Patrick Ngowi, founder and CEO, Helvetic Group (Tanzania)
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?
I started business while still in school at the tender age of 15 years. I opened my first company before I finished university in China. I have held the post as chairman and CEO of my own company since the age of 22 years. I am now 29 years old.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My family, especially my mother, have had a huge impact on my career. Being a teacher from rural Tanzania she could only afford to give me US$1,800 as startup capital [for Helvetic Group]. This was crucial and life changing. She is now chairperson of our non-profit foundation, [the Light for Life Foundation].
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Making my customers happy and satisfied with our service and products. I love making people smile, especially for those that get light for the first time in the rural areas.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Discipline, trustworthiness, focus, working hard but smart, and most importantly, prayer. The Lord Almighty is my pillar and has brought me from so far and the journey still remains long. More prayers needed.
5. What are the best things about your country, Tanzania?
Biodiversity which attracts a growing number of tourists and generates income for the locals.
6. And the worst?
I love my country and the current leadership under President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete is doing wonders. I applaud him. He is an inspirational leader.
7. Your future career plans?
Helvetic Solar has to scale up operations. With our new strategic approach, keep an eye out for us, not only in Tanzania but in Africa.
8. How do you relax?
I swim, read a lot, run and find time to share with my loved ones
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
Business is a passion. One should find what they love doing, learn as much they can about it and do business in an open and transparent manner. It is crucial to anticipate vicissitudes, but with passion engrained in their business, one will weather it through.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
Africa’s potential is in its youth. It remains paramount that investment in youth enterprises, that create more jobs, is done. Local and foreign investors should look closely at youth startup companies and invest early on. The saying goes: “Those closest to the problems have the best solutions.”
Patrick Ngowi started his first entrepreneurial endeavour at the age of 15, by selling airtime top-up vouchers in his area. Today he is the CEO behind Helvetic Group, a company that supplies, installs and maintains solar systems in Tanzania. Having started with an initial capital of $1,800, the company has since grown rapidly and, according to Forbes, the company reportedly made $6.8m in revenue in 2012. That year Ngowi started the Light for Life Foundation to help light up rural areas. His company also launched the affordable Helvetic Solar Kit to cater to the electrical needs of rural customers, and has since sold 12,635 units.