‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Simbarashe Mhuriro, executive director, Oursun Energy Zimbabwe
1. What was your first job?
I temped a lot after high school from being a DJ, to working as a primary school teacher. But my first full-time job was in the central reservations department at Meikles Hotel, Harare, back in 2003.
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Growing the business and ensuring Oursun creates value for its partners [including] shareholders, team members, strategic partners and the communities we operate in.
There is also one particular individual – Jo Hanns Dieter Trutschler, The Meeco Group’s principal – who literally eats, sleeps, lives and breathes energy and Meeco. This has rubbed off on me over the years we’ve known each other, and I love it.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
There have been a number of people. My two partners, Honour Mkushi and Andrew Connolly, have given me tremendous understanding of the principles of business. Having vastly greater experience than me, they have also kept me grounded and focused. More recently I have found Dr Strive Masiyiwa of Econet Wireless – and his story and what he has done with Econet – has been a phenomenal inspiration to me.
4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Put people first and remember everyone has something to bring to the table. That was from Richard Weilers, COO at Tsogo Sun hotels.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Success is subjective. Around us people say we are doing well, but for me success will be when we switch on and connect our first grid-connected solar PV plant four months from now. Then, and only then, will I be able to say I’ve achieved some, even a little bit of success. After that it will be delivering on our 230MW commitment over five years – so I’m still pretty far from proclaiming success.
But what I have achieved so far… is due to my being with good people. I have developed good relationships with our partners, clients and the team. I am also the youngest in the team. Between myself and Andrew (the next youngest partner) there is a difference of 18 years. This means I have a large pool of experience from seasoned executives and entrepreneurs to watch and learn from.
Lastly persistence, persistence, persistence. Zimbabwe, though full of massive potential, is not the easiest environment to operate in, and I have learnt to never quit; never give up.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
On the job, without a doubt. The school of hard knocks is always the best teacher and there is a lot of lessons you’ll learn whilst in trenches rather than behind a desk.
7. How do you relax?
I hardly relax, but when I do it’s usually jogging and recently fishing.
8. By what time do you like to be at your desk?
I am usually at my laptop by 5:30am. My office is mainly virtual and revolves around which particular project we are working on, and its location. But usually I am at the desk by 9am.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
I always like to ask where candidates see themselves in five years from now. I believe it gives a great insight into their goals, ambitions and drive, which in turn would translate to value for the company. And as a company as well, it helps us find ways to ensure we aid and, at best, will be an integral part of the candidate’s development plan or vision.
10. Your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Their success should be measured on the following: revenues and profit; creating jobs for fellow citizens; creating wealth and new entrepreneurs for the communities we operate in; and being environmentally conscious and productive through sustainable business practices.
Be passionate about your idea and pursue it relentlessly. It is not going to be easy, so be resilient. Stay on course, and above all never give up.
Simbarashe Mhuriro (30) is a co-founder and executive director of Oursun Energy Zimbabwe, a joint venture with Swiss-German renewable energy company, The Meeco Group. Oursun Energy is developing grid-connected solar plants in Zimbabwe.
The Meeco Group has a presence in 42 countries and over 84 years of experience in the energy sector. It has delivered renewable energy solar solutions across four continents with over €1.2bn (about US$1.4bn) worth of completed projects since 2007.
Mhuriro previously worked in the hospitality sector in Dubai.