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Via Business Daily

In one tight paragraph, where did Peter Ndegwa come from?

I have worked for 23 years. Joined PWC after college, worked three years before being seconded to the UK, where I was for six years. I mostly dealt with corporate value consulting and the banking and capital markets accountancy teams. There, I also did my MBA.

I came back in 2002, and joined EABL after 11 years with PWC. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a consultant by the time I hit 40. Eight years later, I was in Ghana which I’m now moving from to head Guinness in Nigeria, Diageo’s biggest operation in Africa.

How has working outside your home country shaped you?

I have learnt to work in different environments, outside my home country. Initially when I went to the UK, it was shocking. London is the banking capital and there, you meet different people. Going abroad helped me be more tolerant, to listen more.

Out there, people don’t care who you are, you have to prove yourself while here in Kenya, there is a tendency to be more spontaneous. My biggest learning is being more open and tolerant.

Which part of your career curve has been more challenging?

It’s been like climbing a mountain, lots of ups and downs. I can’t say there are certain positions that have been more difficult than others, but the transitions from PWC to industry. Coming from exact science to an industry where people really don’t care about the exactness of figures was challenging. Bringing that mindset, I think, has been beneficial to the company.

Also there was a label that this new guy is a consultant, so I guess I had to prove myself more. Going to Ghana and coming face-to-face with the incredible competition was also tough. While EABL dominates in Kenya, in Ghana we had only 55 per cent share. Guinness was declining and I was learning how to deal with an intensive and ruthless economic environment.

After all is said and done, what do you want to be known for eventually?

I grew up in the 70s where teachers wanted you to do well. I feel we can make a difference in society. I do a lot of work with new graduates by mentoring them and also works that empower the community, ensuring the organisation goes beyond delivering target profits.
It’s not only government who can shift how people think and feel, we run big organisations that can also do that, shape policies and improve society. For me, it’s about standing for something, making a difference and leaving a legacy of sustainable business in the corporate sector.

What are your weaknesses as a CEO?

I think the biggest discovery for me over time is that I have set high standard for myself and others. I also don’t celebrate myself enough. When people congratulate me for going to Nigeria and Ghana, I take it for granted yet maybe I need to step back and celebrate.
The second thing is trusting people more. Lastly, I need to relax more; sure I do physical activity - gym - and I started learning tae kwondo some two years ago. Not enough relaxation but certainly work in progress.

Who or what inspires you the most?

You will be surprised that .... I have felt that people who shaped me the most were ordinary teachers I had in primary school and my parents. When I went to Starehe, Mr Grififin inspired me the most, shaping my view about career and the future, integrity and standing up for what you believe in. Of course, over time, I have had many people within Diageo who have been mentors in matters pertaining to leadership.

What has been your biggest failure in life?

(Pause) There are many times I have screwed up! (Laughs). When I went to Ghana, we launched a brand called Amstrong, an innovation between beer and spirit. It was such a high profile product for Diageo and so highly visible but two months after the launch, I knew it was going to fail. I told my boss that this was a big mistake and we needed to kill it before it became a big animal.

We learnt our lesson so much so that the next brand made from cassava beer – the first in Africa and within Diageo – became the most successful product.

What do you fear the most?

(Pause). Because of setting myself such high standards, I have always felt that …. you know, sometimes you wonder if you are you delivering to your optimum; are you good enough? There is always some self-doubt….will you be successful? What if I fail? How does that show up? Over time, however, I have become more comfortable taking risks and taking failure. Earlier in my career there was that fear and sense of inadequacy.

Kids?

One child, six years ...a boy.

How is fatherhood working for you?

Well, I grew up in a large family, we struggled a lot. Dad was mostly away in the navy and later shipping and I committed to be present for my family. I never leave my family when I move jobs, I travel with them.

The thing that I learnt from childhood is to give my boy, Ryan, more time than I got from my father. I got lots of time from my mother and probably I should have gotten more time from my dad. I have an understanding wife, Jemima, who has been supportive of my career. She has had to sacrifice a part of her own career as a marketer to raise our son.

What, according to you, someone who is successful by all intents and purposes, is the biggest risk of success?

Taking it for granted and being complacent and not raising the bar. Every time I feel comfortable somewhere, I know it’s time to move on. When you stop pushing yourself, you start declining. The other thing is arrogance. It gets into you and you lose your common touch and the real essence of who you are. So you have to be real.

What have you learnt from West Africans?

(Laughs). First, West Africans are not homogenous, just like I would get upset when someone clustered me as an East African. West Africans generally have the same body structure but are quite different. Ghanaians are much more chilled out and not as overt in showing their status as, say, Nigerians.

But one thing, Nigerians will tell you as it is while Ghanaians might tell you what you want to hear. But in general they are much more social.
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