‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same ten questions to business leaders across the continent.
Pete Muraya, CEO, Suraya Property Group (Kenya)
1. What was your first job?
I was hired as a clerk after high school. I earned US$10 a month. My job was to help people register for national identity cards (IDs). That was 1979 and it was the first time people were being issued with ID cards in Kenya. I actually enjoyed it because we used to move around a lot and I met new people every day.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
Sue, [my wife]. She always had a little more faith than I did. She always kept me going, even at my worst moments.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I sleep like a doll. If you find me awake at night, it’s not the job that is worrying me, it’s an idea that has come into my head. I have to get up and just draw it or put it on paper.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Sue and I are very positive about everything. We have no patience for negative people. With these people, everything that you get involved with, they look at it from a negative point of view. You must believe that good things will happen.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
The freedom to do whatever you want. Coming from the Nyayo era (former President Daniel Moi’s 1978-2002 regime), this is a fantastic time… you can do what you want and do not have to look over your shoulder, as long as you are not stealing. You can do whatever business you want. Regardless of how big, it’s yours.
6. And the worst?
I think the [new] constitution overdid it. I feel the constitution [passed in 2010] was designed by activists for activists. In my opinion it is a disaster. We borrowed things like… the idea of governors from the US and Nigeria, and it is a disaster in Nigeria. The 47 counties are not sustainable. We should have had maybe 10 provinces. We have made tribalism even worse.
7. Your future career plans?
I love what I do and will keep doing it… Despite the fact that I have ten architects, I still draw a lot (Muraya is a trained architect). I really don’t see a slowdown [for me].
8. How do you relax?
I watch movies – action-packed like James Bond movies and Mission Impossible. I like watching action movies because it is irrelevant what the guy says, it is irrelevant what you missed, you know the nerd is going to kill everybody and win the war.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
I think you need to believe in your ideas and take the first step.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
In Africa the biggest challenge has always been leadership. It’s about the guy at the top. [If] you elect the wrong president… it doesn’t matter how good your country is, it doesn’t matter what you have, you will not go anywhere. It is about leadership… the ability to make decisions even when they are painful. The guy at the top either sinks your country or helps build it.
Pete Muraya is the CEO of Suraya Property Group. The trained architect ventured into property development in 2003 and has built a successful real estate firm in Kenya.