetics?

At the time it was common practice to deal in both human and veterinary medicines and to be honest that just didn’t sit well with me. We decided to do things a bit different, replacing the veterinary section with beauty products.

Now at the time, I had gotten slight exposure to the beauty industry. This is because sometimes I would accompany my husband in his work-related travels abroad.

I identified an opportunity since our market didn’t have access to a wide range of good quality skin care products. It was only a privileged few who had relatives or friends coming from the UK or US that would get access to these products. We started our journey to fill this gap through our Lyntons pharmacy outlet and the feedback was promising.

Fast forward a few years later and a colleague working in distribution links me up with an international cosmetic brand that wanted to increase its footing in the region. We were excited to accept this proposition and I believe the lessons we derived from the collaboration set us up for the next phase of growth.

So, with the new knowledge, we decided to approach even bigger international cosmetic brands to secure partnerships that would expand our reach. That didn’t come easy.

I relentlessly pursued and tried to convince them that we had the infrastructure and knowledge to work with their products. They were still not convinced Africa was a market they wanted to explore.

10 years later one of the brands decided the time was right for them to test the market and considered us as key players they could work with. A big partnership was on the cards but only on two conditions; one, our business agrees to deal exclusively with beauty products and two, accept on-boarding through extensive training.

We accepted these terms, sold our pharmacy, shipped beauty counters from South Africa and that is how our very first branch was opened at Westgate mall.

Dr. Joyce Gikunda
One of Lintons Beauty world shop outlet.

How do you think the training and knowledge of pharmacy set you up for success in the cosmetics industry?

I truly believe I had an edge venturing as a pharmacist in the beauty world.

If you think about it, beauty products act on the largest organ of the body; the skin. So, it is important to have the knowledge of the cosmetic label claim just as in medicines; key chemical ingredients, expiry dates, manufacturer, general quality and of course the concept of side effects.

The training I received at the School of Pharmacy made this all come naturally to me and I believe its an avenue that pharmacists can thrive in.  Currently we even have a pharmacist as part of our team who plays a key role in our product selection.

Read also: Prof Faith Okalebo: A stalwart of the pharmacy profession. (africanpharmaceuticalreview.com)

In previous years the Kenyan Government used to absorb pharmacists immediately after graduation and generally, ability of pharmacists to secure jobs was high. Post-devolution however, we have a lot of unemployed pharmacists and pharmacists who are not content where they are in their careers. What is your advice for them?

Pharmacists are some of the most brilliant and resourceful professionals I know and none of them should be jobless or discontent in what they do.

I believe they can change their own narrative by thinking outside the self-imposed box.

In my opinion, there is an opportunity in the beauty industry and as Lintons Academy we can help bridge any gap they feel they may have about cosmetics. For instance, the pharmacist we have on board, we identified a few knowledge gaps in her that needed strengthening and facilitated her for a two-week training in South Africa. Now she is more confident in her practice.

What is your advice for pharmacists who are thinking of venturing in entrepreneurship?

If you have a dream that you believe in, jump all the way in. The point is to give yourself the best chance of success and you cannot achieve that by being half in, half out. So; go for it!

The issue of counterfeit products in Africa is one that affects both the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry. What solutions do you think can be implemented?

I believe the solution for counterfeits lies in concerted effort.

First, Government regulators should be pro-active and have a zero-tolerance policy on those products. They should impose heavy fines and help in educating consumers on how to choose quality products.

The consumers themselves should also conduct due diligence and try to identify the source of the products they use. Price should not be the only metric to assess product suitability.

I would like to also urge those in the industry to walk with integrity as some of these products can cause unimaginable pain to our consumers.

I know your husband Edward has walked closely with you in your entrepreneurship journey. From being the first investor in your pharmacy business to being a co-founder and board chair in Lintons beauty world. Historically, money issues can be a huge source of conflict among couples. However, you and your husband, seem to have found the right formula. What has your experience been building a business with a spouse and what is your advice to those thinking of doing the same?


I understand those who hesitate to do the same because it is not easy.

What worked for us is that first, from the get go, we had to figure out if and how we complemented each other in business. We found that we did.

You see, my husband Edward, a Bachelor of Commerce graduate working for some of the biggest multinationals at the time was brilliant in Finance, Marketing and Legal aspects of business. Myself, a pharmacist had the knowledge and experience of handling medicines.  For us, It was the right mix.

Second, we had to draw the boundaries early on in terms of what our roles were and the principles to abide by especially when handling finances. We knew which money was ours and which money belonged to the business.

I know as women we take pride in building and succeeding on our own but my advice is that you will go further and faster with a spouse who complements and supports you. The onus is to just ensure that the basic foundations of boundaries, respect and trust are laid out.

Something people may not know about you is that you have 3 quite high achieving sons. Denis, a software engineer and who is the MD at Lintons was part of the founding Google team in Africa, Ken who in 2014 was selected among the top 100 young African economic leaders and Koome who studied in Stanford as a Ford Foundation scholar. What is the secret to raising exceptional children?

(Smiles) Thank you.

Honestly its difficult for me to take credit for that.

My understanding is that all parents try to do all they can for their children.  And beyond that, it is a concerted effort. My belief is that it takes a village to raise a child; husband, grandparents, aunties, friends, the church and school all play a part.

As parents, my husband and I made an effort to be involved in our children’s lives understanding they have different personalities.  As they grew up and traveled abroad for education or otherwise, we ensured we went to see them annually and kept abreast of the happenings in their lives. Where they live, who they lived with, which company they kept and what they were doing.

So my advice to parents would be just to be attentive with what’s going on with your child and understand your children need to be exposed to positive influence beyond just yourself.

What about in business?

Yes, we did involve them since we believed it was important for them to learn about financial responsibility from a young age.

Let’s talk about Lintons foundation- through partnerships and advocacy you are providing scholarships and exposure to marginalized women and youth. What does the concept of giving back mean to you?

Thinking about it, I first witnessed the concept of giving back from my dad.

As a teacher, he would naturally come across students who struggled for education due to lack of finances. Now, my dad was in no stretch of imagination the wealthiest man ever, however, he would go out of his way to spare what he had for those kids to go to school. Even if it meant cutting down on our own pocket money to achieve that he didn’t hesitate. He did all he could.

And the children would be indeed grateful. I have met some of them later in life, some of who I wasn’t even aware he had assisted, and they would relay the same message; your father helped me become the person that I am.

So, in my own journey, with the platform that I have now, I have made a conscious decision to give back. Of course, on my own I can only do so much but through this foundation and the Academy, I hope I can make a true difference to those in need.

I must ask: any regrets with how your journey has unfolded so far?


I know it sounds like cliché Bevin but honestly, I have absolutely no regrets. I believe that every decision I made set me up for the success that I have achieved.

Let me give you an analogy.

If you are heading towards a certain destination targeting to reach at a specific time, and suddenly you realize you took the wrong path. What will you do? Will you stop sit down and start crying, wasting more time? Or will you seek the new true path take the lessons on board and head to your destination in earnest?

That’s how I look at it.

To me, mistakes should not be viewed as regrets as they could be stepping stones to something even greater. What you just need to ensure is that you analyze what happened, take lessons and move on quickly.

What would you want your legacy to be?

(Smiles) That’s a tough one.

Let’s see.

First, relationships.

My wish is that friends, family, acquittances and everyone that I have ever met during my life feel that I made an effort to positively impact their lives.

That they see me as Joyce – the woman who dealt with them with dignity, diligence and integrity. In my opinion when the dust settles, that is what truly matters.

Second is my religion.

I would like to be known as a woman who walked with God. One who is a firm believer that all wisdom, strength, resources and ideas flow from Him. Who believes that everything she has is God-given and made a conscious effort to share what she had.

A final quote that you live by?

Passion is the light that leads to destiny.

Dr. Joyce Gikunda

Which industry leader would you like us to interview? Tell us in the comments.

Dr. Joyce Gikunda is a Pharmacist, Certified Cosmetologist, Co-founder and Executive Director of Lintons Beauty World. She is a founder member of Cosmetology Society of Kenya, member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya and Ex-member Board of Management, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). In 2018, she was named “Businesswoman of the Year” finalist in the CNBC-Africa All Africa Business Awards.


Bevin Likuyani is a Pharmacist with a MPharm (Pharmacoepidemiology & Pharmacovigilance) and MBA (Strategic Management) from School of Business, University of Nairobi). He is a Certified Supply Chain Pharmacist. (American Association of Supply Chain Management) and content writer on pharmaceutical related topics. Email: bevin@africanpharmaceuticalreview.com


One comment

  1. Waaawooooo this so powerful and
    blessed from God the journey wos not easy buh Yr God ws on Yr side Congratulations @DR. JOYCE GIKUNDA may God bless you all the time and I pray for you God continue to encrease Yr knowledge and in Jesus name . 🙏

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