Manoj Shah, an agrochemicals entrepreneur, has built a business from scratch, growing it into a Sh3 billion-turnover manufacturer, and when asked about the secret of all this success he says, “Oh, I can’t exactly box the secret. What I know is that it takes more than hard work to succeed. It takes a good team to rise to the top. For me, the path to success is built on people. When your entity is people-driven, you get to the top easily and faster. I also know that success comes from taking opportunities as they come."
The entrepreneur started Osho Chemicals Industries, located in Nairobi's Industrial Area, 30 years ago after quitting his job. He invested Sh2 million from his savings. At the time, Osho Chemicals imported pre-packed chemicals and supplied them to their clients that were mostly State-owned and mainly serviced the textile industry.
Soon he would run into headwinds that made him rethink his line of focus.
“Imports were regulated by the Ministry of Commerce and we had to acquire a Foreign Exchange Allocation Licence. Without this, you would have to import through third parties, which was expensive to businesses that were just starting like ours. To overcome this, we joined organisations like the Kenya Private Sector Alliance [Kepsa] to add our voice to the advocacy for the liberalisation of imports. We also found out that working with government-owned entities attracts bureaucracy which results in delay in the conversion of inventory. We had to diversify to other areas of business while still having a broader focus on chemicals," he says.
They started supplying chemicals for the pharmaceuticals and tanning industries.
His venture into business was purely a survival tool but when the turnover started to look promising, his goal changed from survival to building a business that would make an impact.
“The stability in our business meant a new opportunity to broaden our scope; from survival to having a business that would have an impact. I grew up in Ol Kalou and I had seen how agriculture was a big industry impacting the lives of many people in terms of employment and food security. It was therefore natural that our new focus would be supplying agrochemicals," he says.
Around the same time, the government liberalised the process of importation, and it became easier to import chemicals, repackage them, and still make profits.
The business grew gradually, from importing raw materials from India and China to manufacturing and formulating them locally.
From the four employees, Mr Shah's company now has 600 workers in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Malawi.
How do you grow a business that you initially started for survival, from an annual turnover of Sh60 million to Sh3 billion in the Kenyan market and a consolidated Sh5 billion across the region?
“Build people, build their capacity. Your business grows better with well-equipped employees. I have learned that it is important to set up structures. The other thing is to keep the focus alive. Once you get into business, it is easy to have other diverse interests and projects which may take away from what you set out to do.
Remember why you started the business and better the outcome by building on a stronger focus and vision. Also important, look at what other great businesses are doing, they could be from your industry or even a different one, the ethos are universal. Some will teach you how to succeed, but most importantly they will teach you how to avoid failure,” he says.
Hungry but not greedy
Like many businesses, Osho Chemicals has had its lows—failures that set a flight of stairs down.
About 25 years ago, they attempted to venture into Ethiopia. It took off but crashed as soon as it was airborne.
From this Mr Shah, has learned to be hungry and never greedy. To observe the business environment where he looks to invest and only take calculated risks.
On succession, it would be natural to expect Mr Shah's family to take over running the business except it is not that obvious.
“We have invested heavily in the Goal-Based Performance Appraisal Management System. This has bolstered our clarity about succession. Most family-owned businesses do not put governance and compliance structures in place or if they do, there are a lot of interferences.
These structures we have put in place ensure that the leadership of the group is merit-based. We have in place a board made up of professionals that understand our story, the path we have taken, and our vision. Such measures, in our view, will ensure a smooth succession and continuity of the business in my absence. Which I like saying, is a question of when and not if,” he says.
When he looks back, he is proud that Osho Chemicals has helped shape the industry in many ways, one of which is through their Osho Training Academy where they train industry professionals in various industry-related skills. They have partnered with local universities in an apprentice programme to encourage them to take up agricultural professions. His pride comes from knowing that he has been part of an industrywide buildup that does not just benefit him, but the whole industry.
Mr Shah and the team look to penetrate other markets in Africa, first, to the South and then to the West.
“We have the potential here in Africa to be the lead manufacturers in the world and we want to be the drivers of that big dream," he says.