Anta Babacar Ngom’s most unforgettable moment was not the day when she got her dream job. It was the day she didn’t.
Anta Babacar had just returned to Senegal from Paris, where she was studying at prestigious universities and working for a multinational company. At the time, she thought that her experience abroad would help build Sedima, her family’s poultry business back home. But a meeting with Sedima’s general director – her father – ended unexpectedly. Instead of being assigned a desk, she was sent to a farm to learn the basics of raising chickens.
“I was really convinced I was getting an office job,” says Anta Babacar. “I had an MBA, a master’s degree, I knew the business, was born with the chickens. What else he could ask for?”
Six years later, at 33, she is the chief executive officer of Senegal’s largest poultry company – and she understands her father’s reasoning. His decision offered her the chance to gain knowledge of the business from the ground up. That experience influenced her leadership style, building decision-making skills that have demonstrated to others that she deserves their respect as top executive. Under her management, several important projects have come to fruition.
Anta Babacar’s leadership has positioned Sedima to expand operations and enter new markets, this time beyond Senegal’s borders.
Anta Babacar is part of a new generation of African business leaders reshaping the dynamics of the continent’s private sector. Sedima, which operates the largest chicken-processing plant in West Africa, employs 780 people directly – and an additional 40,000 people across its supply chain. It is now expanding into some of the world’s toughest markets – countries affected by conflict or political instability. It is also venturing into the fast-food chicken business.
“Today I know this company isn’t just a family company anymore,” she says. “It must go beyond the country, it has to become a multinational. That’s why last year we invested in Mali. We now have the hatchery there. We’re now also starting to invest in two countries in Central Africa.”
Anta Babacar attributes her entrepreneurial success in part to the trial-by-fire education she received upon her return from Paris. She recalls her father’s words to her: “Now you start from the bottom. Nobody will really care about how well you did in school unless you’re better than them at their jobs. Then they’ll know you’re here not just because you’re my daughter.”
He dispatched her to Sedima’s chicken-feed factory, where she was often the only woman on the floor. “One challenge I remember was the chicken house,” she says. “For sanitary reasons, you have to stay locked up in the house for 21 days after you get the breeders. Before your birds arrive, you prepare your room, you set the temperature, you install the equipment. When (the chickens) come… you literally you live with them in that house.”
Today, she says, a growing number of African women are investing in the agribusiness sector. Thirty percent of Sedima’s clients are female and the number’s growing fast. “It doesn’t seem to be a job just for men anymore because they’ve seen women invest and succeed. We now see women growing chickens in their houses, and a lot of them who have gone abroad choose to come back and invest here.”
This article was originally published by the IFC.