Meet the Boss: Stephen Smithyman, CEO, Kanu Equipment

Stephen Smithyman

1. What was your first job?

I am chartered accountant and my first job was with Deloitte where I completed my articles. I then moved on to Standard Bank where I financed black empowerment transactions. Later I joined Solethu Investments and was involved with locomotive leasing in Africa – that was when I first discovered the opportunities that Africa holds.

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

We now employ over 557 people across 14 countries and as a management team we are responsible for those people and the families that they support. With every decision I think of those people that work in very difficult circumstances and that is an enormous responsibility that we take on every day.

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

I have had two significant people. The first is my wife – without her support, constant encouragement and words of wisdom, I would not have had the courage and insight to get through the rough patches. This gave me the launch pad to build Kanu Equipment.

The second is my late father who, since I was young, was my mentor. The way he lived his life, with hard work and integrity, has been the foundation for how I do business.

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

The customer is always king.

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

I care about our customers’ end goals. I will always go the extra mile to support them, which is why our company ethos is “Experience the Support”.

I must also reiterate that my wife deserves a lot of credit as she has proactively assisted me to focus on my career by affording me the time and space to thrive.

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

Definitely on the job – theory is not always reality.

7. How do you relax?

I spend time with my family and enjoy the odd round of golf – when I have the time.

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

4am. The early bird catches the worm.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

“Do you want unlimited time or unlimited money?” or “name 10 things that you would do with an empty swimming pool”.

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

You will face lots of challenges. Take one step at a time to get through those challenges, but persevere and believe in yourself. If you try and see all the obstacles ahead of you, you will never start – so just start. Then, when each obstacle presents itself, find a solution and just keep moving forward. Always work on continuous improvement.

Kanu is a leading African heavy-equipment supplier, servicing the agriculture, construction and mining industries.