Yacoub Sidya is the CEO of MSS Security, a private security company operating in Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
One of the toughest situations was in 2011 in Mauritania when I found myself facing unfair competition from a new, locally formed company that was backed by the previous administration. They spread rumours to hurt our reputation, pressured some companies to illegally cancel our contracts and poached some of our qualified employees.
They had no regard or respect for the law. My core employees stayed focused and kept doing what we do best: serve our customers well and improve the lives of our people and communities. We lost about 85% of our business and any company that loses that much is doomed to go under.
However, MSS Mauritania stayed in the fight and became even more resilient. While it was devastating at the time, now, looking back, it actually elevated our company and solidified our position as the only serious and professional security provider in the country.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of MSS Mauritania. We started in 2005 in a very tough economy, and a very tough industry (professional security). No one believed in our ability to stay in the business for more than a year. Not only did MSS become the largest private employer of the country at the time, but one of the most respected companies on the continent.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
My greatest weakness, and you will probably laugh, is that I am a bad manager. Instead, I’m a leader. There is a difference between a manager and a leader. I’ll set the vision then move on to the next leadership moment, after I’ve put the right person in place to manage the day to day.
That way, I can concentrate on the next game plan for the company. Everyone is unique in their skillsets. I’ve been graced with a natural gift: I can easily see what person is right for each job. Sometimes, it’s not obvious for others, but it comes easy to me, which I think that’s why I’m able to have such a stable team.
Everyone is in a role that’s right for them, nothing is forced. It’s more of mentorship than leadership – I help people make something of themselves, sharpen their own inherent talent. That’s what gives me the ability to lead my team well.
4. What conventional business wisdom do you disagree with?
One piece of advice that I don’t agree with is: when you have a good situation, never change it. It pains me to watch people be so rigid and always needing something to fall back on. I flip the script on that. Don’t be afraid to try.
I think that even when you fall, you fall forward. Everything is a learning opportunity. Obviously, you have to calculate your risks first.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
One thing I wish I had known better was the value of time. As they say “time is money”. I used to say that, but I did not really understand the meaning, nor the value until I started my own business.