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.
1. What was your first job?
Selling gemstones for my dad. I was about 20 years old then. He was paying me to sort out the gemstones in his office. I earned KSh 10,000 per month.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My father [because] of his entrepreneurial spirit [and] his spirit of never giving up. He drummed it into me at a very young age to go into everything with a full heart. He once said to me: ‘If you are not going to give it your all, every time, then don’t do it because you will not succeed.’ That stuck with me. That has definitely played a big role in my business life.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
The general economy as a whole… it does affect the private sector. Like now after the (Nairobi mall) terrorist attack, you always worry how the economy is going to [be affected] because it does have an effect on the business if you on-lend a trader at the Westgate who is not going to pay back. Or a supplier to Nakumatt [supermarkets] who now tells you their goods were in the mall – those types of things affect everybody really. A lot of people are touched by this. There is a chain reaction and we felt it here (Indo-Africa Finance) as well.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I am focused, driven and I am team player. I am not lazy. I am up at 5:30am every day and start work by around 6:45am. I work all the way to 10pm, even 11pm. Actually, it’s the best time because at 11pm I have all the reports from our hotels, so I have time to go through all the reports [and] give them feedback; when they wake up they have got all my emails. I will have time to rest and spend [money] when I retire, at 80.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
The people: they are beautiful, very warm, very entrepreneurial and very friendly.
6. And the worst?
7. Your future career plans?
Politics. I can contribute something to my country through politics. I would like to give myself to the country and hopefully contribute something to society.
8. How do you relax?
I love jogging, swimming and golf.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
[They should] believe in themselves and believe in whatever it is they want to do. If you don’t do it 100% from your heart, don’t do it because you are going to give up at the first hint of problems. They should also be patient. I think they see the flashy life and they think it came yesterday from one deal; it’s accumulation and a lifetime of struggle and building to [achieve] that success. I think the youth don’t understand that; they think it is an overnight thing. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
I think Africa should come more together and more together and not look out to the West and East. As Africans we can tackle our own problems and find solutions to our problems. I think the best people to understand our problems are ourselves. Cross border trader should also be encouraged. I think we should definitely do more business between ourselves; first option is Africa, and then we can sell to the rest of the world.
Leon Ndubai is the CEO of Indo-Africa Finance, a Nairobi-based micro finance institution that provides middle and lower income Kenyans with simple and affordable access to asset financing. The company also runs a portfolio of hotels including the Golden Beach Resort, a 20-room luxury hotel on the Kenyan coast, and Sandalwood Hotel Kitengela, 30km outside Nairobi. The firm is currently constructing a new property, Sandalwood Elementaita Lodge, at a cost of KSh 500m (US$5.8m).