Moses Ikiara, MD, Kenya Investment Authority
1. What was your first job?
As a junior research assistant in a public university in Kenya. So I first worked there and later became a lecturer.
2. What parts of your current job keep you awake at night?
When we have an investor who needs something done quickly, and we cannot do so. For instance, if someone needs a work permit and it takes maybe longer than I expected… this keeps me awake.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I draw inspiration from the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae. I believe in Africa that good governance and political leadership is crucial… It is what helps us unlock the continent in terms of being great… There are many good visions about what needs to be done, but the execution and implementation is something entirely dependent on leadership across Africa. What I liked about Festus Mogae is that as a president of a fairly rich African country, he remained a simple man. He didn’t have big motorcars, nor expensive suits and all that.
He is a simple guy who just wore a cardigan into office and removed the [notion] of ‘showbiz’ or whatever from leadership by just simply solving problems. I draw inspiration from that.
4. What is the best professional advice you have ever received?
It was long ago, but when I was choosing my career I wanted to be a pilot. I really thought that was the best job I could ever do. But one of my big brothers told me to take the next high-end degree, and while at university think about being a pilot. He said if I still want to do it after that I can go for it. I went into economics and have no regrets. Looking back I think he gave me good advice because I enjoy what I do.
5. What are the top reasons why you think you are successful in management?
Basically you need to work with colleagues as a team. No one is self-sufficient. We have people who have different skills, who bring different strengths. So being a team player, or able to lead a team, is one of the things that helps in management.
Second, keep things simple. Everything looks complex at the beginning, but if you patiently break it down into its elements, it becomes quite easy and you’ll be surprised it ever seemed so difficult before.
Third, keep focused on where you want to end up. Determine where you want to be in five or 10 years, and keep working at that vision, regularly checking how far you have moved towards it. It both helps you reach your vision and also helps in management because everyone can see where and what the goal is. I often ask people how will they know when they have reached their goal?
So basically it is a focus on execution, working well with a team and basically keeping track of how well you are moving towards a target.
6. Where is the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
I think on the job is the best. But it is really not one nor the other. You need a bit of training, a bit of theoretical grounding and all that – but that in itself can never be enough. On the job you meet real challenges… and you learn how to overcome them on the job.
Some of the things you learn in business school will give context in overcoming these challenges, and so you need a bit of a combination of both. Sometimes even when learning on the job, it is good to go back to business school and just have a debate [about putting the theory into practice].
7. How do you relax?
I like to walk as much as I can. So my office is on the fourth floor and I climb the stairs every morning even though the lift is working – maybe even two other times during the day as I go for meetings.
I also like football. I am a fan of Manchester United and watch them whenever they are playing. And occasionally even check what’s going on in the news with them – like which new player they are buying and so on. That helps to rest my mind from the serious business.
I enjoy going out with my family and friends for a drink, and as a hobby I do a bit of small farming. So on a Saturday, after a morning stint at the office I go to the farm and relax in the afternoon.
8. What time do you like to be at your desk in the morning?
I am an early person. I get to my desk before 7am almost every day, partly because it is a nice way to beat the Nairobi traffic, but also because my job requires numbers of meetings, and working with stakeholders and staff on projects. So if I’m not there early to do the approvals and task assignments, then for the whole day I’ll be running behind the clock. So I like to be there before anyone else arrives.
9. What is your favourite job interview question?
I ask candidates why we should hire them? Why do we need them? So if somebody can convince me that they know what we do, they have assessed their skills and experience, and they have identified a niche or a gap they can fill, then that is one of my best ways to assess whether they will be good at the job or not.
10. What is your message to Africa’s young entrepreneurs and business people?
Nothing is easy and one has to stay focused for quite some time. I think many people romanticise entrepreneurship, and I have seen this even with friends or relatives who start an enterprise. They think they will make profits in the first one or two years, and when it doesn’t come they lose steam, give up and start another company. It is a cycle and they end up wasting their lives. But we know statistics show most small enterprises die before their third birthday, and another big chunk before their fifth. So one needs to be able to say you have your idea, then get started, and be patient. As you get more knowledge and work on your idea, sooner or later you will succeed.
Moses Ikiara is the managing director of Kenya Investment Authority (KenInvest), a statutory body with the main objective of promoting investments in Kenya.