1. What was your first job?
When I was 16 I helped my dad build his house. I was managing the site and remember I sat there from morning to evening, but he never paid me for that. In college I ran a stall where we were selling snacks like samosas and kebabs. I remember standing on the tables shouting, trying to get people to buy the products.
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Financials still do. Now that we are listed, I’m always wondering whether we will be able to achieve what we promise. What also keeps me awake is wondering whether the industry is growing, and how to grow the business.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career, and why?
My dad has always encouraged me to do business. He has never been negative. For me to have been able to start my business at 18, it’s because I had a very supportive father. He gave me the initial capital to start the business – just under Ksh.500,000 – although he didn’t give me all the money at one go. He believed in me and gave me all his support. He always told me ‘you can do it’.
4. Tell us about the best professional advice you’ve ever received.
I don’t know if it is a good answer to that question, but my father told me: ‘In spite of you doing business, believe in God. Have a strong belief [because] God knows the way, he has a plan, and despite the hard times you will see the future.’ I am a Christian.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I am passionate about what I do. I think I am patient, so even when the business is not doing well, I hang in there. For our first business to turn profitable it took us about eight years. I did not throw in the towel and I think that is my biggest strength, that I am patient.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
On the job. I think I learnt more on the job than in business school. I believe if you go to business school after a few years, then you can learn a lot. But first go on the job.
7. How do you relax?
I love music. I wish I was a musician. I like to play my guitar whenever possible.
8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
I am in the office by 8:15am.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
I ask applicants about their family and their future. When I am interviewing for a job the most important thing I’m trying to look at is the candidate’s ethics. I try to understand their background, who their family is [and] what kind of upbringing they had. I also want to know what they are looking for in life, and if they are the kind of people who believe in using shortcuts or doing things the right way.
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
We need to believe in our continent. Africa has a promising future and the future lies within us. If we don’t believe in Africa and its bright future, nobody else will.
Heril Bangera is founder and CEO of Flame Tree Group, a Kenya-headquartered diversified manufacturer producing water tanks, chemicals, cosmetics, food spices and snacks. Flame Tree Group listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) in 2014.