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“Leadership is no walk in the park,” says Andrew Mutuma, country manager for DHL Express in Kenya. “You have to be ready and willing to make tough decisions.”
Although leadership positions are coveted by many, he notes it comes with various challenges and requires strong discipline. There is the toll of working long hours, managing big teams and diverse cultures, and the pressure to meet targets. “Luckily I love a challenge and really enjoy my work. The rewards definitely far out-weigh the challenges.”
Mutuma is at the office by 5:30am every day, sometimes earlier. He jokes about having converted his office into living quarters – with a heater, music system and coffee maker!
Hard work, he stresses, is essential for success.
But Mutuma’s work involves more than being in the office. A significant part of his day comprises visiting customers, going out with drivers and spending time at the company’s airport handling facility. He likes to understand all aspects of the business and to engage with all stakeholders.
Prior to his current role, he held senior positions in a variety of other industries, including telecommunications and energy.
Climbing the corporate ladder
It has been a long journey up the corporate ladder for the marketing enthusiast, who started his first paying job, aged 18, as a shop assistant in Nairobi.
As a fresh graduate in commerce, Mutuma’s father advised him to pursue accounting. He subsequently enrolled at a business school and worked at bank for a year. But Mutuma “loathed” accounting.
Seeking a way out of the banking industry, he sent applications to global oil company ExxonMobil and got rejected three times. When he applied a fourth time, he was eventually hired.
“I learnt two things from this — first you need to choose carefully what you want to do, and second you have to be extremely determined.”
Lessons from an extensive career
It is at ExxonMobil, where he worked for about nine years in the retail side of the company, that Mutuma cut his teeth in business and management. His first posting was in Côte d’Ivoire.
“One of the things they used to say at ExxonMobil is ‘retail is detail’. The second thing they taught us was how to think big… and that’s helped me a lot – even as I moved to other organisations.
“I was also taught how to work without being supervised. You knew your job and what you needed to do.”
At DHL, one important aspect for Mutuma and his team is meeting customer expectations – ensuring parcels are delivered on time and in good condition. He describes customer service in the express logistics industry as a calling, adding that one has to be proactive at all times.
“Everything we handle is important. So with any delays you’ll face lots of questions. The most important thing in that case is helping the customer understand why there’s a delay – and what we are doing about it.
“Human beings are generally very forgiving. They understand there’ll be challenges and that mistakes will be made. What is important is how you handle the mistake. I say to our people that it’s not good enough to tell a customer there is problem, more importantly, you need to tell them what you’re doing to solve the problem. People want to hear solutions.”
Take challenges head-on with a positive attitude
A vital lesson he has learnt in his career is to have a positive attitude, no matter the difficulties at hand.
“Many people encounter a small challenge and they give up. I have been retrenched from jobs three times, but those challenges have helped mould me into the person that I am today. It is important to take a long-term view – that even though things may be difficult for a certain point in time, there is always an opportunity for things to get better.”
Being a risk-taker has also paid off for him. He advises young people not to shy away from taking up leadership positions or advancing their careers. Being young, he says, should not be viewed as a shortcoming.
“Employers are looking for energy, so keep at it and take a long-haul approach to life. When someone says you are not able to do a certain thing, just ask them to give you an opportunity.”