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?
I was a budget officer doing SAP implementation for the Government of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia in 1996. I was earning A$800 (US$750) a month.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I must say my father. My father’s generation is the kind that kept the same job for a very long time, but my dad did not. He was a stock’s accountant… and he worked for different companies in his career. He was also a procurement professional. My dad taught me integrity. I have never seen somebody more honest and clear on his intentions [than him]. He is very humble. His parents were peasants… they were Mau Mau [freedom fighters]. My role model is my father. I love to spend time with him.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Managing risks [especially] supply chain risks. Right now we are importing all our fuel needs. What if something happens at the Kipevu Oil Jetty [at Kilindini Harbour on the Kenyan coast] and we can’t get fuel for our 124 stations because somebody either hit the jetty or there was a fire. Those things keep me awake [every night]. I [also worry about] whether [or not] my people are meaningfully engaged.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I am lucky and I give thanks to God. This is one thing I love about Kenya; education is a real game changer. I come from the most normal working class Kenyan family. I grew up like any other person. I went through public school but [I have been successful because of] diligence, being persistent, not giving up, developing a thick skin and a light touch, praying hard and having plenty of discipline and self control .
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
I think it is the hospitality of the people, the beauty, the belief in God and the ‘make happen, never say die’ way of life.
6. And the worst?
Corruption and gossip. Oh, Kenyans are gossipers.
7. Your future career plans?
Right now I am in a really good place. I see myself in Vivo Energy for the next decade. I would like to see the upside of the energy business.
8. How do you relax?
I love walking in the woods and running. I used to play golf but not anymore. I am really a hopeless golfer. I run a minimum of three times a week.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
Two things: focus and move with speed. I think they are lacking focus. They have too many priorities. They also move too slowly; they procrastinate a lot. The only way you discover the world is by living the show. You have to set sail for you to go discover new lands.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
By tapping into its human capital and by reducing red tape and corruption. There is too much red tape and corruption in Africa.
Polycarp Igathe is the managing director of Vivo Energy Kenya, the distributor and marketer of Shell-branded fuels and lubricants. Igathe is the current chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and a director at the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, the apex body for the private sector in Kenya. Before joining Vivo Energy, Igathe was the regional managing director for East Africa at fast-moving consumer goods manufacturer Haco Tiger Brands.