Meet the Boss: Partheeban Theodore, country head, Olam Côte d’Ivoire

Partheeban Theodore, country head of Olam Côte d'Ivoire.

“There is no reason to look beyond the continent. Every single opportunity exists here,” says Partheeban Theodore, country head of Olam Côte d’Ivoire.

1. What was your first job?

It was at an agribusiness in India – mainly trading rice and spices from India. It was a start-up company which I joined straight from management school at the age of 23.

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

There are three key factors – people, growth and risk. Finding the right kind of people, developing and retaining them, and keeping them engaged in a highly competitive environment, is an absolute imperative. With many uncertainties revolving around the economic context and security situations and the new emerging competitive environment in Côte d’Ivoire, an engaged workforce can make all the difference. Given the kind of growth we are chasing, talent development has become a crucial piece of what we do. We are currently running several programmes to not only develop internal talent but also to recruit young talent and develop them to be our future leaders.

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

It has been different people at different points in time. These include my parents, with their work ethic, commitment and hard work; our CEO, Sunny George Verghese, who continues to set very high standards and benchmarks for us; and all my supervisors, peers and colleagues in Olam who continue to play a big role in shaping who I am today.

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

There is no alternative to hard work.

5. And the top reasons you have been successful in business?

My ability to relate to people from all walks of life and understand what makes them tick. As a guy constantly looking for bigger and better all the time, I am fortunate to be in a role that allows me to do just that.

6. In your opinion, where is the best place to prepare for leadership: business school or on the job?

Business school definitely prepares you well for what lies ahead. However, all that you learn on the job could never be taught in school. Leadership is learnt and tested constantly in the field, and leadership qualities continue to evolve and develop with every critical experience.

7. How do you relax?

My favourite pastime would be to unwind with my kids over Disney movies or music and weekend dine outs.

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

I am up by 5am and would like to be at my desk by 8am.

9. What is your favourite job interview question?

Apart from the usual job-related questions, I ask candidates the following two questions:

Where do you see yourself in five years and what do you believe will get you there?

What excites you the most and gets you going?

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

Africa is a land of opportunities. This is not cliché; I really believe it is. Olam has been here for almost 27 years now. What started in 1989 in Africa as a single commodity trading operation is today among the world leaders in many of the commodities that we deal in. Olam holds leadership positions across countries and commodities.

So there is no reason to look beyond the continent. Every single opportunity exists here and we really need young Africans to remain committed to Africa and actually contribute to building the Africa of tomorrow.

Partheeban Theodore is senior vice president at Olam International and the company’s head of operations in Côte d’Ivoire. He started his career at Olam in 2000 in Benin, trading rice and sugar into West Africa. In 2004 he moved to Abidjan where he held a number of management positions before heading up the country’s overall operations. Theodore holds an MBA from the Institute for Technology and Management in Chennai.

Olam International is a global trader and processor of agricultural commodities. The company started operations in 1989 in Nigeria by exporting raw cashew nuts to India. Today it has diverse operations throughout the world, including in 25 African countries. In Côte d’Ivoire the company works with an estimated 85,000 local farmers and exports cocoa, coffee, cashew and cotton, as well as processes cocoa and cashew.