Drawing key lessons from past successes, failures

Happy New Year. First, I want to thank God for bringing us thus far and helping us succeed in a country that we are proud of despite its many shortcomings.

As I reflect on the past year, it will be in order to also discuss the weaknesses that stand in our way. Last year’s successes and failures form the basis for projecting a more productive year in 2017.

My key objectives in 2016 were pretty simple and they included: Teaching, doing research, supervising graduate students, conferencing, mentoring prospective youth entrepreneurs, writing and publishing. In each of these activities, I did my best and leave it to those that I interacted with to judge.

On mentorship, that was outside of my core activities. However, I feel that I would have done a better job if I limited the number of my mentees to 50. I wasn’t able to travel to all of their worksites since they are geographically dispersed throughout the country.

Although I still ask God to give me the wisdom to say no to someone in need in order to do a good job to a few lucky ones, I felt exceedingly rewarded in nurturing a dozen young entrepreneurs from idea stage to new startups.


Those who managed to achieve this feat had quite unique characteristics. There were lessons for everyone from their success. Foremost was the will to succeed. That extra oomph to take risk and begin managing it.

Two of these firms have moved to what I call the take off stage, if they manage to muscle the necessary resources for marketing. In the coming year, I need to become a better planner and try to wrestle for more control of my schedule from my employer by being more focused.

If an event was not planned to happen, let it not happen. More often than not, participants in randomly organised meetings often go adrift as they try to find their bearing in the most polite manner.

Unfortunately, many of the public sector meetings are never planned and in most cases lack focus. But somehow things get done.

Perhaps we can draw some comfort from an emerging school of thought which argues that being focused isn’t the magic bullet for success. In the past most corporations for example, focused on their core activities to succeed.

This has changed and more companies are seeking to grow outside their core activities. New concepts like managing a portfolio of investments are beginning to be stimulating. Those who subscribe to these new thinking argue that there is leverage with managing multiple activities.

The failure to produce more effective results in public sector meetings needs further investigations.

Perhaps what is needed is that each meeting has to have some alignment between resources and activities of each meeting even if there are five different meetings in a day and in the end treat them as a portfolio of activities.

In managing a portfolio there is need to match investments to objectives and to balance risk against performance.

A 2015 survey by McKinsey and company, Growing beyond the core business, showed that a clear majority of executives say their companies are pursuing growth in categories outside their core business—and reported a strong belief that doing so has created company value.

This is a growing trend even as McKinsey’s previous studies suggested that over time, companies’ aspirations to grow through these activities have produced only modest results and that few companies have the right practices in place to support such growth.

Some academics are looking into Africa to develop new theories around managing a portfolio of enterprises that is characteristic of African entrepreneurs.

Some of the most successful African entrepreneurs have side businesses that sometimes aren’t disclosed to directors in the principal company. It is emerging that this isn’t a weakness but a strength that must be explored further.

Similarly, I feel encouraged that I continue to juggle a portfolio of activities in spite of what past Western literature has said on focusing in core activities to achieve success.

The African in me tells me that managing a portfolio of activities is inevitable. What matters is that get-up-and-go attitude coupled with the right practices to succeed and perhaps less of self-criticism.

American artiste, Allen Klein, once said, “Your attitude is like a box of crayons that colour your world. Constantly colour your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak.

Try adding some bright colours to the picture by including humour, and your picture begins to lighten up.”

Best wishes for the New Year with the right attitude.

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.