Ashish Thakkar, founder of the Mara Group, says entrepreneurs and businesspeople should stay humble.
“Ego is the most dangerous thing, the most dangerous thing. Having that pride and having that arrogance can just screw you,” Thakker said during a recent talk at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in South Africa.
“Stop trying to compete, and stop trying to benchmark yourself against others. It is about where you want to be, how you want to get there – stay focused and make it happen.”
Thakkar is one of the continent’s most celebrated entrepreneurs. Although the Mara Group is headquartered in Dubai, it has a presence in 19 African countries. The group is involved in industries such IT, packaging, glass manufacturing, agriculture, real estate and hospitality.
“I still today have no shame in sitting outside somebody’s office for three/ four hours if I have to, to get a meeting and get something done. I’ve got no qualms, absolutely no qualms. I want to get it done and that is what matters.”
He said entrepreneurs should be authentic and genuine. “Look at me, I’m dressed scruffy. I’m in jeans, ripped jeans. Just be real, be yourself, don’t try to pretend to be someone else.”
African governments more open to local investors
Thakkar said until a few years ago African governments generally favoured foreign investors over local companies, but this has changed. “They thought that foreign investors have the ability to execute and they have the subject matter expertise. Post the [economic] downturn, and I’ve seen… a huge shift in mindset. They saw foreign investors pull out and go, whereas African investors remained… Governments are really favouring African businesses over foreign businesses, and that is a huge edge for us… to take advantage of,” he said.
Thakkar singled out Nigeria as his favourite country among the 19 where Mara has a presence, saying perceptions about the West African nation are different from reality.
He urged the audience to remain positive about the continent, despite its challenges. “If anybody tells you it is easy, they are lying to you. I still work 16/18 hours a day – I run around like nuts… it has to be done, and this is the time to do it.”