East African CEO: ‘Don’t Look For Validation In Other People’

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Written by Staff

From HowWeMadeItInAfrica. Story by Dinfin Mulupi.

James Mworia is one of Kenya’s most respected business leaders.

At 37, he is CEO of Centum, an East African investment company with interests in energy, real estate, financial services and consumer goods. Mworia is credited with transforming the company, set up in 1967, by championing investments in new sectors and expanding its geographical reach.

Mworia spoke at an entrepreneurship boot camp in Nairobi organised by talent management company Africa Talent Bank. He shared his journey in corporate Kenya, and offered tips on business management and entrepreneurship.

Many people fail because they don’t give themselves permission to succeed, he said.

“We think success is for other people. We think we were put on this world to be strugglers,” Mworia said. “It is very easy to make excuses and say ‘The reason I am not succeeding is because I am poor’, or ‘I do not have this or that’. In theory the most successful people should never have succeeded if you look at everything they did not have. You have to say, given what I have today, what am I willing to do with it?”

Mworia urged young entrepreneurs to recognise and go after opportunities around them, however small.

He recounted how he joined Centum in 2001 as a 23-year-old intern whose role was to file documents. Seven years later he was appointed CEO.

“When opportunity comes knocking on your door it does not come written ‘my big break’. It might come as a small job or a small introduction,” Mworia said.

The person at the top is not there by luck or accident. If you hear there is an opportunity in design, it doesn’t mean everyone in design is making money. It is just the people at the top. You have to aspire to be the very best in your industry. In any business, if you are in the top crust you will do well.”

“People ask me why is Centum doing well. It is succeeding because I am uncompromising when it comes to results and to excellence. I don’t accept average. I would rather we repeat 30 times until we get it right because I have set certain standards for myself.”

Even when they lack adequate finances and experience, Mworia urged young entrepreneurs not to settle for “safe” ideas.

“It is easy to settle for simple dreams and tell yourself, ‘let me be realistic’. But dreaming is free. The effort you put into dreaming that you will grow your firm to employ five people is the same as the person dreaming of growing a pan-African company employing thousands of people.

“So give yourself permission to succeed,” Mworia said. “Today there might be a mismatch between your capabilities and your dreams… but don’t let that hold you back. A tree will always be a tree. What makes us humans is the ability to transform ourselves and be something better than we were yesterday.”

“Don’t look for validation in other people. Somebody might tell you it cannot be done and you believe them, then it becomes reality. I have decided that I will not let other people’s opinion become my reality. I will define my reality with the gifts God has given me,” said Mworia.

“In fact I get motivation from those who say it cannot be done.”

Read more at HowWeMadeItInAfrica.