1. What was your first job?
My first real job was actually with Yara International in the UK. I started in 1996 working as a research scientist. I was 22 at the time. I left college in 1995 and messed around for six months. Finally, my mother told me, “Get a job or you have to leave the house.”
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Safety and success. Safety is the exposure we have. It doesn’t keep me awake literally but if I think about what worries me the most it is the safety of the staff. We always say safety is a journey, not a destination. Whether you are in Brazil or in Norway or in Kenya, or at a factory, a warehouse or in a car, there is always a risk around safety issues.
But what I mostly think about in the evenings is continuous improvement of the company.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I have had very strong management throughout my career, and that obviously includes my current manager. There are a couple of people although I won’t name names. When I was between the ages of 30 and 38 (working in Oslo), I had a good dynamic management that really drove me to realise that I could probably do more than I thought I could.
4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
You can make a mistake, just don’t make the same mistake twice.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I would say I am committed. I really believe in what we are doing and I enjoy what I do. People have told me I am somebody they are willing to follow. They believe I am committed to what we plan to do. Most of the managers here have told me they trust that I mean what I say. I also think I am quite creative.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
On the job. I have never been to business school.
7. How do you relax?
I listen to music – I like a British band called Foals. I also go to the gym and like going to the beach.
8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
Normally by 8am.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
One of the questions I ask is, “What type of a manager would your team say you are?” I think [a good manager] should be open, a good communicator and obviously trustworthy. Certainly good communication and people skills are some of the most important things in a manager. I think it is a challenge that a lot of people spend too much time doing a job and not enough time managing the people.
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Once you have the idea or the concept that you believe in – don’t give up. Don’t be put off because, like in any other part of the world, there are always challenges. It is probably more challenging here in certain industries, because new ideas and new approaches always take time.
My advice is to move fast, with patience. I mean we need to move fast in terms of achievement but not get frustrated every time something doesn’t work as quickly as we would like.
James Craske is the Kenya country manager for Norwegian global chemical company Yara International.