‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same ten questions to business leaders across the continent.
Tony Sugden, CEO, Warrior Security
1. What was your first job?
My first unofficial job was milking cows on a farm in the UK. Breaking the ice in order that they could drink water in the middle of a freezing winter was an interesting experience for a Kenyan boy that had not seen or felt snow before reaching adulthood. But my first official job was three weeks after leaving school when I started my career in the British Army. I was aged 18 and was soon leading soldiers much older and more experienced than me; thankfully there was little real baptism of fire in those days but I had to learn fast.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I have been fortunate enough to have followed a career path through a number of world class organisations and companies. The advantage being that I have worked for some exceptional senior managers and directors. Many of whom took the time to nurture the raw energy and ambition that I possessed, gave me sufficient space to make mistakes and to learn from them, and helped me to mould these experiences into a practical and people focused business approach.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I am most likely kept awake by cashflow worries: cashflow is king and I will admit there have been times when I have seriously wondered how to fund the growth.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I still feel that there is a long way to go before I can earn that accolade, but that said, I seem able to engender trust, which I attribute to my background and training. I make frequent mistakes but seldom make the same one twice and in doing so I always look for the opportunity to improve upon my own performance and that of the company. Above all, I enjoy the company of people which allows me to persuade and cajole, while learning from them and breathing oxygen into those who want to succeed.
5. What are the best things about your country?
I am a Kenyan, so it is perhaps the confidence of my people that I most admire. Kenyans can compete on the world stage and do not fear hard work. In my countries of operation, I covet the potential of Tanzania; the masculinity and integrity of the South Sudanese; the love of life of the Congolese; and the education of the Zambians.
6. And the worst?
All of my areas of operation are fraught with political risk and a changeable, always unhelpful, bureaucracy – both of which make for a very difficult business environment. Added to that is poor infrastructure, which adds considerably to the cost of doing business.
7. Your future career plans?
I hope to hang on as chief executive for as long as I can continue to contribute meaningfully after which I would be very interested in a board seat both in and outside Warrior.
8. How do you relax?
I am blessed with a wonderful wife and two outstanding children, who have given me grandchildren, which in turn curtails my opportunities for relaxation in the nicest possible way. Outside of family I enjoy the sport of polo and am trying my hand at golf.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
As a first step I would recommend they try and get some exposure outside of Africa so that they can see what to aspire to. From there I would recommend that they try and innovate rather than following the herd.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
By thinking and acting long term. Africa is a continent of extraordinary potential and by and large it has human capital that has not even started to reach flying speed; yet it is dragged back by a culture of shortcuts to an institutional level and as a result suffers from poor adherence to law and order. The cost of living is far too high and the level of productivity too low and these items need to be reversed, which can only come about by better utilisation of resources, improved infrastructure and vastly improved access to decent (not free) education, affordable housing and cheap (not free) medical care.
Tony Sugden is the co-founder and chief executive of Warrior Security, a security firm that provides security management to corporate, government and humanitarian organisations in Africa.