Meet the Boss: Justin Melvin, general manager, Kuku Foods Kenya

Justin Melvin is general manager of Kuku Foods Kenya, the franchise holder of KFC in East Africa.

Justin Melvin is general manager of Kuku Foods Kenya, the franchise holder of KFC in East Africa.

1. What was your first job?

My first job was with Mattessons, a UK-based manufacturer of processed-meat. This was during a 12-month break from university. I did a sandwich course where students take a year off to work in the industry after their second year. The Mattessons MD gave me a job to look at labour turnover problems in his salesforce. I ended up developing a total training course for his entire sales team, which they implemented. Labour turnover went down from about 65% to 25% and that was part of my thesis for my degree. My second job was with PepsiCo in Nigeria.

2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

Perhaps what worries me the most is whether everybody in the team knows what we are trying to achieve, and how they fit into the whole picture. There are so many balls in the air, I worry I’ve missed something. We have 300 people in the restaurants and another 15 here at the head office. We have grown exponentially – nearly three times the size we were two years ago. That transition is probably what concerns me – is the communication going out? Is everybody wired in to what we are trying to get done? Are they all on the bus?

3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?

One of my bosses when I was with Coca-Cola, where I worked for 10 years. He had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He pushed me and gave me 100% backing.

4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

Trust your gut feel. The biggest mistakes I have made were when I haven’t trusted my gut.

5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?

Have a positive outlook. I am a kind of person who says: ‘I want to get there and even though there are things on the way blocking me, there is always a way to get there.’ Pay attention to detail, ask many questions. But most importantly, have the right people in your team – you cannot get anywhere on your own.

6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?

On the job. An MBA is the classroom. On the job is real life. You need a bit of both but I do think it’s sad that more and more companies only interview candidates who have an MBA. That means more people are having to spend fortunes getting their children educated to MBA level. It is really scary, and ridiculous.

It means you could be missing out on a lot of talent. You learn a lot more on the job, and you don’t need an MBA to be able to learn, provided you are in an environment of nurturing and teaching. Attitude is everything. Just a small example: we had a security guard who had been on the job for 10 years. He came to us and said he would really like to work in the restaurant. Now he is a supervisor – he had no formal education but today he is one of our best supervisors. Anyone with the right attitude can be trained and will achieve – give them a chance.

7. How do you relax?

I play golf and tennis. I go to the movies. I play with my children. I watch TV. I go fishing.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

It depends on the traffic. Often I might change where I am going in the morning based on the traffic.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

The opposite of the question you just asked me – not what keeps you awake at night, but what helps you sleep at night? What drives you and what makes you happy? What makes you jump out of bed and want to go to work? I think the important thing in any job is attitude. I don’t need degrees. I don’t need MBAs. I need attitude.

10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?

They have to be tenacious. Never give up. There’ll be so many things hitting you left, right and centre, but keep going. If you want to succeed in Africa, you have got to have tenacity.

Justin Melvin is general manager of Kuku Foods Kenya, the franchise holder of KFC in East Africa.