, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 21- Being in the same room for an interview with Dr James Mwangi is quite exciting because of two reasons. First, since I began my career in business journalism, I have managed to track Equity’s tremendous growth under his leadership and I want to know the success secret behind this.
Secondly, as a person, he is considered one of Kenya’s most successful businessmen and I am curious to also know what has made him so.
In essence, Dr Mwangi is enthusiastic about life and seems to not take what he has and where he has come from for granted, which leads me to my first question;
Who was your childhood hero?
We grew up in a very closed society where there were no TVs and radios. Our role models were people like teachers. The best teacher, whether it was mathematics teacher like Mr Githinji of Nyagatugu (Murang’a), or the principal Laban Irungu who was teaching me English; they became my role models. These are the only people you knew as role models beyond your family. But back at home I had my mother, a person who had never received formal education but knew and articulated the power of education and believed in values that allowed us to fit in society.
Do you have an entrepreneurship myth and which people keep believing?
When I look at entrepreneurship today, I believe it is the engine of society. But society needs to change one perception that government is for creating businesses for the people especially the youth. That is not true. It is creative ideas that brings about business opportunities. People need to see and treat the government simply as a regulator and formulator.
What is the worst business mistake in your career?
Business mistakes are the order of the day because no mistakes, no learning. Constantly the best training is not on what to do, but what not to do. And you cannot learn what not to do if you never make mistakes. Mistakes are very expensive, it’s not like success. Success creates, mistakes destroy and essentially you find undoing mistakes becomes very painful. I don’t think a day passes without thinking later on, yes that was not right. However the power lies not in not making mistakes, but realising when you make mistakes, you correct them.
What don’t people know about Dr James Mwangi?
I don’t think there is much people don’t know about me because I am a public figure, for quite a long time. But maybe things that really don’t come out clearly is that I really like being in my village Nyagatugu and seating down with my fellow villagers where I maybe not as visible. Like not associated with Equity Bank and Wings to Fly program, or Chairman of Vision 2030.
What has been your best moments as CEO?
My best moments turns out to be January every year. When I see the President of Kenya, like we are looking forward to, commission over 2,000 Wings To Fly scholarships to the most gifted and needy kids. So, that moment of unleashing potential, is the greatest and I would say, the highlight of my career.
Now that you have touched on Wings To Fly, what was the inspiration behind this?
Wings To Fly program is about tracing the path I walked. I was born and brought up in a humble family which could not afford to fully educate me. I know the path of depending on bursary and the power of scholarship because I am a symbol of that. And so when I looked at very gifted kids who were outperforming themselves and then suddenly they could not proceed with school, I felt it was time to give a helping hand.
What is the best advise you ever received?
My mum talked about integrity and honestly for a long time and I can tell you for sure that these have kept me out of trouble on many occasions. She also talked about humility. Humility has enabled me to connect with anybody and everybody in the society. So those are three attributes that I would forever cherish. I have lived the full benefit of them. Who I am today and what I have achieved today is as a result of those three values.
Your word to the youth on entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship gives you two things; freedom of decision and secondly entrepreneurship turns them from employees to employers. From creators to owners. However, entrepreneurship requires patience, endurance, persistence and most importantly, knowledge.
If you were not the Equity Group CEO, where would you to be?
I would be in something just like Equity Group Foundation scaling up the Wings to Fly program. I wish one day I will manage to devote all my energy to this.
Any comment on the Eurobond debate?
I think any debate is healthy but only when based on facts. For example the issue is not about how money has been lost but how it has been used. The second thing is that we can use the institutions we have to deal with these issues like parliament or the Auditor General and not create perceptions. If you look at the moment, the Eurobond was initially priced at 6percent but is now being priced at 9 percent. This means the country will pay an additional 50 percent of the total cost simply because we have created a perception. Lets challenge these institutions because we are just ‘entertaining’ the international community.