Ghanaian-born Kris Senanu is best known for being a managing director at data and IT services provider AccessKenya Group. Senanu is also an entrepreneur and investor behind a number of businesses, including two Nairobi-based entertainment clubs. Senanu told How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi about doing business in Ghana and Kenya, entrepreneurship and why it is an exciting time to be in Africa.
Which one has the better business environment between Ghana and Kenya?
There is no better. As long as I am in Africa, I am home. To me these borders are more psychological than real. There are lots of policies that have been developed in Ghana, which have helped develop certain sectors and grow the economy. For instance, cabinet positions in Ghana are for technocrats, not politicians. That is one of the reasons why I maintain my Ghanaian passport; I might be called to become cabinet minister. Stability and democracy has been the base for economic growth in Ghana. Kenya is getting there and we should see massive leaps and bounds in economic growth here. Kenya is also three times ahead of Ghana in agriculture and manufacturing. Generally, it is an exciting time to be in Africa.
In addition to your position at AccessKenya, you also own Tribeka, an entertainment club in Nairobi. Tell us about this.
Club Tribeka is not the first club I am involved in. I am also involved in Skylux Lounge. I don’t own them outright but with other partners. All of my investments are owned by BlackRock Capital Investments. I believe in being passionate about what you do. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am passionate about entertainment, fashion and music. I don’t go to the clubs myself, at the end of the month I get a piece of paper which talks to me about the profits and losses. I am also invested in a couple of businesses in Ghana but I am highly detached from them.
What do you consider before making an investment and have you ever lost money as an investor?
If it’s not my idea then I look at the entrepreneur. Is it someone I trust? Are they ambitious enough to take the business to the zenith level? Personality matters to me. For instance, in Club Tribeka there are strong personalities behind the scenes running the company. Several businesses we invested in have failed for various reasons. We were invested in a software business in Kenya, which did not go too well. We lost about 9.5 million shillings ($113,000). When you lose you get up, dust your jacket and go on. If you are not ready to risk and burn you will not be exposed to opportunities to make [money]. I have chosen as an investor to believe in people and their vision and I do that convinced wholeheartedly that l will gain if it goes to the next level. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. That is life.
Why are you still an employee of AccessKenya considering you obviously have the entrepreneurial spirit?
I came here as employee number four when we were still working from a small room. Today there are 343 people working here. I have never worked at AccessKenya or anywhere else for a cheque. I work for the good of the company. I brought in my entrepreneurial skills and helped to build the company. There is no other technology company in East and Central Africa which went public in six years and has had such growth. I am proud of our achievements. I see us metamorphose into a total ICT solution provider. We are looking at acquisitions in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Congo. There are a lot of prospects for growth.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
They need to go for it. There are lots of bathroom entrepreneurs who never get out of the shower to go for karaoke or become real artists. You need to be ready to take the risk and be mentally prepared for all the obstacles that are going to be thrown you way. This is the time for Africa. The opportunities are here. Anybody who has the guts to go into business should do it. When you come out victorious, you will be victorious indeed.
How can Africa realise its full potential?
A lot of people are optimistic about Africa because they have realised there is no other continent with a massive growth opportunity apart from Africa. But these are people looking from the outside in. I would like to see more Africans looking at Africa with such optimism. We need to motivate people and create opportunities. I think a lot of African governments will have to, not put protectionist policies in place, but rather smart policies that ensure in strategic industries we have the African content. It is important for us to have a sense of ownership.