‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Kapila Ariyatilaka, managing director, Chai Bora (Tanzania)
1. What was your first job?
As an accountant at professional services firm KPMG. I was only 20 at the time.
2. What keeps you awake at night?
I think about what part of the company I can improve to make Chai Bora better tomorrow than it is today. I think about the processes and regions where we can improve.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My elder sister who is also a chartered accountant. I saw the corporate world through her and it inspired me to follow the same path. I was also fortunate to work at global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Sri Lanka. The company was performance driven. That culture was a huge inspiration for me to work in a team, and achieve as a team, as opposed to [being involved in office] politics and fighting within the company.
4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Never try to judge anybody based on their colour, how they dress, ethnicity… When in their professional capacity all that matters is they do their job well. Performance is what matters.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I don’t discriminate [against] anybody in the workplace. In my company you will accomplish your career goals. Everyone has the opportunity to grow regardless of gender, tribe, race, and religion. I learnt that culture when I was working with a US company. All that matters is that you do your job well.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
You need both professional and practical experience. But I believe first you have to be a good person to be a good leader. When a bunch of thugs get together they also have a leader. So being good as a human being is important. For instance, US billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates dropped out of school but he is a good leader. I believe it stems from the fact that he is a good person.
7. How do you relax?
I don’t relax. I work all the time. My family lives in Kenya [and I work in Tanzania]. I try to visit them every weekend. So spending time with family and enjoying my whiskey is my relaxation.
8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
The latest I normally arrive is 6:30am.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
I try to find out what their passion is. In most African countries, many young people don’t have jobs. So you find them willing to do anything. They will apply for a driver’s position yet their qualification is in accounting. Tomorrow the same person will quit if they are offered 50,000 Tanzanian shillings (about US$27) more to do a sales job. If the person I am interviewing is not passionate about the job, I would rather not hire them.
10. Your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Firstly, be a good person. Be honest in your dealings. You will sleep well and will still make the money you require to live in this world.
Kapila Ariyatilaka is the managing director of Tanzanian tea producer Chai Bora. The company blends, packs and makes several tea and coffee brands including the popular luxury tea brand Chai Bora. It is owned by private equity firm Catalyst Principal Partners and has a presence in eastern and southern Africa.