‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Farhana Hassanali-Hashmani, CEO, Hass Consult (Kenya)
1. What was your first job?
This is our family business so I used to be here on holidays a lot. When in high school I used to sit at reception and take calls. In my university holidays I worked in different departments. The good thing in a family business is you get a lot of responsibilities and learn quickly. But parents can also be tough on you because they know your capabilities.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
It has to be my dad because he has been there. It is a very simple statement, but many people grow up with parents who are not present. My dad was always there and always pushed, many times too hard, or so we felt. Growing up I remember being able to talk to him and he would always encourage us to do better in school. He is sometimes tough even in the business. He made sure we learnt and still does. He grew up in a family where education wasn’t valued so much, and made it his personal quest to make sure all his children got educated.
3. The parts of your job that keep you awake at night?
I try not to. It’s my baby who keeps me up at night. It happens rarely if there is something difficult or some legal issues. A lot of times it could be because of deadlines; something to be submitted or launched the next day has kept us up till 4am.
4. The top reasons why you’ve been successful?
I would say being able to stay in the middle and to look at a situation from both sides. A key thing in the real estate industry is managing relationships. It is the buyer on one side and the seller on the other, or the developer and the buyer, or the developer and the residents’ associations. So being able to see things from both sides has been a big thing for me. I am also a strong advocate for just telling the truth and being honest. I don’t like to do a sales pitch or to sell something I don’t believe in.
5. The best things about your country, Kenya?
There is a healthy respect for everyone regardless of colour, religion and tribe. As an Asian Muslim, I neither feel superior nor inferior. I feel like a citizen. In other parts of the world, especially in some more developed countries, you are made to feel a certain way.
6. And the worst?
Corruption. I think that is the root cause of most of the evil in this country.
7. Your future career plans?
I want to continue focusing on real estate. But because I am married to someone involved in a variety of businesses, it has been an eye-opener to other possibilities. My husband wants to get into farming so we might do that. But my main focus will always be real estate. I feel it is in my blood now.
8. How do you relax?
I love to travel. It’s a little bit harder now with the baby, but I try to get away as much as I can. I love reading. I love my cup of tea and a nice book. I am geek that way.
9. Your message to young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
Growth takes time. If you try and rush you will stumble and fall, a lot more than if you just took a problem at a steady pace. People want to become very big, very fast. It is not a sustainable way and tends to lead to severe peaks and lows. Work your way up slowly because at each level the things that you learn will help you as you rise. I started at reception and have done several roles in the company so understand the needs of each. Even if the growth appears slow, you are learning, cultivating skills, expertise and experience which is fundamental.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
Education, ensuring most of the population is well educated. Through education you open up and liberate minds. Second, if we don’t eradicate corruption we will eradicate ourselves. I think corruption is the biggest killer in Africa. It has created a mindset and culture of greed. Also, moving away from very strong central government is important. Devolution of power at the right time and to the right people is fundamental because then success of the entire country will not depend on one person.
Hass Consult is involved in all the major branches of real estate from new property developments to selling, renting and managing property.