‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Ajay Patel, managing director, Dawa Limited
1. What was your first job?
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin I began working as a clinical pharmacist at a hospital in Milwaukee. I stayed for two years because I wanted the experience of a hospital environment. I then returned to Kenya to help my dad wind up because he was getting old and my brother and sister were both overseas. But then decided not to go back to the US, and in 1986 took over my dad’s pharmacy business in Thika, some 50km from Nairobi.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My father. He was also a US-trained pharmacist. I worked with him and learned a lot from him. I admired his meticulous planning, his patience to deal with problems and his ability to listen to people. I cannot ever remember him getting angry. Today people ask me why I don’t get angry with my staff or throw people out. He was always calm and my example.
3. Does anything job-related keep you awake at night?
Every day I plan what I want to accomplish. I tend to complete all the tasks, and if I don’t, any pending decisions will bother me.
4. The top reasons for your success in business?
I have had a great team around me. My partner Dr Raju Mohindra, his wife Reema and other senior staff. I believe in honesty, dedication to what I set out to complete, having patience, sharing ideas and decision making. Placing the right people on the right job also gives results.
5. The best things about your country?
The business opportunities, the weather and the people. I was born and brought up in Thika. There are not too many places in Thika I can walk around and people wouldn’t know me. Even though I am no longer in the retail business, they still remember me. If I am walking down the street they will come and say hello.
6. And the worst?
Poor planning of infrastructure. This morning I was less than three kilometres away and yet it took me 45 minutes to get to my office. I was very close but very far away. Bad politics and poor policies also affect and retard the growth of companies here. It is frustrating. Kenya needs to be a self-reliant country. Currently it heavily relies on imports.
7. Your future career plans?
I would like to see us accomplish the strategy we have laid out. This involves expanding our manufacturing capacity and growing our footprint to a total of 30 markets in Africa over the next five years. I see myself spending more time in expanding the group with competent and experienced staff running the day to day operations.
8. How do you relax?
I walk with my dogs. I love going on long walks or treks which are a bit difficult. Some kind of difficulty is what I thrive on. I try to exercise regularly. I enjoy engaging in community service. Through Dawa Limited and Medisel Kenya we help organise both religious functions and medical camps. For example, last year during a polio outbreak, we organised camps and got kids vaccinated. I enjoy doing this stuff.
9. Your message to young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
It is difficult to do everything by yourself. So I would say form the right team. You have to get competent staff around you to help drive your vision.
Also, in today’s market, one must be ready for change and adapt to change quickly. This was not the case 15 years ago when there were fewer competitors in any field. One needs to look for new ideas and markets. Innovation is the best way to succeed.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
It comes down to the policies laid down by governments. Africa needs to implement growth policies that protect local industries and create employment. We have to do a lot of talent development. There should also be more public-private partnerships.
Dr Ajay Patel is the managing director of Dawa Limited, a pharmaceutical company based in Kenya that manufactures healthcare products for both human and veterinary use. The company manufactures more than 140 products for sale in 10 countries across Africa. He is also a co-founder and director of Medisel Kenya, a company that specialises in the import, export and distribution of pharmaceutical and surgical products.