10 African business leaders share the best advice they’ve ever received

Dan Githua, CEO of Tuskys

Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders operating in the continent. One of the questions is, ‘What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?’. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best responses so far.

1. Chris Folayan, CEO, MallforAfrica

The best advice ever is to, “Always be willing to make mistakes because they are the ones that make you grow the fastest and learn the most in the shortest amount of time”.

When we first started MallforAfrica it was about door-to-door delivery. It was the only form of delivery we would do. I was so convinced that everyone would want their packages delivered to their homes. A friend of mine suggested that we try and have people pick up their items at his office, which was centrally located in Lagos, a big city in Nigeria. Within a week of announcing a pick-up location, orders went up, new customers joined, and I was blown away. What did I learn? Most people don’t want to have to schedule a delivery window of eight hours as it’s more convenient to have a location where you can pick up items.

Today, we have over 25 pick-up locations in Nigeria alone and over 80% of our orders go to pickup locations. I learned so much in such a short amount of time about perception and ease of collection of purchased items being so key to our success. Read the full interview

2. Julian Kyula, founder and CEO, MODE

Don’t ever ask anyone in your organisation to do something that you yourself are not willing to do. I have done many jobs. I have been a waiter, I have been a driver [and] I was rejected as a security guard somewhere in my life. My point is, I’m very aware of what our janitor goes through, what our drivers go through and what our executives go through. I’m not going to refuse to clean up my floor if I see dirt because there is a janitor. I will do it. The person who gave me this piece of advice made me understand that a leader is not a boss.

The second most important thing I was advised is to rather have someone who is available and doesn’t know [it all], than to have somebody who knows it all but is never available. If you are available and willing to learn we are going to spend the resources and time to train you. Read the full interview

3. Clive Smith, CEO, Tsebo Solutions Group

Do not take a job for money. Take a job that feeds your soul, your aspirations, and can help you grow while you are having fun.

If you take a day, for example, you sleep for eight hours, you are at work for eight hours, you travel for a couple of hours, and you are with your family for three or four hours. The biggest part of your time awake is spent working, and your working career is the biggest part of your life. So you have to have fun. Read the full interview

4. Akshay Shah, managing director, Silafrica

The best advice I have ever received has to do with strategy alignment: ensuring that your business has a strategy, that everybody in your company knows about it and is aligned to it, and then putting in necessary priorities and systems to enable execution. It is important to be mindful of the fact that business must have a strategy and people must know that strategy. It can’t be a strategy that exists only in my head. Read the full interview

5. Alon Lits, general manager, sub-Saharan Africa, Uber

The best advice I have received is you should measure things based on the return on effort. What I mean is, what is the output for the amount of time dedicated to a specific task. I think that is how you should measure things. Anything that you are doing that takes a lot of time but the value that you are getting out of it is not very high – you should relook that. [Look] at how can you make it more efficient, [or] how you can potentially automate. Read the full interview

6. Raghu Malhotra, president Middle East & Africa, MasterCard

A pharmaceutical company’s CEO once told me “travel light”. At the beginning I took it literally – but the more and more I thought about it in a business context, the more I gained perspective. It means move fast, be agile and nimble, don’t over analyse things and act quickly. This is a very valuable advice in the fast-paced and changing world we operate in. Read the full interview

7. Dan Githua, CEO, Tuskys

Somebody once told me that when I am trying to make a decision, I should go with 40% to 60% information. You shouldn’t wait for 100% certainty because if you wait too long you will find someone else has seized the opportunity. Read the full interview

8. Frans van der Colff, director, Fruit & Veg City Africa

It probably is about understanding your customers, knowing who you are catering for, but it is also simultaneously treating the people that work for you as customers as well… If we treat our staff well, they will treat our customers well, and those are the people that make our business happen. So it works both ways, on both sides. If you don’t treat the staff well, you won’t have a successful business, as much as if you didn’t treat your customers well. Read the full interview

9. Jesse Moore, managing director, M-KOPA

Work hard, enjoy what you are doing and everything will be okay. It’s very simple and I didn’t believe it for many years. I think there is truth to it [but] of course you have to make tough calls and things aren’t always easy. I think we tend to worry too much about everything working out – but if you work hard, you enjoy what you are doing and you treat people well, the world is typically okay. Read the full interview

10. Saleh Nasreddin, founder, NAS Foods, Ethiopia

There was someone from Unilever who was consulting me on structural management in Nigeria when I was young. He had a selection of people and they were very expensive. So I expressed my concern about this. He told me: “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. If you want good people, you pay well and the job will be done well.” And it is true. The selection of people is very important. Read the full interview