Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Kelvin Emmanuel
How could you describe your career path in a few words?
Unconventional. I didn't go through the normal route of first degree, then you go for the compulsory 1 year of national service, then get a job and build from there. I started selling books from one office to another when I was 16. I did a management/leadership training at the same age. I taught myself how to use the computer when I was 12, registered my first company a few months before I turned 18, and I got my first job at 20. So my life has been unconventional.
What was your most challenging experience and it has changed your mindset?
My most challenging experience was when I had to change industry from the financial services I have been used to for 10+ years to agriculture and agro-processing in 2019, shortly after I lost a lot of money and had displeased investors breathing down my neck. It was grueling, tough, humiliating, lonely and uncertain. I navigated it knowing fully well that as far as my internal compass was centered on the right motivations, I will always bounce back better and stronger.
When you get surprised by unusual or uncertain context, what do you think?
I think a major part of growth is internal, and this involves building shock absorbers that looks through an entire spectrum or simulate a critical path, so it becomes difficult for you to be surprised as you completely envisaged a potential solution to the problem. Case in point; when we started out, our plan was to build a vertical model for dairy milk processing, when we started out on the ground, we realised that you cannot build a dairy business unless you solve the question of animal feeds ( that is a major reason the 24 million herds of 13 different breeds of cattles are not productive in terms of daily output of milk per day), so we went on to start from the primary production layer of the supply chain to ensure we could reduce our direct cost to income for grains that is a major headache for most industrial animal feed manufacturers ( who either cannot equalize their economies of scale from weak naira, increased shipping premiums and higher commodity prices in Europe & South America as well as find enough quantity locally to substitute for the reduction in imports). So therefore, right now we are build our primary layer into a secondary processing layer to achieve our goal of competing in this space, albeit with an edge when it comes to our supply chain model.
What’s the most important key success factor for you based on your experience?
I have come to understand that planning is very critical in our process of evolution as a company, most businesses don't spend understanding the market structure and the complexities that govern it. And this explains why there are fewer and fewer owned Nigerian companies working in upstream of so many sectors with especially the enterprise business layer. I see so many greenfields that are not been explored because most people don't want to do the heavy lifting and patiently build out their production infrastructure over a number of years before they launch to the markets.
What would be the major pitfall that may undermine the success of a leader?
Especially in Africa, I think the idea that a leader is a superman that is supposed to be revered, and not questioned or function in a team is a problem. At some point, supposed leaders in Africa both in business and government do not understand that the ultimate key to leadership is sustainability and that can only be achieved if a leader subjects him or herself to governance, audit and controls managed by delegating authority to a well-resourced team of skilled people who are stronger than the leader, and who the leader is secured enough to empower.