Nicholas Nesbitt, general manager, IBM East Africa (Kenya)
Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
1. What was your first job?
My first job was working at East African Breweries Limited in malting in Industrial Area, Nairobi. I was an artisan’s assistant. So that meant I carried the chief fundi’s (craftsman’s) tool box everywhere he went. I was about 17 or 18 at the time.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
There are so many people; I am hard-pressed to find one person. I would say my parents because they always expected the best of me. They just had high expectations. They had high integrity, they firmly believed in education and they believed in people’s right regardless of who you are. They believed in and would always say, ‘if you do a good job today tomorrow will take care of itself’.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
There are very few things that keep me awake. The things that wake me up are primarily the excitement of new projects and of new opportunities. It’s more of the creative stuff. I don’t know if I ever wake up scared. I worry about our customers when they have issues but I think the thing that gets me up most often is ideas.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I think I have empathy and good communication skills. I think I am analytical and focused.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
The natural light. Yesterday I was out at our research lab and I got out of the car and because of the light all I wanted to do was go to Naivasha (a popular tourist destination outside the capital). I wanted to go out into the Rift Valley because I just love being out in that light. I didn’t want to come to the office. I could also say the weather, the people and the wildlife.
6. And the worst?
When you have travelled as much I have there are very few things that I like to attribute to Kenya specifically. Everything happens everywhere. People say security [is a problem] but when Switzerland stops having a police force then I will know it’s safe. There are security problems everywhere.
The worst thing I think is probably how people don’t speak their truth. They want to be nice. People aren’t really honest, they don’t speak up. People always think there is so much time left in life to do certain things and fix things.
7. Your future career plans?
I want to keep working as long as I am enjoying myself and making a difference. I will figure out where that takes me: Turkey, America, Australia… I don’t know if I will ever retire.
8. How do you relax?
I play with my kids on the floor. I also play golf.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
I would say keep learning under people you admire for as long as possible.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
We should really get to believe that we deserve better and then act upon it.
Nicholas Nesbitt is the general manager of IBM East Africa overseeing 10 countries in the region. The US multinational made its name in computer hardware but has transitioned into a leading supplier of information technology, business services and software. In 2005, Nesbitt established Kenya’s first call centre, Kencall, which was voted Top Non European Call centre in the World in September 2008. Nesbitt was awarded the Order of the Grand Warrior by the Kenyan president in 2006 in recognition of his contribution to developing the country’s ICT sector.