Vijay Gidoomal: Car & General CEO on running a sustainable business for 28 years - VIDEO

Vijay Goodimal

Car & General CEO, Vijay Gidoomal. PHOTO | BELLA OSAKO | NMG

Vijay Gidoomal studied law in the UK and returned to Kenya in 1992. The following year, he joined Car & General and was responsible for establishing operations in Uganda and Tanzania as managing director.

In 1996, he became the CEO and oversaw radical restructuring of the company introducing new product lines, and then went on to set up five distinct business lines spanning automotive and equipment, financial services, agriculture, real estate and manufacturing.

Mr Gidoomal spoke to the Business Daily about the 31-year journey at C&G, with 28 as the CEO and still counting. He talks of the recent launch of electric three-wheelers, what has worked or hasn’t and the art of getting things done through people while ensuring he is empowering the next generation of leadership.

What does the introduction of electric three-wheelers in Kenya mean for the Car & General?

It is a very important step for us. We launched Piaggio three-wheelers in 2002 as one of our major businesses after we restructured the business [in 1996]. This represents another major stepping stone as we transition into the electric vehicles space.

The transition is not going to happen overnight but we feel we can transform the three-wheeler transport from internal combustion engine to electric vehicles. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have made a lot of progress.

Sales of two and three-wheelers in 2023 dropped by almost half as acquisition and operating prices rose. To what extent do you see the electric three-wheelers reviving demand?

The passenger electric three-wheeler can go for 145 kilometres on a single charge while the cargo one can do 115 kilometres. That is enough range to cut on charging costs.

We have estimated that the total cost of operating electric three wheelers will result in a saving of about 30-35 percent. It is more expensive to purchase but if you consider the savings on operating, it is significant. More than 60,000 units have been used in India and so there is no doubt that this is a viable deal.

In 1992, after studying law in the UK, you returned to Kenya and headed to Uganda and Tanzania the following year to lead C&G units in those two markets. Was this always part of the plan when you were studying law?

Coming back was a great move and then after that, the rest was about seeing where opportunities were and trying the most out of it. At that time, it was Uganda and Tanzania.

Vijay Gidoomal: Car & General CEO on running a sustainable business for 28 years

In 1996, you were at the heart of the major disruption that C&G took by dropping traditional business lines such as tyre retreading and introducing new lines. What was going on in your mind?

If I was to say one thing, it would be that when we always looked at the Asian tigers, we thought about the African lions. That inspired us. That story has not transpired yet.

When you look at many African economies, they have not emulated the growth of the Asian tigers and I am hoping that when I look at the demographics of Africa by 2050 that is an opportunity we cannot afford to let go of. We need to create African lions in the same way the Asians created the Asian tigers.

When I look at the last 20 years, the growth we expected has not been met but we have to keep evolving as a business and as a people.

Not many people can stay in the same organisation for this long. You have been here for over 28 years. How has the experience been and how has this helped in your understanding of the business?

It has been a great journey. It has been an interesting one with phenomenal experience as well. It has had its ups and downs for sure. It is not plain sailing. I think had we not had so many disruptions, it would have been a bit more plain sailing.

We have had so many disruptions from the financial crisis, Covid-19 and all these wars. The ultimate thing is that what I would like to have seen is more growth across the economies because the bigger the economies are, the more resilient your business is.

You have helped C&G build about five distinct business lines. What power does this diversity give a business like C&G?

The diversity of our business is what has really helped us. Imagine if we were just in the bodaboda business. Volumes dropped 77 percent. We would have had a problem. The fact that we have other business units puts us in a much stronger position.

Looking at the diversified business lines, with some relatively new, does it sometimes make your 28-year journey as a CEO look like it has just started?

It is just starting. When I look at the C&G business, it looks very much to be at the beginning of the journey in terms of where it is.

Today you look at so many of our businesses and they are still at the beginning. We just need to see the economies continue to flourish and the promise of Africa continue to be realised and then we see where these businesses end up in a few years.

Many businesses have in the past 28 or so years tried expansion but ended up folding. What does it take to stay on top of things with all these business lines?

It takes a lot of organisational structure and good people. From that perspective, I think we have got good people and great systems. But what makes them more difficult is the lack of growth in those lines.

If you look at last year, [the performance of] many business lines dropped.  Managing situations where business volumes as a marketplace come under pressure makes doing business very difficult. That is really where the challenge has been. It has been quite a learning curve for us.

How best do you manage to bring up other leaders who can replicate or surpass your achievements at C&G?

Development of leaders is a continuous job and the truth is that what we have seen in Kenya is that there are many talents. I am sure with the next generation of leadership, this company will be better than it is in the current generation. We have really capable people and they tick all of the key boxes.

My job is to build a business that is sustainable so that when I hand it over to the next generation of leaders, they can continue to thrive. That is why I talk about diversity and economic development if we are to have a business that can continue to grow sustainably without too much hard work.

Right now it feels like to grow, we have to work so hard. It is like staying still above the surface but under water, you are battling really hard.

We want to leave something that someone with talent can continue to manage in a clear and effective way. That is really the job that every CEO should aspire to do and achieve.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.