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.
1. What was your first job?
My first serious job was with a company that caught wild animals to be transported to zoos. This was before the days of the wildlife hunting ban in the 1970s. Kenya was a wildlife hunting destination amongst other countries and it also allowed the capture and export of wildlife. I did that for a year and a half and then the ban came in, so suddenly I was out of a job.
I am not saying whether it was good or bad, but I know recently they have been bringing back near extinct animals to Kenya from the zoos to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild. So, there are some positives out of that.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I would have to say the founder of Boskovic Air Charters, Captain Zivota Boskovic, because he led by example and started slowly and gradually built the company.
I have another mentor but not in aviation, Dr Imre Loefler. He wrote a lot of controversial articles in [local newspapers]. He didn’t hesitate to tell the politicians when they were saying or doing wrong things. I certainly enjoyed his writing and in his little way he wrote articles and saved the Ngong Forest from being grabbed by politicians. He made a fuss by writing and taking them to court and ended up saving a part of Kenya’s heritage.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I worry about our pilots in remote areas. In South Sudan they operate under very harsh conditions in a very remote, tough area where there are security issues from time to time. I worry that they might get caught up in an incident or a shooting when they are 800 miles from Nairobi.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I don’t blow my own trumpet. You probably have to ask someone else. Being steady and focused rather than seeing the grass is greener over there and jumping on something that may or may not be of quality. Essentially, I like what I do and wake up looking forward to the day despite of the challenges we may be facing.
5. What are the best things about your country, Kenya?
I like the Kenyan coast. I like fishing. I like the wildlife arena; I could talk about it for hours. I have been to some superb parts of Kenya. We are very, very spoiled. We have coastlines, mountains, wildlife, the Rift Valley. We are spoilt in Kenya with the diversity that we have.
6. And the worst?
Apart from matatus (public transport vehicles), I suppose the biggest worry is security. Not that I have ever had any issues, but I do worry about my wife and kids; that they might get caught up in something like a carjacking. I am sure you have similar worries sometimes.
7. Your future career plans?
I will be here until I retire. I will try to gradually and safely grow this business so that it is still running in the next 50 years. I will be very pleased if in 100 years this company is still operating.
8. How do you relax?
I read a lot; Africana books. I don’t read novels. I like non-fiction.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
They need the basic qualifications to get ahead. A degree definitely is a plus, but if you are really focused on, for example, business administration, focus on that and don’t get too broad. You need to really specialise.
I would also say that there is room for people to get specifically trained in engineering. I think that there is definitely potential for people to focus on the environment in Africa because that is a hot issue. With the arrival of these big oil drilling companies I think people should be looking at gaining experiences that will possibly get them into avenues in the oil exploration, drilling and the environmental sector. I think there is going to be a lot of openings in that area over the next 10 years or so.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
I think the key to Africa’s expansion in the business market and the GDP lies in fundamental issues like addressing security concerns. They may be exaggerated but there are kidnappings, carjackings and petty theft. Africa has huge man-power resources; we have a lot of people out there so we need to use them. We are a bit like Asia and China in that they have a huge resource of labour. We have to manage that carefully. With the discovery of oil and other resources in Africa, there is also need to focus on protecting the environment. Infrastructure is also very important; we can’t grow without it.
TAD Watts is a pilot and managing director of Boskovic Air Charters, one of East Africa’s largest air taxi service providers. Founded in 1963 by Yugoslavia-born pilot Zivota Boskovic with a single aircraft, the Kenyan-based air charter company has since expanded to a fleet of 16 aircraft. Boskovic Air specialises in air taxi services for tourists but also handles freight, photographic flights and aerial surveys, and provides aid, emergency and relief flying services. Watts has been flying for over 40 years.