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Ideas lift innovator to apex of business ladder

Moyez Alibhai
Mr Moyez Alibhai during the interview in Nairobi on August 13. He says integrity is paramount. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

Moyez Alibhai, a business leader with vast professional and personal networks, has a passion to improve governance in both the private and public sectors. He continually seeks opportunities and innovative solutions to some of the challenges that businesses face.

A staunch believer in the power of continuous education, he says a willingness to learn is crucial to self-improvement.

He talked to Business Daily this week.

BD: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

Alibhai: I was born and brought up in Kenya. I went to Nairobi School then the University of British Colombia in Vancouver (Canada) and after that went to the London School of Economics from where I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics.

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Continuous learning for me, however, is critical; I have studied investment management at City University (London), and have taken several executive leadership and management courses at the Harvard Business School and at the University of Western Ontario.

When I came back to Kenya, my father and brother were involved in various businesses, including plastics and biscuits manufacturing. I spent time in both companies but I was very interested in commodities futures and left for Chicago to learn about this. After that I worked as a commodity futures broker in Canada and later in the property market in the UK.

During my time in the UK, we became aware of opportunities to buy East African assets that were foreign-owned. We had perceived these assets to have huge potential whereas their owners did not. We subsequently acquired these assets at excellent prices, grew the businesses and later sold them.

To give you an example, the Marshalls Group, of which I was CEO was a significant business in the 1980s, especially because of its Peugeot, Honda and Volvo distributorships and its country-wide sales and service networks in Kenya and Tanzania. We were able to acquire and build on the excellent brand positioning of Marshalls to make the company more valuable by the time we sold it.

Another is Phoenix Assurance in which we acquired the majority share of in 1992, from the Sun Alliance Group of the UK. We divested of the major part of our ownership in Phoenix in 2014 due to a change in the law requiring that no one person (defined also to mean members of one family) could own more than 25 percent of an insurance company.

Some of the other businesses I have started or acquired have been business-to-business publishing in the United Kingdom, and the first online recruitment company in Kenya — myJobsEye — started in 2002.

Recently, I have been spending time in Mumbai where I am setting up a regulated fund to invest in mid-market quoted equities and in Dubai where I am collaborating with a company that uses algorithms to trade in financial markets worldwide.

In all of this, I think what is fundamental for me, and always has been, is that I am perhaps able to identify opportunities where others may necessarily not; and then apply innovative solutions to produce a valuable outcome. Obviously there were some instances where I failed, but I learned from this.

YOU FOUNDED THE NAIROBI CHAPTER OF THE YOUNG PRESIDENTS ORGANISATION (YPO) IN 1994. TELL US WHAT LED YOU TO DO THAT AS WELL AS YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN YPO INTERNATIONAL.

In 1986, I was approached by the executive director at the time of YPO International, Robert Paganelli, to engage a group of US YPO members who were visiting Kenya. I was not aware about YPO prior to that, but later that year, I was invited to attend a YPO conference in Edinburg (UK). I was intrigued with what I experienced, from the quality of the speakers and the participants, to the way the event was structured and organised. The networking opportunities were also exceptional. As a result I joined YPO in 1987 and subsequently joined chapters in London and Toronto.

I was inspired enough to bring YPO to Kenya, and in 1994 I formed the Nairobi chapter by inviting 15 CEOs who qualified to join YPO by virtue of the turnover and size of their companies.

Doug Smollan, the YPO International president at the time was joined by other international and regional leaders to inaugurate the chapter. I was Chairman of the Nairobi chapter for the first four years, and later became chairman for Africa as well as a member of the international board of directors.

Today, YPO has 27,000 members worldwide with more 450 chapters in more than 130 countries. The combined revenue of YPO-run companies is $9 trillion with 22 million employees.

Kenya has 108 members. They run some of the largest businesses in banking, distribution, insurance, manufacturing and agriculture among others.

One of the most powerful benefits of YPO is that it offers the possibility to connect with almost any significant individual through the network of peers.

YOU ARE CHAIRMAN OF THE AGA KHAN HEALTH SERVICES, KENYA, WHICH IS PART OF AKDN. WHAT’S YOUR ROLE IN THE HEALTH SERVICE AS WELL AS AKDN?

I have been the chairman of the Board of the Aga Khan Health Service (AKHS), Kenya since 2009. AKHS is one of 11 agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) operating in Kenya. The AKDN is a global network founded by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. It brings together a number of social, economic and cultural development agencies, institutions and programmes that work primarily to help those in need to attain a level of self-reliance and to improve their quality of life. The AKDN employs more than 16,000 staff, of whom 99 percent are Kenyan. AKHS runs hospitals in Mombasa and Kisumu, and numerous outreach clinics and medical camps in the two regions. We are also constructing an in-patient facility in Kisii County, with the endorsement of the County government. Collectively, AKDN agencies contribute hundreds of millions of dollars towards health care in Kenya, and has a legacy that goes back 60 years – in fact, AKUH and the Nation Media Group (also an AKDN agency) are both celebrating their 60th anniversaries this year.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE REASON FOR YOUR SUCCESS IN BUSINESS?

I have a passion for innovation, and also to connect with people. I believe I am a curious person by nature and am therefore interested in learning about people. But in all of this, I also have a very strong set of values that I adhere to. Integrity for me is paramount – I believe that one’s character is based on this value.

Empathy, for me, is also particularly important. This is what enables me to connect with people effectively. I believe one must do their best to get along with people, and that you can only grow a business well if you invest in people. With any endeavour, I believe one must have a clear understanding — a vision. That means knowing where you want to go, having a clear idea about how to get there and have other people share in that vision to achieve the goal. Tied to leadership is effective management – one must hold people accountable so that things are done.

And finally, being able to access anybody you want to, whenever you want to, is of critical importance – no matter what their position. Over time, I have built extensive networks, both personal and professional, which enable me to connect with people effectively, from diverse backgrounds and at every level.

WHAT DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING NEXT?

I find that my greatest satisfaction today comes from connecting people and helping them to grow. People talk about improving the quality of life; what this means for me is that I would like to see people become self-sustainable in a lasting and meaningful manner. And also that people are able to live in a manner where their dignity is preserved.

YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE ROLE LEADERS IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR CAN PLAY IN THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION OF KENYA?

I believe one of the biggest problems we are facing is endemic corruption. As leaders in private sector we can give the next generation an enabling environment that is strongly value-based, efficient, productive and safe.

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