Jeff Aludo, East Africa managing director, Africapractice (Kenya)
1. What was your first job?
When I was at university in the US I took up a job as the international students’ liaison officer. I got paid for that, and my residence there was also subsidised. I later became an assistant to the [residence] house master and then got free housing. So my parents were very happy because I got a partial scholarship to go to the school and I was also supplementing it through the work I was doing on campus.
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
It has to be my people. I worry constantly about whether I have the right staff, whether they are motivated enough, whether they are remunerated well, and importantly whether they are representing the expectations of the clients. I’ve spent most of my career in the services industry, so to me people are what drives success. I have matured because earlier in my career I used to worry about whether they liked me, or whether they are talking behind my back. Now it’s more about whether I am a good coach and mentor.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I have to say my dad. He was an accountant by profession and later a banker, and in his interaction with us he was always very calculated. In primary school I wanted more pocket money and my dad had me write a business case. I had to justify why I needed more and show how I would spend it. I attribute him to me being a consultant. He taught me to think things through. I remember once he asked me to be at his office at a particular time so we could drive home together. I was late, he had left and I had to get the bus. I complained about having spent my money. He replied that was the cost of not keeping time. He made a great impact on me being a business leader. But my mother has had an equal impact on my emotional intelligence and being able to have patience and resilience. She helped me understand that it’s not always just about the numbers.
4. The best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Early on in my career I had a very good supervisor, Emily, and she told me whenever I want to send an email or other work for people to read and consume I should think about it and make sure it is done right before sending it out to the world. At the time I did not get it. I thought she was just criticising me because I used to write long emails. But I have since followed her advice and it is now perfect for me professionally. These days people respond to things so fast without thinking them through. We respond very quickly, thinking we are a great multi-tasking society but don’t necessarily respond to somebody in a way that gives the best value. So regardless of what’s going on, you have to pause and think. Whether it is an email, advice or constructive criticism – take it seriously and think it through before you get it out.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Since I was a child I’ve had a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish. I remember I would always take my dad’s business magazines and then write articles about myself. So I would write for instance: ‘The chairman of Barclays Bank Mr Jeff Aludo today…’. So my dad would go looking for his magazines and find me in my room writing a replica of the articles about myself! What I didn’t know then was that I was creating a ‘vision board’ – that one day I would be an executive. I believe one has to be very clear about what they want to do with their life. I think I have been successful with that. But I’ve also had some tough things that have thrown me off course. Vision and strategy is not static – it changes, so you have to plan for that as well.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
On the job. I went straight to university at age 17 and when I started working and applying what I had learned, I realised real work experience teaches you more. So when I went back to do my MBA after a few years of being on the job, I found my lectures to be a lot more beneficial.
7. How do you relax?
I like to sit out in the garden or take a walk on a park trail. But my favourite is to go to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. When I travel anywhere else I make excuses to bring along my phone or laptop. But at the Mara I feel no need for interfering with such beautiful nature by bringing technology into it. Every day the animals there know there will be food whereas we have become a fast-paced microwave generation. We worry too much. So I relax by going out to the wild.
8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
Around 8:30, but it used to be earlier than that earlier in my career. I am not a morning person but my mother encouraged me to rise early because the early bird catches the worm. I also had mentors in my career who told me to get to the office early so I can own the place. But now I have learnt to balance that part of my life. I do a run in the morning and have a good breakfast before I come to the office.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
I always ask: “What attracted you to this company and what do you bring?” I want the person to realise it’s a two-way street. It’s a mutual relationship that brings about mutual benefit. You need to come in with the mentality that your involvement with the business will bring positive changes. I am going to be the change that I believe in. And I expect anyone I employ to want to change the environment they are in.
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
There are people who look up to you and you shouldn’t let them down. Even as an aspiring leader there are people who aspire to be like you and you have to realise that. You have a responsibility to lead by example. You have to drive growth, eradicate corruption, grow talent and nurture the leaders of the next generation.
Jeff Aludo is the East Africa managing director for Africapractice, an advisory services and strategic communications company. Previously he worked at leading consultancies such as Deloitte and PwC.