‘Meet the Boss’ is How we made it in Africa’s new interview series, where we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Manoj Shanker, CEO, Techno Brain Group
1. What was your first job?
My first job actually lasted a day. I was in the final year of college and since my father was about to retire I knew that I had to do something to earn, because we hardly had money. So he helped me to get a job to write out accounts. I did that for two hours and realised it was not what I wanted to do with my life. So I left and went on to graduate with a degree in science.
Then one day I saw a sign saying that in the 21st century millions of IT jobs will be created. The only thing that was on my mind was to get a job. In those days jobs were scarce in Bangalore, India. I did two years of software training, even though I never really liked it. But what I liked was what software could do for businesses. In December 1989 I got a job in an IT company and it was one of my happiest moments. My monthly pay was an equivalent of US$25 at that time.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I read a lot so I cannot really name a single person. Reading the success stories of other people has been inspiring. More practically, the chairman of Tecno Brain Group has been very inspirational. Even though he doesn’t understand much about technology he was visionary enough to encourage and motivate, and get the best value out of people. I have also been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi; he was truthful and strong in the mind.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
There are so many things, but the one that immediately comes to mind is customer satisfaction. If there is an escalation from the customer I really take it seriously. I attribute our success to our customers.
4. The top reasons why you have been successful?
I don’t want to sound like I am boasting but I think I am very strategic in thinking. I can sit and think six months, one year, five years down the line and make the plans and moves. That has really helped me. I always think long-term.
5. The best things about your country?
I am sometimes confused about which is my country. I still have an Indian passport, but have lived here (Tanzania and Kenya) for such a long time. I would say I am East African because I have tasted success here. I left India 16 years ago. I don’t connect much with India and what happens there the way I connect here. I find it very refreshing here. I like Africa and I like the people. I love the environment and the wildlife and when I go back to India I feel very sorry to see how badly it has deteriorated. That is why our group foundation really focuses on protecting the environment, wildlife and nature.
6. And the worst?
Governance. I only wish all these countries were governed better, it would make a huge difference for the citizenry. One of my heroes in this region is Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Look at what he has done for his country. He has transformed it and we must acknowledge that. You go to Kigali and you can walk around [safely] in the middle of the night, and it is super clean.
7. Your future career plans?
I have a task at hand to take the company to the next level in the next five years. I am a very hands-on CEO because I built this company from scratch. I get involved in the day-to-day running of the company. But I would like to slow down and be more and more strategic, allowing more people to come up. I also want to spend a lot of time building leadership in Africa.
8. How do you relax?
I enjoy visiting nature camps and seeing wildlife. I also love reading books and sometime watching movies.
9. Your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
If you want to build a career you have to think about just that. A lot of young people take a job, then when offered $100 more by another company they jump there. That is not a good way to grow your career. When planning one, choose what excites you and gives you satisfaction, and work very hard at it. And have patience; you need to prove yourself. Those who go into business should be ambitious and should look beyond just making money.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
Africa has a big market and lots of resources. With good governance African countries can outshine many others across the world. Governance is a complex problem. I think more and more honest, competent people have to come into politics. I know that it is not easy, but things have to change. Education will help us make better choices at the ballot box. Education is a great way to alleviate ignorance. So we should really focus on education too.
Manoj Shanker is the CEO of Techno Brain Group, a Nairobi-headquartered multinational offering IT solutions, training and business process outsourcing services to the private and public sectors. Started in Tanzania 16 years ago, Techno Brain is now operational in 24 countries in Africa, Asia, the US and Europe, with 1,600 employees. Shanker recently won the 2014 East Africa Entrepreneur of the Year award at CNBC Africa’s annual All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA). Techno Brain was also named one of the 50 fastest-growing technology companies in Africa by professional services firm Deloitte.