The 100% African, 100% Indian formula of success

The 100% African, 100% Indian formula of success
The 100% African, 100% Indian formula of success

Naushad Merali is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in East Africa. The Kenyan-born Gujarati takes pride in his Indian roots and has a knack for striking deals that saw him make a success of a string of businesses, from telecom to tea. He chairs the Sameer Group, a Kenyan conglomerate active in agriculture, construction, information technology, property and finance. 'India Global Business' caught up with him to explore his unique touch of turning around loss-making ventures into success stories and where he feels India and Kenya could collaborate closely. What would you attribute your success in business deals over the years to

I think I would put it down to hard work, empowering our people, commitment in what we do, positive attitude, respect of people and business relationships, as well us engaging with our stakeholders regularly and giving back to the community. Also, understanding the market environment and using this to our advantage when investing in new businesses for growth. For example, in our agriculture and dairy business. Our business is credited with introducing telecommunication solutions in Kenya in the 1990s with the first independent pan-African mobile phone network 'Kencel' in 2000, which is now known as 'Airtel'. We also established the first Kenya Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in 1991 and the success of this EPZ made the Kenyan government establish the Athi River Processing Zone and the Mombasa Free Zone. What is the secret behind turning around loss-making companies into money-spinners It is a mix of investment on the human resource, expanding and upgrading the businesses we get involved with and injecting major portions of our profits into the business. We try our best not to rely on borrowings, instead making our companies sustainable through good governance and working systems within the organisation to avoid lapses in our cash flow. Also, our investments are mainly based on the environment and technology at a given time and we believe in grabbing the opportunity to turn around businesses, using locally available mechanisms for profitability and synergy. At the age of 24, I joined the finance department of Ryce Motors, a company I would one day own. Within six years of the acquisition, I bought my second company (a construction firm) and other successive companies in different areas of expertise - IT, telecommunication, tea and coffee, energy and power, among others. We grew the workforce of the Sameer Group from less than a hundred employees to over 24,000 employees today, both directly and indirectly, and a turnover of over of $1 billion. Looking back, is there one (or more) turning points that you feel set your business empire on course My principal of TEA - Trust, Efficiency, Attitude. Trust yourself, be efficient and have the right attitude from inside out when doing business. Being committed to the goals I set in business progress and having long term plans versus short term goals, also feeds into this. And, proper Business planning with viable growth and exit strategies are key. What are some of your top tips for entrepreneurs planning to set up a new business When you want to set up a business, make sure you can sustain your business, and be committed to follow it through. Create your reputation of being honest; commit and believe in yourself; Always know that no business can start expecting profit from day one, be persistent and nurture it despite the turbulence that will come along with it. Where do you feel your Indian roots and African upbringing coincide My great grandfather and his family came from India and settled in Lamu. I was born in Mombasa. I feel 100 per cent African and 100 per cent Indian. Living in Africa, we are also able to interact with our Indian roots through registration as 'Persons of Indian Origins' and enjoy the privileges that come with it. We are very happy with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for recognising Persons of Indian Origin who live abroad and introducing the 'OCI' [Overseas Citizen of India] program to make sure our Indian roots are fully recognised and we are able to interact and associate ourselves fully, be it for personal or business reasons, as Indians though living in Africa. What are your views on how India and Kenya could collaborate to grow together Sameer Group is one of the biggest partners of Indian Companies investing in Africa. We have a good track record in working with Indian Companies, we have local knowledge, experience and expertise in all fields of business. We are open to partner with companies looking to come into East Africa. We have worked with many international Indian Companies as their local partners in joint ventures and investment partners namely; RJ Corp of India, VLCC, Hero, J.K. Tyres, Airtel and Tata in the fields of;

  • FMCG
  • Dairy
  • Mobile Telephony
  • Transport
  • Beauty and Health
We are looking for more affiliations and collaboration in the following sectors:
  • Agriculture is one of the most lucrative sector that is growing and has untapped potential that can benefit both countries.
  • Value addition in agriculture
  • Technology and e-commerce
  • Power and Energy
  • Real Estate Projects
  • Infrastructure
  • Medical and health facilities
What role does the Zarina and Naushad Merali Foundation play in your life
The Zarina & Naushad Merali Foundation is run by my wife Zarina and she oversees all projects that we undertake. She sits on the advisory board of the Kenya Paraplegic Society and is a trustee of The Palmhouse Foundation. We sponsor several projects that include hospitals, sports and health centres, old-age homes, education for the needy through establishment of endowment funds in various institutes and building of education facilities. The foundation has sponsored the building of a spinal theatre in Kenya's leading spinal injury hospital. We have sponsored building of a day care centre at the Kenyatta National Hospital, especially to take care of mothers′ and children health. We have built a sports centre with a world class walking track that is open to members of the public to walk and play for leisure. The foundation also runs various feeding programmes in the region and has been actively involved in the sinking of water boreholes in drought-stricken areas in Kenya. The Zarina and Naushad Merali Foundation fulfils our love of giving back to the community and social responsibility.
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