‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Saleh Nasreddin, founder, NAS Foods, Ethiopia
1. What was your first job?
I was a labourer in the family factory [in Nigeria] carrying raw materials from the store to feed into the machines.
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Usually it is the plans we have. Before implementation I think a lot about our plans because if you go wrong there will be consequences. So whatever I have in my mind keeps me concerned until it is implemented.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My elder brother. He has vision and the ability to [transform] stone into gold. If he sees an opportunity he won’t leave it and he gives everybody hell until it’s accomplished. At the end of the day he usually proves to be right because his projects tend to be very successful.
4. The best professional advice you’ve ever received?
There was someone from Unilever who was consulting me on structural management in Nigeria when I was young. He had a selection of people and they were very expensive. So I expressed my concern about this. He told me: “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. If you want good people, you pay well and the job will be done well.” And it is true. The selection of people is very important.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I think tenacity. I really don’t accept the simpler answer of it’s ‘gonna be done’. I explain to my colleagues how it can be done, and why it must be done. And I follow things up until it has been done.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
You need both. As you study you learn the theories and get new ideas. When you are on the job you’ll get to practise them.
7. How do you relax?
I play snooker.
8. What time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
I don’t have a specific time. Sometimes I don’t need to be at my desk.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
I ask the applicants about their families. One’s personal life tells you a lot about the person. When you talk to people they can be deceitful. Their papers can look very good. They will tell you about what they have accomplished but rarely about the support they’ve received to achieve those milestones.
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Be as hard-working as you can. Draw a map of different industries, close your eyes, put your finger on one, and go for it. In Africa, everything is good business. From agriculture, to the auto industry, to manufacturing, the opportunities are many. You just have to plan well, work hard and do it right. I think the next 100 years is ours if we do it well.
NAS Foods is a leading biscuit manufacturer in Ethiopia.