‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Robin Miller, managing director, Real Estate Investments Zambia (REIZ)
1. What was your first job?
My first formal job was as a trainee accountant with Coopers & Lybrand in London, and I was 19 years old. But as a child I used to work every holiday on the farm in Zambia.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
When I left Coopers & Lybrand I joined the Virgin Group, which was an incredibly interesting period where we ran a merchandising company. Watching Richard Branson at play was always very interesting in terms of his incredible ability to market a brand so well. Not that I had much personal involvement with him but it was an interesting process [to experience] and was very valuable to me as I moved on in my career.
However, truth be told, my father has been dead for 15 years but he has certainly been a great influence in terms of my business ethics and political ethics. One of the things I have always been very conscious of is my role as a Zambian in being part of the development of the country, and that is something that my father certainly played a big role in teaching me.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
The biggest challenge for property development generally is the ability to raise capital, sometimes in an environment where it is not easy to do that. So that’s the most difficult part of my role.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Consistence and persistence. When operating in economies like Zambia’s, you have to always keep your mind open to the long term. There are invariably short term shocks, and you have to be consistent and persistent in looking to the long term and trying to reach whatever that goal might be.
5. What are the best things about your country, Zambia?
Zambia’s people are the nicest people in Africa, and actually some of the nicest people in the world. Coupled to that is we have one of the best climates in the world. We also have wonderful environmental and natural resources – Victoria Falls, some of the best game parks in the world, etc. I spent 10-15 years out of Zambia principally to gain international experience, but I don’t think that there was ever doubt in my mind that I would be returning to Zambia to contribute because that is very much how I see my role.
6. And the worst?
I mentioned short term shocks. Sometimes we as a country do not analyse the effect of certain decisions and therefore experience damaging short term shocks… We should spend more time analysing and being aware of both the intended and the unintended consequences of policy decisions.
7. Your future career plans?
I’m getting on I suppose but I will continue contributing to the [country’s development], not only in the property and real estate sector, but in tourism and agriculture and all those spheres to principally grow the economy to allow the average Zambian the capacity to reach their potential… You know, with small-scale farmers or peasant farmers, those guys work harder than anybody in the world and they are only subsistence farmers. They need to be allowed to become more than subsistence. They must be able to send their children to better schools, to have better education, to have better healthcare – and all of that is part of the development of an emerging economy.
8. How do you relax?
I’m a fisherman, and we have some of the best fishing rivers in the world. So I love fishing and I love wildlife but I spend not nearly enough time enjoying either of those pursuits.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young business people and entrepreneurs?
Study as hard as you can to get the best possible qualifications, but remember that qualifications are nothing unless you first of all get experience. So gain experience from whomever you can get it from and then apply it persistently. Everyone thinks they can get a degree and then they will know everything… but its through experience that you really learn.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
One of the great drawbacks for Africa as a continent is its continued political battles and invariably these end up in wars. There is a whole historical basis for why this happens – none of Africa’s countries were ever actually countries at all. The colonisers sat [in Europe] and they drew boundaries and the next thing Zambia is here and the Congo is there, and we have a straight line dividing people who actually belonged to one tribe. But we have to work towards solving our differences without conflict. Furthermore, once a person is put in power they must not abuse their position because that’s one of the biggest problems Africa faces.
Zambian Robin Miller is the managing director of Real Estate Investments Zambia (REIZ), formally known as Farmers House until 2012. REIZ is a leading property development company in Zambia with a portfolio comprising predominately of commercial developments in the country’s capital, Lusaka. In 1996, REIZ became the second company to list on Zambia’s emerging Lusaka Stock Exchange (LuSE), and remains its only listed property development company.