‘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.
Mickael Ghossein, CEO, Telkom Kenya
1. What was your first job?
My very first job was actually on a ship as a dock worker. I earned $2 per day. I needed money and it was the only job readily available back in my hometown of Beirut in Lebanon. I still have the first bank note that I received with me. It served as a reminder of how hard I needed to work to succeed.
2. What has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
Working in Romania had a very big effect on my professional life. The country was just re-moulding itself from a socialist (USSR) regime. It was also my first posting as an expatriate. We were building a new company from scratch, working 18 hours a day. It was a very enriching as well as learning experience for me. I was able to bolster on my competencies and learn more on how to work with very complex situations.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
How best to make this company (Telkom Kenya) better. It is akin to a running a marathon. I see us at the 30 kilometre mark; we now need to get to the finish line – the 42.2 kilometre mark. I keep on thinking of how best to motivate my team to be more productive in their day to day work. I love challenges; this is the one challenge that is currently keeping my mind racing at night!
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Any successful person needs to have a listening ear; this will help them be in the know of what is happening around them. My sense of leadership also plays a big role; it is important to relate well with those that you work with. I am also very keen on staff improvement, motivation as well as teamwork. Success can never be achieved alone – it is a joint effort.
5. What are the best things about your country?
My heart is Lebanese – I am very proud of this heritage; I will never shy away from my roots. I fondly remember my days as a school boy in east Lebanon; exploring the countryside, the mountains and the beautiful scenery.
I am also proud of being French; this is the country that welcomed me during the civil war in Lebanon. It is the nation that gave me my wife and daughters!
I am now in Kenya, a beautiful country with a unique culture and very warm people that I have learned to adapt to.
6. And the worst?
I lost two years of my schooling; the gap of 1975 – 1976, during the war; this then led to my desire to leave Lebanon.
7. Your future career plans?
I believe I will venture into probably one other executive position within the France Telecom Group. I would also want to use my 30 years of experience in the telecommunications field for consultancy purposes.
8. How do you relax?
I mostly read select magazines: Times, Economist, Le Point (a French magazine). I also read magazines on golf and motoring and basically any other literature that has good information to offer. I digress to books while on holiday. I have also made a decision to avoid checking emails past 9 pm unless it is an emergency.
I play golf on Sundays; I am currently playing off a handicap of 22. Golf is a very therapeutic and knowledgeable sport; losing a hole does not mean losing the game. It is similar to being on a battlefield; losing a battle does not mean that one has lost the war.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
Devotion to what one needs to do and achieve is key. Humility and consistency also play important roles in the success of any aspiring individual.
Being a successful leader does not mean one has to change who they are. Leaders exist to perform their duties and deliver on results. It is a responsibility that also calls for appreciating new talent. Success is not a one man show – it can only be achieved through team work.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
Africa is a land rich in resources with a lot of potential. However, Africa needs to have a good brand strategy and take control of its own destiny if it is to be successful. It also needs to bolster the level of investment and infrastructure if it is to grow.
Mickael Ghossein is the chief executive officer of Telkom Kenya (operator of the Orange brand).