Describe your current role, your key responsibilities and the most critical deliverables? What are the most important skills sets in achieving success in your role?
I am the Site Manager at Africa Improved Foods Rwanda ltd (AIF). This means that I am responsible for Production, Maintenance, SHE (Safety, Health and Environment management), Security, Warehouse and Inventory management departments – largely known as Operations. Each of these comes with a set of expectations. Production is about conversion of raw materials into finished goods at the right Productivity, Quality, Cost, Operational excellence parameters. In SHE, we make sure that our work environment is accident free and in complete compliance with the most stringent regulatory boundaries while incorporating behavior-based initiatives, in Maintenance, we increase the plant reliability and asset care in line with the targeted capacity utilization indicators. The Security team keeps all our assets free of incidents and works towards preventing these incidents rather than reacting to them. In the Warehouse and inventory management we receive, store, deliver inventory on time, in full and error free (OTIFEF). To lead this exceptionally talented and multi-cultural team, one should understand and align the needs of the People (Stakeholders), lowering the company’s ecological footprint (Planet) and Profit (Prosperity). We are very operational round the clock and heavily team-driven and we keep looking out for and inspiring each other to continually improve as we believe that the team is as strong as its weakest member. ‘We Deliver’ is our rallying call and we celebrate our milestones together.
Tell us about your company and how it fits in with career goals. Briefly, what is the typical day like in your role and company?
AIF is a PPP impact organization. We are inspired by the solid evidence that the 1000 days from conception to the second birthday, are critical for a child’s physical and mental development. Our mission, therefore, is to stamp out stunting and malnutrition by manufacturing improved and nutritious foods through the upstream Value chain approach and Cleaning, Milling, Extrusion, Fortification and Packaging technologies while incorporating Operational excellence. To lead the AIF manufacturing team in this noble mission achieves my goal of contributing to a social cause with my expertise from leading different Multinational Manufacturing teams in the EA region. I am excited and rewarded to see that in just under 4 years since Commissioning the Kigali – Rwanda site, we are already feeding 1.5 million people daily, with improved nutrition. My role is more strategic-tactical with operational elements in guiding the Site operations. My typical day is laden with looking for structural improvements that make us more flexible to meet our stake-holders’ needs.
What have been your previous roles before the current one? How important were those roles in shaping your current role?
I hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in Strategic Management and a BSc degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry. I have come through the ranks and trained with Multinationals, Regional and Kenyan Organizations that prepared me for this role. I started off as a Process Operator and later as a Quality assurance analyst at SmithklineBeecham – now GlaxoSmithKline where I got my foundation in Manufacturing through GMP and Quality management systems. I moved to Unilever EA as Shift Manager where I picked up Operational excellence – TPM (Total Productive Manufacturing / Maintenance) and employee engagement skills. I later managed the Nakuru Unga feeds plant (the biggest animal feeds plant in EA by installed capacity at the time) as Plant manager where I picked up Milling, Fortification and Gemba Kaizen as an excellence tool. Tropical heat ltd was my next stop, where I picked up Extrusion and Food safety skills and was appointed the Production and Logistics Director. Each of these Organizations had their own challenges and success stories that have shaped me over time.
What have been the key turning points in your career? Have you ever had a change in career direction? If so, how did you handle the change? What lessons did you derive from this change?
I have not considered a career change, but I have had to quit when it was not exciting any more. Manufacturing has always been a sector that fascinates me. Using advanced technology, changing roles, capital and staff planning, technical problem solving, motivating teams to keep raising the bar have all been part of my story. The turning point was when I was made the Production and Logistics director at Tropical heat ltd and had to attend board meetings.
What makes your role interesting? What do you enjoy most about your role? What has been the role of mentors and family in the achievement of your professional goals?
It is all about finding that which motivates me and the team, to perform at peak and while at it, enjoying every moment.
Yes, I have had several mentors, but in general I look up to people who exhibit a lot of drive and perseverance through adversity. I think mentors are key for guided growth with self-reflection. As a young person finding my path, I always remembered the African proverb that the youth can walk faster but the elder knows the way. I am still learning to take a pause to self-reflect when I think I am running too fast. I especially admire the training regimen of the famous marathon Runner Eliud Kipchoge. Even with his world record, he still wakes up every day to practice as if running his dream marathon – under 2 hours. He once said ‘do not ask me about my dreams, ask me how crazy my dreams are’. I also count my blessings when I am down, when I remember what a colleague at AIF had to go through to be here today after the Genocide in Rwanda. This paragraph is too short to do my mentors justice.
What challenges do you face in delivering on your current role and how do you overcome them?
The factory support infrastructure in the region is nascent and therefore not able to fully support the kind of Plant that AIF is. We have to be creative and look for solutions where we face challenges in technical areas by developing internal capability eg in Silo fumigation, availability of parts and spares etc. Luckily, my team is ever ready to face these challenges. We have indeed improved the installed capacity by 5,000 tonnes without additional capex. We are constantly training the team since the industry is young and we have no peers in the category to share training costs with. For automation, optimization and process control we get support from Europe as we upskill the team.
What is the status of the sector in which you operate in the region and Africa and what do you think are the opportunities, challenges and market trends in the sector?
Due to post-harvest challenges from un-mechanized handling and reliance on small scale – subsistence and rain fed agriculture, there is a shortage of high-quality inputs. This therefore yields unacceptable level of waste in the value chain and high in-put prices as compared to European producers. Investments in these value chains can be a good opportunity that will work to stabilize supply chains. As the regional economies grow with regional integration and better connectivity, the consumer’s choice increases in the trade. It is those organizations that are flexible to the changing consumer needs that will be preferred.
How do you wind down after a hard day at work? What are your personal hobbies? How do these hobbies contribute to your personnel and professional development?
It was Harry S. Truman who said, “Not all Readers Are Leaders, but all Leaders are Readers”. I am an avid reader without a preferred genre. I enjoy out-door activities that work to keep me healthy and fit as they help me to create networks that I once in a while tap from. Traveling with Ruth, Blaise and Sasha, Cycling, the Gym, jogging and learning the piano from Sasha as well as tree planting are some of the hobbies that help me to unwind.
What are some of the personal or community activities you engage in to develop yourself or your community?
In Nairobi’s Mukuru kwa Njenga informal settlement, I have for many years supported the ‘Ghetto champions’ football club that has kept many kids in school and out of trouble. Covid-19 slowed us down but I believe this will be better and bigger in the future. I also use my free time to coach the young leaders through one – on – one sessions as I also inspire them in a book club I created. Back then, growing up in the village we had elders take care of us. I believe they need our support in their sunset years. This, I do religiously as a lesson from Saint Francis of Assisi’s ‘For it is in giving that we receive’.
How can young people who may aspire to a career choice like yours plan their journey? What advice would you give them to succeed in their careers and life?
Keep learning! There is no end to it – Quoting Master Yi, ‘A true master is an eternal student’. The younger people need to keep exploring the horizon from fast changing technology and needs. From the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘What hurts, instructs’. There cannot be short-cuts to success, one must invest time to learn and practice. In Operations measurement is key as you can only control or manage that which is measured. All problems have solutions the young need to look for solutions to challenges that bedevil Africa! and the opportunities are immeasurable. Networks, collaboration and connecting with colleagues within and outside the organization, continuous shaping and influencing the environment while staying true to their mission, creating time to exercise the body and mind and create enjoyable time with their families while loving each moment! Being happy is the name of the game.
What else would you want to do in the future? What would you want to accomplish in your career before you step away from the industry?
I would like to see Africa feed Africa and that we build the most competitive industries in Africa. With my vast experience in manufacturing, I will take up a role in realizing this dream in whatever capacity.