- Mr Rao is the Group CEO of Crown Paints, a company that was established in 1958 and currently has 1,000 staff members scattered in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
- He has been the CEO for the past 15 years and has had a decent run; Crown Paint is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, and it sells over three million litres of paint in a year.
Rakesh Rao discourages you from wearing black. It’s an “unhappy” colour, he says. He talks about ‘colour energy’ and ‘colour therapy’ with relish, how colour affects how people interact with us but also how it changes how we think and feel. He likes blue because blue is the colour of water and water makes everybody happy, he says. “Think of showers and the sea and waterfalls. Water is blue.”
Mr Rao is the Group CEO of Crown Paints, a company that was established in 1958 and currently has 1,000 staff members scattered in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. He has been the CEO for the past 15 years and has had a decent run; Crown Paint is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, and it sells over three million litres of paint in a year. He spoke to JACKSON BIKO over lunch.
How old are you now?
What do you recall dominating your 40s?
It was a time of watching my children come into themselves. I was worried about their education; their grades, the subjects they chose, if they would go for further studies abroad. I was preparing them for that next phase. My sons are now all abroad; they are 25 and 23.
Is your happiness tied to the academic and success of your children?
Yes, it is. But they also have to be socially adjusted, to be good citizens who contribute to society, and grow into leaders in their own right.
What would your children do to deeply disappoint you?
Not to get married.
Why is it important for them to get married?
I think to be a successful man you need to have a family to complete you. You can be successful at work, as a businessman, but that alone isn’t true success if you don’t have a family. You will not attain a certain social status. Social value comes from being a part of a family setup. In Asian culture, we are big on family. When you are old, your true pride will be the children you have raised, and the family you have.
Whenever my eldest son calls he tells me, ‘dad if you bring up that marriage thing again I’m going to hang up.’ [Laughs]. He never wants to talk about it. My mom called him and asked him to get a girl he can marry and he said, ‘everybody tells me marry, I’ll get married and your wish will be granted, but one day she’ll fight me and I’ll leave her and my wish will be granted.’
It worries me how children nowadays have lost interest in marriage. It’s a big challenge for future generations how they want to live alone. You need a life partner. My son says that times have changed, that when he finds, and if he finds the right person he will consider marriage, but for now we shouldn’t talk about it.
Do you have to be married to be happy?
Yes. Marriage brings maturity and self-discipline. When you are married, you become socially accepted and respected, at least in my community. You fit in better in circles, you get mental satisfaction and social value being a part of a social structure. Otherwise what’s the difference between you and an animal roaming free?
Say I call 10 friends and their wives for dinner to my house then a guy who lost his wife comes, he will be bored amongst all the wives. I will not call him. I think generally when you’re married, people respect you more.
If you were very unhappy in your marriage would you consider divorce?
No. You have to have a balance in your life and you can’t attain balance if you can’t accommodate everything that you aren’t happy about. Things normally don’t turn out as we wish, or as we had planned. And when that happens maybe we should start accepting the situation because acceptance and accommodation will give way to happiness.
Would you marry your wife again if you had a second chance at choosing her?
There is no option. [Laughs]
What would you do if your son brought home a man he wanted to marry?
I will be disappointed but then again that would be his choice. If he is happy with his choice then I will be happy. Definitely.
What pressures of life are you currently dealing with in this stage of your life?
My children. Will they attain success in their lives? Will they finish their education and attain a good job? Secondly, I’m looking to start my own business and get peace of mind. It’s been something on my mind.
When were you saddest in your life?
Ten years ago when I suffered from a terrible case of insomnia, depression and high blood pressure. I lost 15 kilogrammes. It was a disastrous time for me. I felt helpless.
What would dominate your thoughts those nights you couldn’t sleep?
Negative thoughts. I wondered if I would ever attain good health again. It affected my family. My sons were just getting to their O-levels and it was a distraction. I was in that situation because of too much pressure at work.
I had failed to achieve certain targets and I took it personally not realising that failure as a definition meant; the first attempt at learning. I kept pushing and pushing and didn’t believe in stress as a concept. I thought that was just weakness. I eventually got out of it by meditating, yoga and changing my perception of things.
When were you happiest in life?
When my first son was born in 1995.
If life was a series of colours, what colour represents this season you are in life?
Red and orange, the colours of sunrise. All these colours represent energy and success.
Any regrets in life?
That I never became an entrepreneur. That I have always done a job. I have worked. I wanted to have my own business but it hasn’t happened. Why? Because of fear of instability. I had children to think of and running a business didn’t assure me the stability I needed to see them through.
Do you think at your age and stage in life you have attained that courage to start a business?
Not now. Maybe in another three years when my children have settled down well. In my culture, it’s only when your children have settled down that you can settle down. We work towards giving our children a stable and happy life. And if you are helping your children instead of them helping you when they are older then you can never be happy or settled.
How happy are you on a scale of one to ten?
I’m between seven and eight.