‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same ten questions to business leaders across the continent.
James Hoddell, CEO, Mentor Management (Kenya)
1. What was your first job?
Packing cheese in a cheese factory in England. This would have been about 1987 just before I joined university. I remember, no matter how many times I showered, I couldn’t get the smell of cheese off my hands. I earned $4 an hour.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
There was a [property] developer who used to come to my college. At the time he ran one of the most successful development companies. I was impressed that he turned up with a Bentley and chauffeur who wore a hat. I thought this was real fun, so I decided to go into development seriously. Unfortunately I still don’t have a chauffeur with a hat.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Finding the right staff is my biggest challenge. That will continue to be the biggest limitation to our business; finding people who have the right experience and understanding of how Kenya works.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I think it is being aware of every single thing that goes on in the business. If you start losing that awareness, things start drifting.
5. What are the best things about Kenya?
Kenya is my home. I love the people. There is a real get up and go attitude.
6. And the worst?
The matatu (public transport vehicles) drivers.
7. Your future career plans?
I would like to stay in Kenya and build this business across East Africa. I see this as perhaps the most interesting region in the world. I would like to grow this business and be the most respected developer in East Africa… and get the chauffeur.
8. How do you relax?
One of the beautiful things about Kenya is being able to get out of town and go to the countryside. I love the countryside.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
Be creative, be imaginative and never give up.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
I think it is all to do with education. If young people can be brought up with an inquiring mind and the feeling that they can do whatever they imagine they can do, then Africa will be absolutely great.
Mentor Management is one of the largest property development and construction management companies in East Africa.