NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 5 – He comes across as an easy person to talk to; very relaxed, knows his subject and jokes easily. Kofi Andah is the Nairobi-based Regional Manager of UNDP-funded African Management Services Company (AMSCO) which provides technical and administrative backup support for both private sector firms and parastatals.
He opened up to Capital Business.
Q: Give us a glimpse into the life of Kofi Andah?
A: I am an easy going person who likes to have a lot of fun with my work. But I like to work hard first. My staff has accused me of being a perfectionist but I don’t think I am because you can never achieve perfection.
I believe in constantly striving to work towards perfection. I’m very internally driven, my biggest competitor is myself, and I’m always trying to do better than I did the last time.
I’m married with two kids; I think I’m very blessed. I like to escape to the golf course once in a while and torture myself with a couple of rounds, I’m not a very good player, still suffering on the course but I do enjoy playing. I enjoy shooting pool and back in the day I used to be a real good chess player but I haven’t played the game in a long while because I have not found good competition.
I started playing chess when I was seven and by the time I was 12 or 13 I was competing in national tournaments.
Q: Impressive! What’s your career; what did you study in school?
A: I don’t know what I am. I had a combined undergraduate degree in economics, accounting and management so I find it very difficult to define what exactly I am.
I have been fortunate to have jobs where I’ve had to rely on these fields.
Q: How did you get to AMSCO?
A: A former roommate of mine was leaving AMSCO and he recommended me, so they called me and scheduled an interview, it was on short notice. At the time, I was in Ghana but I flew down to Johannesburg, had an interview and went back to Accra. A few hours after the plane touched down, they offered me a job.
I was employed in the Johannesburg office as a Project Officer but while I was still under probation, the manager in charge of Nairobi resigned and I got a call from our CEO on a Thursday telling me that I had to report to work (in Nairobi) on Tuesday and run the place.
I spent six months or so as the Acting Manager but eventually I was confirmed in the position and here I am.
Q: How do you find Kenya?
A: Kenya grows on you, and it impresses you when you least expect it. In the three years that I have been here, I have seen some improvements in infrastructure. I have also been very impressed with the physical features of the country- the lakes, the mountains and the animals. I grew up loving animals and as a kid I would walk four to five miles to the British Council to go read Joy Adams’ books and I never for a minute expected that I would be living in Kenya.
So it’s good for me and my family. It’s great having some place like Naivasha just next door, having the national park in Nairobi, there are great restaurants in Kenya, great shopping malls, there’s so much to do, it grows on you.
Q: What’s your favorite Kenyan food?
A: I love pilau.
Q: What about your favorite local destination?
A: I haven’t been to enough parks in Kenya but my favorite destination would most definitely be to a park, I have been to Nairobi National Park a couple of times, I have been to Amboseli. I have not done the great Maasai Mara but I am looking forward to doing that in the next year.
My family and I have not been very interested in the coast largely because we are from Accra which is a coastal city. I have loved being to Naivasha cruising the lake and seeing the hippos.
Q: Getting back to your working life, what’s your management style?
A: I don’t think I have a particular management style, I read quite widely from a lot of different management texts and I adopt a lot of what makes sense to me so I cannot attribute my style to any one guru or book.
The only thing that my staff can expect is that I will treat them fairly but I will not treat them all the same. The way I treat you or interact with you depends on a number of issues, but it will primarily depend on who you are as an individual.
Q: So which kind of staff do you prefer working with?
A: I particularly like to have people who can run on their own and get things done and those that will come to me when there’s a challenge. I don’t particularly enjoy micro managing, I prefer to let my people go and do their stuff. That allows me to focus more strategic aspects of our operations.
Q: what are your weakenesses?
A: I don’t have a single weakness although I have areas that I can improve on.
Q: in your view, what are the challenges facing expatriate managers?
A: Not unique to Kenya, I think the challenges of expatriate managers tend to be almost the same. Without a doubt the biggest is how well their spouse fits in. If the spouse does not settle well in the country you can be guaranteed that the manager will not last six months, he or she will leave. That’s the single most important consideration.
Beyond that other challenges would include things like culture differences. As much as we would like to believe that Africans have the same culture, there are very significant, sometimes subtle, differences from country to country, sometime to countries as close as Kenya and Tanzania, Tanzania and Uganda, Uganda and Rwanda.
Talking about expatriates we are not just talking about Europeans or Americans they could be African expatriates. In fact, most of our expatriates are Africans.
If you bring someone from a culture that is traditional more aggressive like a Nigerian into Kenya, or a Kenyan into Tanzania they could be considered very aggressive and could create problems with the staff accepting the individual.
Then there’s always the issue of staff accepting an outsider who has been brought to manage various aspects of the business.
The culture fit is very important, even within one country; the culture from one company to another can be significantly different. So it’s a huge challenge.
Q: You deal with various kinds of firms on a daily basis. What is your view about Kenya’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
A: Kenya has an SME sector that is extremely vibrant and there’s a lot of government attention on the sector because I think it fully appreciates the importance and the potential of the sector. Having worked across Africa, one thing that strikes me about this country is that Kenyans are among the most entrepreneurial people in this continent.
That is evident in the number of SMEs you see around. I have people who were in universities a couple of years ago who have formed their own companies. In a lot of African countries people come out of universities waiting to get a job with a bank or some multinational so its quite impressive to see people start their own companies after university; it says a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit of the country.
There’s a lot of potential and perhaps because Kenya has been historically free-market oriented than its neighbors, Kenyan companies have tended to be well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in other countries
They go there to do business not expecting state handouts which a lot of entrepreneurs in other countries expect. Kenyan companies go to do business and they do it well.
Q: They do have various challenges. What would you say they need to do to address them?
A: Kenyan small companies need to be members of the apex associations which are well placed to play an advocacy role to present their challenges to the government and influence policy. It’s significantly easier for a Kenya Association of Manufacturers or a KEPSA to do that than it would be for one SME.
They should also strive to improve their corporate governance structures in order to attract investments that would help them to grow.