‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same ten questions to business leaders across the continent.
Danie Steyn, general manager, Intel Corporation Limited, East Africa
1. What was your first job?
The first thing I made money with was baking pancakes and selling them as a Grade 9 school pupil. This was in the mid-1980s and I was making about US$12 a weekend.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
This was our current regional director for Middle East, Turkey and Africa. A number of years ago she asked me “where do I want to be in a few years” and I explained to her what job I would like to do and she said to me, “there is no chance you can ever be able to do that”. I was very shocked, but she needed to shock me and have a very honest discussion with me in order for me to identify where my gaps were. Quite often as an employee, we think we are doing a great job. She had a very frank discussion with me about the gaps that I had in my skills and my approach to business. If it wasn’t for that I would not be in the job I am in today.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Well I generally sleep like a baby. It’s not stuff that keeps me awake at night, but let me tell you about one of the things that are important to me. The boss is not the guy who gets the job done. He needs to make sure that he gives resources and skills to his people so that they can do the job. The more you develop the people, the better the job gets done. Don’t focus only on business, business, business – balance it with people development.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I think being hungry in the sense of wanting to achieve more and not getting complacent. I believe you need to assume responsibility when you see an opportunity and not wait for people to give you the opportunities.
5. What are the best things about your country, South Africa?
Here is the big challenge, I have lived here [in Kenya] for six months. I went home to South Africa and I was there for a weekend with my mom and I said to her, “you know what, I want to go home” and then I realised I was referring back to Kenya. Although I am South African, Kenya is home for me. What I enjoy about South Africa is that it has so many natural resources. You don’t really need to leave South Africa to be able to see amazing things.
6. And the worst?
I think there is a lot of potential that is not being utilised in South Africa. What I believe a lot of us in South Africa need are more mentors that can challenge us in our thinking and show [that] you can come from anywhere and be successful.
7. Your future career plans?
I do not have, like a lot of people, a five year plan. I don’t believe in five year plans. However, I do believe in ‘skilling’ yourself up so you are better positioned for whatever the future may have. In management it all comes back to business acumen and people development. If I can improve my skills in those two areas I know I am better positioned for any other job going forward.
8. How do you relax?
I love nature. If I want to relax as part of a normal week, I would go at 6pm into the Nairobi National Park… because it helps me to switch off. You really [just] take your camera in there, take your binoculars in there, and just go and sit and appreciate what is around you. The other way that I relax is reading. I love reading. I have got tonnes of books at home and I believe that reading is one of the ways that, as people, we can expand our horizons. Reading really opens our eyes.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
People have a perception that if I am not management I am not successful and that is really incorrect. What you need to focus on is doing something that you really enjoy… you will be more passionate and motivated to do it. Find out what it is that you are passionate about and go for it. The second thing is… don’t be limited by the past. There are so many examples of people that went beyond their past and achieved great things. Surround yourself with people that are great thinkers; people you can learn from [and] people that can challenge your thinking.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
Through a healthy balance of… best practices, from mature markets and looking at how we can leverage our own resources in the best way. We too often want to do it our own way. There is unfortunately a level of pride in that. There is no shame in looking at other people’s great ideas, what works and see how you can implement it. It is important to learn from other people and not be stuck with ‘I want to do it my way’, but balancing those best practices with the resources we have.
Danie Steyn is the general manager for East Africa, at the semiconductor chip maker, Intel Corporation Limited. The US multinational designs and builds the essential technologies that serve as the foundation for the world’s computing devices.