‘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.
Christopher Everard, general manager, Ultimate Security (Kenya)
1. What was your first job?
My first job was in the hotel industry. At 19 I worked as a hotel manager trainee.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
That is a difficult question. I would say the two owners of my company, George Zibarras and Kelly Zibarras. They have been very supportive and helpful in difficult circumstances.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Knowing that I am responsible for over 2,500 families keeps me awake at night. This happens a lot, at least once or twice a week. We have over 2,000 security guards and all of us are responsible for about 10,000 people assuming that in each family you have a husband, wife and two kids. It is our responsibility to protect their livelihoods and their lives.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I am very able to talk to clients and promote our services. I have got a very good relationship with our staff and we work together very well. I am also good at updating myself with technology changes in the security sector. You don’t need to be tough in this business, you just need to be playing right in the middle of the pitch. You can’t be playing on the touchline. You can’t be shouting from outside.
5. What are the best things about Kenya?
Obviously the weather, except for now [because] it is a little bit cold. The relationship I have with my fellow Kenyans is very good. You obviously meet bad people but bad people are found all over the world. Basically the Kenyan is a nice peaceful person and I get on well with them.
6. And the worst?
Corruption. There are a few other things, for instance, our roads are a disgrace. There is a particular road that we have to avoid to get to our client, which takes us another four minutes. We have to go round because there is such a huge pothole. This specifically affects our response to people who have got an emergency because it is taking us longer to get to that person. Why can’t the authorities just fill potholes when they first start, not when they become craters?
7. Your future career plans?
I will retire in this business. After I retire I will play golf.
8. How do you relax?
I play golf and I spend time with my family. I have got two boys. My handicap was 12 [but] it is now 19. I am not playing enough golf. I have got too much work to do.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
Honesty and integrity. If you lie eventually it will come around and bite you. Honesty is the most important thing in business. Tell the truth to your client even when you have made a mistake. It is critical to be open and transparent.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
If you are collecting garbage you should collect it properly, on time and with a smile. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, if you produce a service do it with a smile and in a friendly manner and be honest. As an individual you might not become a millionaire in six months because people who become millionaires in six months are either technology innovators or people who are dishonest. But by providing quality and timely services Africans and Africa will ultimately prosper.
Christopher Everard is the general manager of Ultimate Security Limited, a private security company specialising in alarm, fast-response and residential property guarding. Everard is the current chairman of the Kenya Security Industry Association.