Meet the Boss: Ram Ottapathu, CEO, Choppies Group

‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.

"Have a purpose and dream in your life and pursue that dream relentlessly," says Ramachandran (Ram) Ottapathu.

“Have a purpose and dream in your life and pursue that dream relentlessly,” says Ramachandran (Ram) Ottapathu.

Ramachandran Ottapathu, CEO, Choppies Group (Botswana)

1. What was your first job?

My first job earning money was doing some part time accounting work when I was doing my articles in India.

2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

We operate in three different countries, one of them being South Africa with the most volatile economy… So there are many macro-economic factors that affect our life in the business.

3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?

When I did my articles at an accounting firm my principal, called Mr Menon, was one of the people to [instill] discipline, hard work and ethics in me because he was a really ethical man. So business ethics, hard work and dedication – all these things I learnt from him. It was the most valuable learning experience I had in my professional life.

4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

After my graduation I was thinking of doing part-time courses and one of my friends told me that I must drop these things and start doing my articles and become a qualified chartered accountant. He said working on the job is the only way to get up in my career. And that was the best advice I have received in my life.

5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?

By having the passion to dedicate and commit myself to the job.

6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?

On the job, without a doubt.

7. How do you relax?

I read a lot of books, novels, magazines and I enjoy visiting our stores. We have got over 100 stores and whenever I travel I try to visit our supermarkets – that is what I really take pleasure in.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

I want to be at my desk at least by 7am. And I work a minimum of 12 hours.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

“Who do you want to be in this organisation?” That is the question I most want an answer to from any potential employee.

10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?

Have a purpose and dream in your life and pursue that dream relentlessly. Don’t think that you are going to get their quickly, but you will get there if you really pursue it with your whole heart.

Ramachandran (Ram) Ottapathu is the CEO of the Choppies Group, a multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer, with over 100 stores in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Headquartered in Gaborone, the company is listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange and is the country’s largest retailer. This year Choppies won the Transformational Business Award at the 2014 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship.

Ottapathu is a chartered accountant, who graduated from the University of Calicut in India. He joined the Choppies Group in 1992.