Maybe I am growing old, but I have come to the painful realisation that I do not like being away from home. In the past, I used to get excited at the prospect of any trip abroad; no matter how short. But these days I just want to stay at home.
A few weeks ago, the CEO came and told me, ‘‘I need you to come with me on a business trip, we need to go scout for some new opportunities.’’
The business has been under pressure to generate more revenue and maybe the CEO decided that shopping around was the best way to get ahead of things.
‘‘I need us to go to Tanzania and look at some opportunities,’’ the CEO said. I was taken aback by the choice of country. I was tempted to tell the CEO, ‘‘haven’t you read the papers and realised that President John Magufuli does not like us?’’
Before I could even think of voicing my concerns the CEO went into a long chat about how Tanzania is the best market for us. ‘‘Have you seen their numbers? We can grow our market share and make over a billion shillings in a year,’’ he said. His sales pitch ticked all the boxes in terms of strategy, but I also know that many Kenyan companies have a different story.
Despite my reservations, I displayed unwavering exuberance as I booked my travel ticket to head to Dar, accompanied by three other senior managers on our operation dubbed Get TZ.
Our first meeting should have been a warning sign that securing business in Tanzania would not be a walk in the park. For starters, some officials from the trade department kept us waiting for over an hour. The CEO was getting visibly irritated and at some point threatened to leave.
One of the managers convinced him that leaving was a bad idea. When the trade official finally showed up he did not even bother to apologise for keeping us waiting.
Our CEO, ever the jolly fellow, started off in English by telling the official — his name was Ali — all about our company; what we do, how many people we employ and our ambition. Ali’s face was hard to read so it was difficult to tell if he was impressed by our sales pitch or not.
At the end of the pitch, Ali responded in perfect Kiswahili — which I felt was his way of indicating that he expected the entire meeting to be conducted in Kiswahili.
It then became a mad scramble trying to reconstruct our conversation to meet his standards. Our CEO became a mere bystander for there was little he could say to Ali in Kiswahili.
After an hour-long meeting, Ali told us that he welcomed our visit but he would rather we sent him a formal letter detailing our proposal.
We left his office feeling somewhat dejected as we translated the proceedings to the CEO. The next couple of meetings followed the same pattern.
What was clear was that we needed to up our Kiswahili before we could even think of doing business. Later that evening as we sat at a bar with the CEO I expected him to be deflated but he appeared enthusiastic saying that ‘‘great risks bring great gains.’’
He concluded by saying that he would recruit an agency to help us get into Tanzania ‘‘since my Kiswahili is clearly not up to scratch. We will need someone in Nairobi to work on this too.’’ I wanted to volunteer but thoughts of how weak my Kiswahili is stopped me in my tracks.