Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
1. What was your first job?
I started off here at Weetabix as a production manager in 2007. I did everything from actually running the factory to cleaning the floor and packing the product. As a result I know quite a bit about the manufacturing process of Weetabix. I was earning KSh. 30,000 (US$346).
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
There are probably quite a few people. My grandfather Madatally Manji who started off the House of Manji (a food manufacturing company) taught me what it was to have huge ambition, set big goals and do everything possible to achieve them. He taught me a lot about working hard. I think there are members of the team I work with in our UK head office who I treat as mentors; our group CEO and our strategy director have taught me a lot of what I know.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I worry about the consumer. The consumer is our employer. He decides whether we survive or not. It is ensuring that we do not lose the confidence and trust the consumer has in our brand. We have to remain consistent and do everything right for the consumer. We have to give them what they are looking for by way of variety, by way of packaging and by way of price. What keeps me awake at night is ensuring we maintain the consumer’s trust in our brand.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
The first is ambition. I am a hugely ambitious person. I set very big goals for my team. We don’t like small goals. Internally we call them BHAGs (short for Big Hairy Audacious Goals). I am also extremely hardworking. I like to see myself as someone who is trusting and as someone who can motivate his team. My team means everything to me.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
The people; they are the friendliest and the most helpful. They are very resilient and hardworking. They have huge ambition to do very well for themselves. The people in Kenya are remarkable.
6. And the worst?
Apart from traffic, the worst is the bureaucracy and red tape in doing business.
7. Your future career plans?
I believe that I have a big future at Weetabix East Africa. With my team, I would like to replicate the success of the brand in East Africa across the entire African continent.
8. How do you relax?
My form of switching off is spending time at the gym. I am a bit of a health freak so I go to the gym every morning for an hour. I also love to read.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
Be trustworthy, work very hard and most importantly set yourself big goals but stay dedicated. The youth today don’t want to stick to a job. They want to try anything that takes them up the ladder as quickly as possible. That is a wrong approach whether you are opening a new business or in employment. You have to remain dedicated, persevere and work hard; you will go up far quicker.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
I believe Africa is the last frontier. Right now 60% of Africa’s GDP is contributed by consumer spending in various sectors including retail and telecommunications. That is what is fuelling the growth of the economies of Africa. The rapid urbanisation and consumerism is what is making so many businesses flock to Africa. They know that there is untapped potential. It’s great that we are discovering resources but I don’t think Africa’s growth is going to be about what’s under the ground. I believe it is rapid urbanisation, better infrastructure, better education and the youth. Africa’s youth are trendy, they are hip, they want to follow what is happening in the West and they are putting a lot of pressure on governments because they have mediums such as social media which they use to speak out. They are go-getters, they are extremely talented and they want to achieve.
But for Africa to really take off, there are fundamental things that need to be fixed in the short and long term. Africa needs good governance. Action should be taken to root out corruption. There needs to be real determination by government to do this. We also must continue to invest in education and infrastructure.
Ahsan Manji is the managing director of Weetabix East Africa, a subsidiary of British-based Weetabix Food Company. The Nairobi-based cereal manufacturer is the market leader in the breakfast cereal category. The firm distributes to Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda and intends to expand to Nigeria.