‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Andrew Waititu, managing director for East Africa, SAP
1. What was your first job?
I was a construction worker when just 16. During school holidays I worked in my dad’s company and did everything from plumbing to electrical work. That experience has helped a lot in later life because it’s now very difficult for a handyman to con me because I’ve an idea of what goes into building.
2. The parts of your job that keep you awake at night?
I would assume it is the same thing that keeps up most leaders: How to grow the business, and how to attract the right people and keep them. But it doesn’t really keep me up at night because I try to find a good balance between family and work. I worry about spending enough time with my twin daughters now, in their formative years, and impart something to them as they grow.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I wouldn’t say it is just one person. I will single out two. The first was my late uncle whose approach to life was very open. He was welcoming and had a never-say-die attitude. Whenever I question humanity, I always remember him and his approach to life. It allows me to approach life in a much softer way.
The second person is Dave Murathe who gave me my first job. I think he took a big chance with me and set me off in my career in IT. That has allowed me to think in a similar fashion when I’m hiring. I look more at potential than what a person is right now.
4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
This is a general rule for day-to-day life: No situation is as bad as it seems, and nothing lasts forever. Given time, things tend to work themselves out, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in. Many people make bad decisions based on a particular situation at a particular moment. And when they look back a week or five years later wonder: what was that all about?
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I try to be open-minded in any type of engagement I have. When I was younger I would jump to conclusions, but over time learnt to take things in stride. I try to view things with a 360 degree lens. That allows you to see things not only the way others do, but to have a better decision-making process.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
I think it’s a mix of both. My Master’s degree was in a technical field but I’ve always been on the business side during my working life. There is nothing like the school of hard-knocks, especially when talking about an emerging market. Things here don’t tend to follow the rule book, or whatever it is that you learnt in school. You find, especially with the advent of technology industries, the banks are no longer just banks and telcos are not just telcos. Everything is mixed up. You need some business-related courses to lay the foundations, but as they say, you need to know the rules to break them.
7. How do you relax?
I try to separate my work time and my own time. I do many things to relax and as a result am not good at anything particular. I love the outdoors so I play golf and do some off-road motorcycling as well as hiking and camping. One thing that takes people aback is when they figure out I’m also a DJ. I mostly DJ at friends’ parties. I do my own music to listen to in my car. I also started flying courses while living in South Africa. Luckily some of these activities intersect with business, so if playing golf I will try to play with a potential customer.
8. By what time do you like to be at your desk?
Wrong question. My desk is virtual. I am up by 5:15am and at the gym by 5:30am. I drop the kids at school and I’m in my office by 9am. You have to consider the traffic problem so sometimes I might arrive late. Once a week I work from home and actually get a lot more done.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
I don’t think I have one. But it often depends on the person, the role and what they have brought out in their CV. Most people will talk about their strengths so I always want to find out what the candidate needs to work and improve on. If you can get to the root of that, you can decide if that person will fit in your team. The one [weakness] I cannot stand is that of someone being unable to work with others. There is no organisation right now where you can work alone. I can tell if someone is not a team player if they keep talking about ‘me’ and ‘I’, especially if it involves projects where they’d need to with others.
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Stay the course. A lot of people, especially the youth, have become very impatient in terms of accomplishing success.
Andrew Waititu is the managing director for East Africa at German multinational software corporation SAP. The European company makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations. Waititu has had a long career in technology working with global technology companies including IBM and Microsoft in Africa and the Middle East.