Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Dreamer

Continued from the previous post...

Joel 2:28 (NIV) “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

From where I come from there is a proverb which when loosely translated says “An old man seated on a three legged stool see farther than a young man atop a tree” In business, you must have that element of the young man who sees visions on one part and the element of the old man who dreams dreams and who see far on the other part.

Let us talk about the dreamer.

I see myself owning a conglomerate of welding workshops that spreads across all the major towns of Kenya and beyond. Think Southern Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa. I see myself as the president of the group of companies running the workshops. Under me is a think tank of sharp minds who deal with the strategy of the business, a set of crème de la crème top notch managers reporting to me. And that private chartered plane that enables me to hop from one city to the other, one country to the other. And you know I love playing golf. Windsor golf and Country Club will just be my local, so you will once in a while find me in the cascades at Soma Bay in Egypt, Heritage Gold Club in Mauritius, Lemuria Golf Courses in Seychelles and once in a blue moon the Pine Valley Golf Club at New Jersey. And the top notch managers need not see me to report to me, with technology I can just meet them via teleconference and also get those high level reports through any of the myriad of gadgets at my disposal.

Otieno, it is time to wake up, you have dreamt enough. The reality is that Otieno does not even have a passport, the farthest he went beyond Kenyan border is the contentious island Migingo. But dreaming he ought to have dreamt. The voice of the dreamer in every entrepreneur is as wild as it gets. It is infinite! Someone said that the dreamer imagines what might be possible, is an opportunist, believes in the dream and finds creative outlets. And a healthy dreamer knows ways to make that dream come true. Dreamers talk about their dreams in a powerful way, with clarity and intention. Serious dreamers build Dream Teams as they get others excited about their vision. And most importantly, dreamers take action to make their dreams a reality.

Let us not talk about Martin Luther King, for you know he dreamt and he articulated his dream with a lot of clarity. 'I have a dream……'

Then a small voice is heard from a far off saying “I don't think that's a good idea. ….bla bla bla". Now, if you crank up the volume of that small voice from a far……it gets clearer and you realize the voice is boldly saying "Are you out of your mind?"

Shakespeare once said:, "Our doubts are traitors."

Carlos Casteneda said, "In order to experience the magic of life, you must banish the doubt."

Kahlil Gibran said, "Doubt is a feeling too lonely to know that Faith is its twin brother."

Mwalimu says: “Ïf you jumble together the small voices of doubt and project them into your dream, the dream will be dead before you tell the story.”

What is your dream? Next post we shall talk about the important companion of the dreamer, the thinker.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

That glorified donkey is important

Isaiah 1:3 (NIV) 'The ox knows its master, the donkey it owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.'

Otieno, the master welder is the technician who turned into a business owner overnight. He was all of a sudden a big man wearing big shoes. The technician (donkey), manager (glorified donkey) and business owner (master) all rolled into one.
Mistake No. 2: He entered into the business world with the technician’s perspective; the donkey mentality.

He was escaping from a master but forgot that he was to be his own master. He had to take the responsibilities of not only the technician but the manager and the business owner. We all know the work of the technician. Just wake up, receive instructions from the manager who in most cases barks them out and do the work, in this case make windows and doors. This is what Otieno used to do for a living before he got ideas of becoming a master. How many of us have come across those managers who talk with that scary tone and so loudly you’d think they are talking to someone who is 50m away and that time you are just next to them.

Let us analyse the manager. His typical day in the welding workshop is to distribute different tasks to the technicians and probably supervise them, to call suppliers of materials and ensure they have delivered, ensure their payments are done in good time, receive new orders from clients and probably negotiate with them etc. Otieno was expected to do all this as well as the dirty work. He was quick to realize that he needed some assistance. He therefore employed two welders. Orders were coming in droves and by the time I went to his workshop to negotiate the cost for my order, the workshop was a beehive of activities. One day when I had gone to see the progress of my order, I found a 22 wheeler being loaded with windows and doors. When I asked Otieno he told me they were going to Southern Sudan, some contractor had ordered them. That is the time I realized that Otieno was sitting on a gold mine…the gold mine ought to have exploded right before his very eyes.

However after some time, problems started creeping in: delayed deliveries, substandard work (the other welders would hardly match Otieno’s quality),un-satisfied and angry clients, unpaid suppliers, unhappy employees, name it. You can imagine, the fellow could sell some of the finished products to passers-by and the customers who had placed orders would find their stuff is not there. The workshop mutated from a beehive of activities to a sea of confusion, sometimes playing hide and seek with clients. I wveas a victim of the confusion and you can imagine the many references I gave but with a caution. I could tell anyone who saw the nice gate that the fellow is good but be ready to go through hell before you get what you want. This is how you lose customers.

The master welder was clearly overwhelmed. He was ill prepared for the expansion of the business. Did he even have a clue about expansion? Despite sometimes working for long hours, he never really staffed his business appropriately. Sometimes in an attempt to maintain quality, he would do almost all the work by himself. You can imagine a 1 horse power engine producing the output of 10 horse power engine. If you didn’t know in the 18th Century, some Scottish fellow was comparing the output of steam engines and the power of horse, hence horse power we use today.

For Otieno the manager in him was totally asleep, the strategic person in him was non-existent. Otieno and his employees were all donkeys without a master, hence the confusion. What would the manager in him have done differently?

1. He would have seen the need to have enough welders to satisfy the many orders that were streaming in.
2. He would have taken time to train the welders to ensure they are attaining similar quality to what he used to produce. After all, most of his clients came to him because of the quality.
3. He would have ensured that the raw materials are received in good time and are of right quality.
4. He’d ensure suppliers are paid in good time and even negotiate credit periods.
5. He’d ensure that customers are given truthful information in regards to delivery timelines. How about talking nicely to them and giving them updates. If he does not possess the sweet voice (ya kutoa nyoka pangoni), then a cute customer service lady is all he needed.
6. etc

Maybe he needed a manager to take care of all these issues as he concentrated on the strategic aspects of his business.

He failed big time in one very important aspect of business: Business owners are meant to create systems that survive them. It is more of ensuring others do the work for you and satisfactorily so. It means that you may start the business and do the donkey work but you must outgrow that and let someone do it for you as you move on. In short the business must move from infancy to teenage hood and to maturity.

In the next post we shall talk about the creative element in business; the dreamer. Of course am yet to tell you whether Otieno’s business survived.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Donkey in you

Continued from the previous post...

Otieno, the master welder set out to run a business. And many of us do that. But how many of us succeed in our ventures; barely 10% within the first 5 years and 5% after five years. The amazing welder was once employed in a welding workshop. He started entertaining the feeling that his employer was really dependent on him, and to an extent he was. How many of us who are technical entertain such thoughts.

I was once employed in a small software company. I did all the donkey work (I will allow you to call me a donkey). I once felt like the boss was doing nothing. I really felt that the company was making money (lots of it) from my personal skills and I never felt adequately rewarded. I had a manager who never understood anything about software. He once gave me some work which he assumed was a one day’s job but in the real sense was a one week’s job. On day two after giving me the work, he reprimanded me and I told him off and walked away. I had the guts to tell him I will never work for him again. Interestingly, I just walked away and without any idea of what I will be doing with myself. Strangely, after 3 days, the fellow called me for a discussion over a cup of coffee and he convinced me to go back to work. I went back and since that time the guy at least could listen to me, after all hata punda anahitaji heshima. I am sure you have seen those sign board that advise we respect donkeys along Naivasha road somewhere around Lari and Kijabe. You need to take good care of the donkey and in return, it will give you good service. On the contrary, if you don’t do that, you can receive the dangerous kick. Where I come from, they say that a donkey will never sleep unless it has a full stomach.

Back to Otieno the master welder. While employed he entertained the kind of thoughts that he was indispensable and his employer could not do without him; after all, all the windows and doors had to be made by him. His boss was just a clueless noisemaker. He assumed that he could definitely succeed in his own business; after all his works were just amazing and he could even run away with some of the clients from his former employer. Mistake No 1: Assuming that the business would just succeed simply because the technical man is around. For Otieno’s case, the technical fellow (donkey) doubled up as the business owner.

You are very good at what you do at the technical level, but realize that this is just but one element that will be needed for the business to succeed. Being a master baker does not in any way guarantee that the raw materials for the cakes will be sourced in good time. Neither does it guarantee that your cakes will sell. Neither does it guarantee that your cakes will be distributed in time. Alas, it does not even guarantee that you will talk nicely to customers and satisfy all their needs. Again, if you were to bake the same type of cakes with the same raw materials ad infinitum, your clients will get bored…so a bit of creativity and moving with time is needed.

I used to get bored by whiners in the office who always had something bad to say about the boss and how they are unfairly treated. You see, as long as you are in employment, you are just but a slave who sells his time for money. Aren’t you better off thinking of what you can do to get out of the slavery. The boss you keep whining about is just doing his job, and if he is not the business owner, then he is just but an elevated slave. After all he dances to the tune of the CEO. And that CEO who thinks he owns the world dances to the tune of the board.

What is the lesson for today? A business surely needs donkeys (the technical fellows) but it also needs a lot more. By the way, there is nothing wrong with being a donkey, but if you remain as one till retirement age, then I will say you are not that clever. You will at least qualify to be given a wheelbarrow and a spade at 60. Your employer will even give you free transport to your retirement home if you will be lucky to have one.

In the next post we shall look at the other very important thing that Otieno failed to do to succeed in his venture.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Otieno, the Master Welder

When Mwalimu got his first job, he was living in his ancestral home at the outskirts of the city. You can imagine his shags is just a few minutes from the City. However, where he comes from there are some lazy young men who partake illicit brew and more than willing to harvest where they never planted. It is on this premise that he was invited by his old friend to live with him somewhere in Eastlands. And so he left with a bag of clothes and a big radio to the City in the sun.

While going to his abode in one of those estates with lots of traffic, he could not help but gaze at the amazing works of one particular welder (Otieno). Those Nigerian gates and well-designed windows and doors were a site to behold, amazing work of craftsmanship. In short, Otieno’s artistic work would speak for itself; after all, the compelling products on display were quite appealing to the eye.

Mwalimu eventually got blessed and bought a plot off Thika road before the road was upgraded to a superhighway. He never minded the jam; after all he was used to it. Nothing is as sweet as living in one’s house even if the so called house is a one roomed mabati shelter. You see that landlord I had in Eastlands was just like any other. Every now and then he’d drop that note saying: Due to the current economic situation, we have adjusted upwards our rent…blab la bla…and when I left his house he declined to refund my deposit. In fact he was claiming some cash from me after balancing my account. Funny guy. And he used to come all the way from Muran’ga and camp in Nairobi for two weeks to collect rent. Anyway, let’s leave this landlord alone.

Back to Otieno. When I was doing my residential house, I knew I’d definitely approach Otieno to make my windows and external doors. When I landed at his workshop, it was a beehive of activities and the impression I got is that Otieno was doing quite well. I had a chat with him over a cup of tea (Mwalimu loves tea). The discussion culminated into a quote for the works and I paid the deposit for the works to be done. Otieno went to work and promised to deliver in two weeks. Mwalimu keeps time and he does his best to keep his promises as well. He also expects others to do the same. Two weeks later, I went knocking at Otieno’s door only to be informed that my work is 90% done. I decided to inspect the said works and realized that in all honesty it was 50% done. I felt let down though the fellow promised to deliver in the next 1week. One week later, the work was not complete. The usually quiet and reserved Mwalimu decided to act tough. He really talked tough just to make sure that Otieno does deliver; after all Mwalimu had already given a two months’ notice to his landlord and he expected to finish his house in good time.

To cut the long story short, Otieno delivered the windows and doors to my site 5 weeks later. When the delivery was inspected, it was missing some windows, 1 door and the gate. You can imagine how angry Mwalimu was to the extent to almost slapping Otieno. How was I to move to my new house without doors and windows. How about that perimeter wall and without a gate? That is the day Mwalimu knew that in Jua kali, not all that glitters is gold.

The final delivery was done 15 days before the date I was to move in. And by the way, the gate was still missing. On the eve of my big day (the day when I’d finally kiss the landlord goodbye), I still did not have the gate. I called my good friend and informed him that I was on a small mission to pick a gate along Outering road and requested for his company. When we landed at Otieno’s workshop, I was shown a gate which was halfway done. You can imagine how I felt. Next to my incomplete gate was a very nicely done gate. I actually had assumed that that was my gate. I summoned all courage and informed my friend that we go look for a pick-up and some strong boys. When we came back to the workshop with a pick -up and strong men, Otieno must have sensed danger. We went ahead and loaded the nicely done gate and as we were about to depart, Otieno stood in front of the vehicle and I could see his desperation. You see, that gate I had forcefully picked was for some client from Kitisuru who was to come for it in a few minutes. I could hear none of that and off I went with the gate. That is how Mwalimu got his nice gate. When I look at it, it reminds me of Otieno.

Next post, I will analyse Otieno’s biggest weaknesses. Did his business survive???

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Like father like daughter

Guest post by Samuel G. Njenga

It’s been a long break for Mwalimu. Well, he could not help it; he had to deliver this massive project. He only hopes that his students are all well and have indeed practiced a lot of his teachings. That lot must have graduated by now so Mwalimu is hoping to find another set of students and together we shall learn. Going forward, Mwalimu will cover a myriad of topics in no specific order.

During my break, I had so many encounters and will share a few with you. Mwalimu is a proud father of 2 kids, a daughter and a son. One evening after a long and busy day, I happen to find my 5 year old daughter neatly cutting and placing some small pieces of papers in a file. She looked at me and smiled, as if expecting me to reprimand her. When I asked her what she was doing, she quickly answered; “Baba, can’t you see am arranging my plots so that I sell them to my classmates?” Then she continued even before I answered; “Hata mimi niko na ploti zangu kama zile zako” It caught me by surprise but you can imagine how proud I was. This daughter of mine is very observant. She has seen me neatly file documents and she is well aware what daddy does for a living. Soon I will be going with her to the field and hopefully she will understand the ropes of real estate and take care of the small empire am attempting to build.

One things us Africans never do is teach our kids business. Take and keen look at Wahindis and how they are keen to integrate their kids into the running of their businesses. To them succession planning starts in the early developmental years of their kids. We ought to borrow a leaf from them.

This reminds me of a real life story I was given by some broker based in Kiganjo. And by the way they were bringing down buildings in Kiganjo yesterday. Interestingly, those of us who had an interest in Kiganjo were well aware that one side of Kiganjo always had issues; woe unto those who never carry out proper due diligence. Back to the story by the broker. This fellow in his mid-fifties is not that straight, you see he preys on absentee land owners. He even claims to be from the lineage of Cain (remember the fellow who killed his brother in the Bible). On one particular plot in a prime location near Thika he was interested in grabbing, he dropped a twenty feet container on the site and waited for a few days to see if anyone raised an eyebrow. After two months no one did, so he set up a shop inside the container and thereafter embarked on a mission to manufacture documents for the plot. And now he illegally owns the plot. While smiling from ear to ear, he proclaimed that the owner of the said plot is most likely six feet under and his next of kin are not aware that he ever owned the plot. So sad that you may own properties and the people who matter to you are not aware that you even own them. Once you become past tense trust Njuguna to be your heir in waiting.

In the next post, I will tell you about the master welder who could not run a welding workshop.