‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa’s interview series where we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Passwell Shapi, capacity development director, African Guarantee Fund (AGF).
1. What was your first job?
My first job was with Citi Bank Zambia and that was in 1984. Whereas I can’t remember exactly how much I was earning during the initial days, it was enough to enable me to live comfortably. Working for Citi Bank those days was considered something closer to being in the ‘Premier League’ of banking.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I have a friend called Justin Chinyanta, who was not only my boss at Citi Bank, but also a mentor, coach and a source of inspiration. He taught me a lot. He always tried to improve on people’s weaknesses while leveraging their strengths.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I always worry about tomorrow. My personal belief is that you can’t succeed in life if you don’t worry about tomorrow. Forget about today, it’s gone. Tomorrow means the future and we don’t know how it will turn out. The challenges of tomorrow always make me stay alert.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
My greatest assets are my personal attributes, which act as a platform for success. These attributes include humility; a positive attitude no matter the magnitude of challenges; taking criticisms graciously and positively; a very strong work ethic, as well as discipline and focus.
5. What are the best things about your country?
The people. They are very humble and down to earth and very good listeners. Zambians can be described as befitting the biblical ‘Brother’s Keeper’ phrase especially when it comes to how they relate to foreigners.
6. And the worst?
I am always worried about my home country; Zambia’s inability to diversify away from minerals. Dependence on mineral wealth exposes the country to external economic shocks. For instance, during the last global economic crisis – whereas most Africans countries managed to wither the storm – Zambia, being a resource based economy, was hit very hard. Minerals are also a wasting asset. When the mining houses go back to their countries of origin at the end of the life span of the mines, they will leave the country with a lot of environmental problems to deal with including huge pits and wasted land which cannot be put to any agricultural use at all. The entire country is rich in minerals and with higher international prices for metals; investors are applying for licences even for areas which were originally not part of the mining enclave. There is an example of a mining company that wants to start mining in a game park. All this worries me a lot. The country needs to seriously promote other sectors besides mining.
7. Your future career plans?
I will end my career here at AGF as the institution provides me with a great opportunity to make a positive and stimulating change in people’s lives.
8. How do you relax?
During my spare time I try to have a round of golf with colleagues. I also try as much as possible to be with my family.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
When people start businesses in Africa, they tend to ignore the importance of good governance, especially as it touches on learning to differentiate and separate the company from personal resources and assets. Good governance, the best general managerial and risk management practices are key to the success of any budding business.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
The youth should first and foremost be helped to realise their potential, either through making it easier for them to start and run their own businesses or gaining access to quality job opportunities. Unlocking youth potential is a prerequisite to unlocking Africa’s potential.
Passwell Shapi is the director of capacity development at the African Guarantee Fund (AGF) and holds 26 years of executive level international banking and financial services experience. He is also a fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Society.