‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Meet the Boss: Jaswinder Bedi, CEO, Bedi Investments
1. What was your first job?
In my father’s factory. My first assignment was to dye blue fabric that would be used to make blazers. Not only did the fabric come out purple, but it was also bleeding colour. I had done everything right except the temperature control. I learnt from my mistake and eventually became CEO. You learn a lot when you start from ground zero.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career?
I have always wanted to run a multinational company. For that reason I have always looked at opportunities beyond Kenya. I admire what Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs have done in disrupting technology. I call these people MAD and I also want to be MAD. I mean ‘Make A Difference’ (MAD). I want to make a difference.
3. The parts of your job keep you awake at night?
What keeps me up at night are all these big plans I have. Will I realise them or am I just going to become NATO (No Action, Talk Only)? A lot of people and governments are NATO. I want to deliver to myself. When I can’t deliver, it keeps me up at night.
4. The top reasons you have been successful?
I think I am an inspirational leader. I give people hope. When you look at the world with a mindset of teaching and encouraging people how to catch fish, you create a productive society.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
The weather is amazing. We have sunshine every day. There is no winter and no summer. That means our costs of doing business should be among the lowest in the world. We have neither the expense of heating or cooling. I also love the Kenyan people.
6. And the worst?
I think the worst is over. Yes there are challenges, but I look at them as opportunities. As a country we are on the runway sitting pretty ready for take-off. This continent is going to fly. Once we take off, there is no coming back.
7. Your future career plans?
I want to continue with the work I am involved in. There are many goals. What I enjoy doing the most is making a difference. I enjoy leadership positions where I negotiate trade agreements such as with the EU and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) legislation. If given the job of director general of the World Trade Organisation I’d probably take it because I’d be able to improve legislation in terms of trade. I have enjoyed working with different industry bodies. People call me ‘Mr AGOA’ because of my involvement in lobbying the extension of the legislation. Through that work I got to visit the Capitol Hill, testified in a congressional hearing and met many people including former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I enjoy making an impact in society, and I think that will largely happen through trade.
8. How do you relax?
I don’t (laughs). I try to, but I don’t. I feel energised all the time. Even if I go to the Kenyan coast I quickly call and meet a customer to talk about work. I wouldn’t call myself a workaholic, but my wife does.
9. Your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
Never give up hope. Don’t be driven by desire to get rich quick. Learn the tricks of the trade. Walk up the ladder with patience. Persevere. Many people give up after six months. I persevered for 20 years to see this day where the textiles industry is now starting to boom across the continent. I could have easily jumped ship on many occasions but didn’t. You have to persevere. If you have a dream, chase it to the very end.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
I think Africa has all the right ingredients. What it needs is leadership to turn these ingredients into real life success stories. We have the talent, we have the labour and the financing is now backing us. We just need a common goal. Our society too often gets distracted easily. What we need is an alignment of vision and good leadership.
Bedi is the CEO of Bedi Investments, a textile mill manufacturing synthetic yarns, woven fabrics and apparel for export to the US and the EU. He is also executive director at Fine Spinners, a company that spins cotton yarns and manufacturers sewing threads.