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.
James Omwando, CEO, KK Security
1. What was your first job?
I worked as an election clerk. I was in high school at the time. After I graduated from university I worked as an accounts clerk at American International Group (AIG). The management skills I have today I leant at AIG. Incidentally our chairman was also at AIG; he was the managing director when I was an area manager.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I think the chairman of KK Group of Companies [Derek J. Oatway]. I have known him since I was 20. I have made mistakes or said things or gotten angry and asked him how he could allow a particular thing to happen. But he would always tell me to look at it from a different point [and] quite frankly I get shocked when I realise later that his suggestion was right after all.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
There is a guy in our organisation who if he calls you at night you know there is trouble. [Once] when I was based in Mombasa he rang me at night… [because] our employees had responded to an alarm and… they were killed. That was very devastating. These are people you know and see every day.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
If there is a crisis I don’t panic. You know that you will do your best but if you can’t do more than that then you couldn’t do it.
5. What are the best things about your country?
Kenyans are resilient and they are proud. We are a bit aggressive as well. Kenya is a special country in many ways.
6. And the worst?
Corruption. It’s bad. I don’t believe if we were less corrupt we would have the problems we have with security right now. Our borders are porous because of corruption.
7. Your future career plans?
I want to get into real estate. I enjoy construction. I like seeing things happening. I like seeing my ideas coming into fruition, into something tangible. I seriously have a passion for real estate.
8. How do you relax?
I play squash occasionally. I have a drink with my friends and over the weekends I spend time with the kids. I try to have a good balance.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
They should not be in a hurry. Youth today want success yesterday. They want instant success. I think patience pays and learning from the old is important. Experience is not something you can get in school; you just have to go through it. There is [only] so much that books can teach you. I think we are reaching a time [in Africa] where entrepreneurship is the way to go. Start something that you will nurture yourself.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
There should be unity. We should avoid these trade restrictions within ourselves in Africa. We should make cross border trade easier. If people in Uganda can easily get involved in business in Kenya, for instance, I believe it would be easier for Africa to be self-reliant.
James Omwando is the CEO of KK Group of Companies. The group provides private security services in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.