‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Alastair Cavenagh, businessman, Kenya
1. What was your first job?
My first job was as a junior trainee tea trader with a company based in Hamburg in what was then West Germany.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I would say that the numerous, often extremely colourful characters with whom I have interacted and done business with over the past 30 years in Africa. Learning and understanding the environment in which one operates is key to doing business anywhere, and who better to learn from than those people with whom one deals and operates with on a daily basis?
3. Anything keeping you awake at night?
Finances and cash flow – again a critical part of running a successful company.
4. The main reasons why you have been successful in business?
As I said previously, I believe understanding the business environment is key together with proper financial discipline and the ability to identify and empower key management positions to whom decision-making responsibility can be delegated. I do not believe in companies run by ‘yes men’ at managerial level.
5. The best things about your country?
Kenya is a wonderful country with massive potential and opportunities in numerous fields. There is a rapidly expanding middle class with disposable income as well as a largely untapped and underdeveloped human resources sector. With the emergence of the oil and gas industry and the investment that this sector will generate, hopefully significant investment will follow into training and education.
This will enable Kenyans to benefit from the discoveries, creating more jobs elevating more people out of the poverty bracket. In addition to this, the country has the most fantastic natural environment, superb game parks and coast line which provide some of the best tourism experiences that the world has to offer.
6. And the worst?
It has to be the current security situation. Both the terrorism threat as well as local domestic insecurity is at its worst for the whole time that I have been in Kenya. I sincerely hope government will address this as a matter of top urgency and soon bring it under control. Without security, investment both foreign and local will be deterred and neither growth nor prosperity can be achieved.
It is also of paramount importance that the animals and the parks are protected from both encroachment and poaching if Kenya is to retain its position as the world’s leading safari destination. And of course to protect these unique assets for future generations.
7. Your future career plans?
None at present outside of my current business involvements, but if interesting opportunities should come along, who knows?
8. How do you relax?
Exercising and rally driving are my two main forms of relaxing or enjoying myself.
9. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
Whatever you decide to do, do it well. Whilst it could be argued that the world is such a competitive and densely populated place nowadays making it tougher for would be entrepreneurs to make the break, I strongly believe that anyone can be successful if they are properly motivated and prepared to apply themselves wholeheartedly to whatever it is they decide to do.
10. How can Africa best realise its full potential?
Africa needs to concentrate upon developing its infrastructure, something largely ignored by governments over the past several decades. This, together with investment into the basics such as: healthcare, education, security, rural electrification and provision of safe water supplies to its citizens will provide the perfect platform for the projected growth potential of the continent to be fully realised.
I hope that this will be achieved and would love to have a crystal ball to see what Africa will look like in 50 years, as the future is potentially extremely exciting.
Alastair Cavenagh is a co-founder and chairman of the Vipingo Ridge golf development, a 2,500 acre private residential golfing estate at the Kenyan coast. Cavenagh is also executive director of Dalbit Petroleum Ltd, a sub-Saharan Africa focused petroleum importation and distribution business with a presence in eight countries. The UK-born entrepreneur is a renowned rally driver and a two time winner of the Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC).