Meet the Boss: Salim Anjarwalla, MD, African Cotton Industries

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.

Salim Anjarwalla

Salim Anjarwalla

Salim Anjarwalla, managing director, African Cotton Industries (Kenya)

1. What was your first job?

In my younger days I was a scout and we would clean windows for Ksh. 10. I was about ten at the time. The money would go to the Scouts Association. Later in life I qualified as an accountant and worked for an international organisation in the UK.

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

I have never thought of that. I never planned to come back into a family-run business but circumstances led to this. I am quite a content person. I can’t think of anybody. Yes I was very career minded and I enjoy engineering work but was there some event or somebody who was doing the same who really inspired me to be someone like that? Honest opinion, no.

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

New opportunities; I feel excited if there is a new opportunity. I am usually quite impatient so I like to make things move fast. I go full out, work long hours and try to get that implemented. I like to get it done as quickly as possible.

4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?

I am very conservative. I am not necessarily a high risk taker. If there is some opportunity I will look at it at least five or six times and mull over it. I will not just jump. I think as part of that conservative approach I don’t believe in miracles. If somebody says this thing is available at a [too low] price I will be suspicious. In my own way I think I am also quite innovative, be it in making small changes in the manufacturing process or distribution or in terms of how to cut costs.

5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?

The thing I like most about the country is the people. Kenyans are very friendly, very patient despite whatever happens in the country and they are very accepting. From a business perspective… when you want to know what they feel about your product they will very openly give you feedback straightforward.

6. And the worst?

It has got to be the corruption and poor governance.

7. Your future career plans?

At my age I still have a long way to go, hopefully. I have got three sons who studied abroad and they are all coming back to join the company. I will share my experience and knowledge in helping them develop the business further. As I told you initially I am quite a content person. I am not somebody who wants to work 24 hours, seven days a week. I will still participate in the business, but in partnership with the young blood. I am very excited about that.

8. How do you relax?

I play some sports. I go to the gym. I also enjoy watching certain programmes and taking long walks.

9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?

We have challenges [in Africa] but I think there are amazing opportunities coming up. I think the youth should be conscious of their strengths and weakness and concentrate on improving themselves. You should also be customer focused in whatever business you do.

One most important thing we often forget is knowledge. Get knowledge, it is much more easily available today through the internet. Most people get excited about going into business because they have one skill set, which they feel can make the whole business grow. But you need to understand many skill sets, so slow down a little bit, and get more knowledge and understanding about whatever business and industry you are going into.

10. How can Africa realise its full potential?

It all comes down to the top leadership. We need good leadership because everybody else is so busy trying to make ends meet.

Salim Anjarwalla is the managing director of African Cotton Industries, a Kenyan-based manufacturer of products such as ear buds, sanitary towels, toilet paper and cotton wool.