Small Enterprise

Consultancy guides firms on how to review growth plans

Blue Strategy Africa CEO John Achokah during
Blue Strategy Africa CEO John Achokah during the interview at his Upper Hill office in Nairobi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

In the world of John Achokah, the CEO of Nairobi-based consultancy Blue Strategy Africa, firms can render competition irrelevant. And neither do markets have to mature, saturate nor decline.

Instead, the US-educated management specialist sees a big market that remains unaffected by competition. But that space belongs to firms that go the extra mile to re-draw their industry’s boundaries.

“The irony is that such a vast space is unknown and untried by firms,” he said.

“Many firms that I have talked to think it’s not possible to ignore competition in Kenya’s crowded markets. The truth is that once you give them methodology on how to think outside the box, they will come back to report extraordinary results.”

But in the Kenyan market where a copycat culture defines competition, Mr Achokah is a contradiction. Nearly all his clients believe that “strategy” simply means trying every trick in the book to beat the competition.

Demand, he says, should be created rather than fought over. An idea popularised by Blue Ocean Strategy, a book published in 2005 and written by INSEAD management professors Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

The authors based their book on a decade-long study of more than 150 strategic moves spanning more than 30 industries over 100 years (1880-2000).

Under the strategy, every firm in any industry has its own blue ocean – uncontested space for profitability and rapid growth. The secret lies in how a firm can discover this space.

Mr Achokah, who initially tried the strategy in South Africa, believes the Kenyan market is ripe for the concept 10 years since it took root in the developed world.

“The South African market readily embraced the concept because the market is more developed and there are many mature firms,” he said.

A number of candidates are ready for the blue-ocean plunge, Mr Achokah says, “but we are talking with CEOs especially in the banking sector for trial.”

Blue Strategy Africa has organised a workshop for next month to introduce the concept in Kenya. He believes that firms which understand their own space will always find it wasteful to spend resources on industrial espionage, staff poaching or engaging in ills like sabotage.

Since he launched his consultancy in Nairobi last March, Mr Achokah has engaged several people who formulate strategy for government and the private sector.

“A number of CEOs are already aware of this strategy but still find it easier to get into other’s space than pursue their own blue oceans”.

He cites innovative products like Safaricom’s money transfer technology M-Pesa and M-Shwari, a mobile-based savings and loan bank account operated by the telco and Commercial Bank of Africa, as examples of blue oceans created in Kenya.

Generally, a blue ocean strategy is hinged on product differentiation at low cost. Users strive to make the competition irrelevant by reconstructing industry boundaries.

Mr Achokah, who holds an MBA in Strategy from St Peters University in New Jersey, says there are some systematic tools and frameworks that organisations such as Blue Strategy Africa provide to enable firms break away from the crowd and win new customers step-by-step.

He started working in the US as a client strategy manager and later moved to South Africa as head of strategy for Johannesburg-based Eskom up to 2011.

He was later appointed the regional director of South Africa’s second largest coal mining firm, Exxaro, which he headed up to early this year before joining Blue Strategy Africa which sent him to introduce the management concept in Nairobi.