Profiles

From swimming with Tana crocs to c-Suite

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Mohamud Salat, Hass Petroleum CEO. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Mohamud Salat, the CEO of Hass Petroleum was born in a dusty town in Garissa County in North Eastern.
  • The sun always hang low and as a child, he would join his peers to swim in the Tana River, unperturbed by the notorious crocodiles of the Tana River.

Mohamud Salat, the CEO of Hass Petroleum was born in a dusty town in Garissa County in North Eastern. The sun always hang low and as a child, he would join his peers to swim in the Tana River, unperturbed by the notorious crocodiles of the Tana River.

Mohamud — like most of his neighbours — grew up in a large family. Resources were bleak but he made it to University of Nairobi where he studied Economics and later a Master’s in Economic Policy Analysis.

His first employer was KPMG where he joined in 2008, leaving in 2013 as Senior Advisor, Fragile and Conflicted States. He joined Hass Petroleum as Group Head, Internal Audit, then as CFO five years later.

Eight months ago, he got the corner office with his name on the CEO door. Behind that door, he presides over 1,200 employees across nine African countries. He oversees an investment worth $220 million. He’s 35 years old. And he likes saying, “wow” as JACKSON BIKO discovered in a recent Zoom interview.

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Tell me about your childhood, what do you remember the most?

I had such a good time as a child. You probably wouldn’t relate but I grew up in Garissa, a small town called Ijara. You might not have heard of it but our county is synonymous with Mzee Yusuf Haji during the late President Daniel arap Moi era. We were given a district on account of his relationship with the president. Ijara is hot. We swam a lot in River Tana during our free time, together with the crocodiles. As a child things like crocodiles don’t really scare you.

Seems like you had a great one...

Just a perfect childhood. I grew up in a big family, a family of nine. We were seven boys and two girls. Seven boys! Can you imagine the amount of drama and mischief? We were punished for our mistakes and our accidents. (Chuckles). I attended Garissa High School, then the University of Nairobi. I was in student union leadership, which was a lot of fun and an education in itself.

How old are you?

I’m 35, turning 36.

Done well for yourself, ey?

Thank you. I was lucky to have joined one of the ‘Big Four’ soon after university and I got the best training before moving to Hass Petroleum. It’s been a perfect journey.

When you go back to your village, Ijara, what’s the most common thing most people ask you?

They have followed my career growth and they see me as a mentor. The most common thing they ask is, ‘what did you do differently?’ I tell them that I have consistently strived to do my best in whatever I did. It was sheer hard work. I think I turned lemons into lemonade, because, really I didn’t go to a group of schools or a national school, so my chances of getting to university were slim.

I tell them that it’s doable, that even they can do it if they work hard.

What were your dreams when you were a teenager swimming in River Tana?

I wanted to be a doctor. But here I am and I realise that I have an opportunity to influence people in society. My passion has always been to help the disadvantaged, to motivate children. I got an opportunity to be on the board of Kenya Red Cross and that aligned perfectly with this passion of helping people.

What is a good Muslim and are you a good Muslim?

I can say that I could do better. I wake up early and I pray five prayers. I do what I have to do but I know I can be a better Muslim.

Describe to me an idyllic life according to Mr Salat?

Wow! For me, I think it’s a life where you have achieved what you planned to achieve, be it in a career or in helping others financially or spiritually. I think it’s a balance between religion, career and family. Once you have attained balance in all these three, I think you would have attained an idyllic life.

What are you struggling with now as a man, not a CEO?

Wow! I don’t have many struggles, to be honest. (Long pause) If I’m pressed to pick something I’d say what’s happening globally, the deaths from Covid-19, and the loss of businesses.

If you are to write only one chapter of your life, what chapter would that be?

It would definitely be my early life in the village and how it shaped my career later. I loved the simple village set up; there were never fences or boundaries. You couldn’t tell where our household ended and the next one started. The only boundaries were where the domestic animals were kept. Children ran around freely. The whole idea of possession has brought immense problems. People fighting over land and things. People using words like ‘mine.’ We don’t need the things we attach ourselves with. When it’s all over, we will only need the small space that we will be buried in.

What is your extravagance?

I no longer have that extravagance. I stopped it a year ago. (Pause) I used to have a collection of expensive watches. A whole set of them. My most expensive watch was over $5,000 (Sh500,000). Then one day I just thought, what’s the use of all these things? So I donated some of them to friends and family and from then I think I’ve led a better and more fulfilling life.

I say this because if you buy a really expensive suit, a designer suit it is because we want people to recognise that you are wearing an expensive suit. But often the only person who knows the suit is expensive is you. I believe in dressing well but not to show off.

Did something have to happen for you to have this change of outlook?

Joining the Red Cross and seeing the human suffering did it for me. People are out there struggling and when you interact with them you appreciate that sharing goes a long way.