ABN Group co-founder Rakesh Wahi gave a welcome speech at ‘The Forbes Woman Africa Leading Women Summit 2019’ gala dinner, held at the Durban ICC. Rakesh Wahi is the co-founder of the ABN Group, a media holding company for CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa.
It is my unequivocal belief that in life, everything happens for a reason.
When I look back at my life, I see three distinct journeys I have undertaken, based on my early years. The first was my childhood dream about visiting Antarctica, the frozen continent. The second was Australia, which I studied in geography. The third was the selection of Cry, The Beloved Country, which was my textbook in English literature.
Whether it was the forlorn cries of the Titihoya bird, the words of Priest Msimangu, or the constant reminder from Alan Paton that “All Roads lead to Johannesburg” — whatever the reason, I found myself drawn to South Africa in October 2004. Much as I traveled to Antarctica to establish India’s second base in 1987 and traveled to Australia to ultimately establish a university in Dubai, my journey to Africa was yet another date with destiny.
Like any journey in a young man’s life, I met with interesting people everywhere I traveled; as my business interests grew, so did the level of my interaction with political leaders around the world. Yet nothing I had experienced in meetings with leaders prepared me for the meeting with Nelson Mandela.
The opportunity arose just before the World Economic Forum in 2006. It was the latter part of May that year when we received confirmation that Mandela would see us at his foundation in Johannesburg. I will remember that day and those 30 minutes with him as one of the most blessed moments of my life. Until then, I had never been in the company of a man whose distinctive personality brings a sense of humility to your existence. His words were deliberate, deep and reflective of his understanding of the person he was meeting. He seemed a man who looked at each moment for what it was worth; the mark of a man who gave importance to everything around him, more than to himself. A man, who despite his place in history, made me believe that he cared about the relatively tiny difference I was trying to make in the land he sacrificed so much for. He had a gift for making everyone feel special.
Yes, Madiba made me choke with emotion. That was the power of the man. He touched the heart of a stranger. Is it then surprising to see how he is revered by his people? I have met quite a few people who have tales about his courage and kindness; his wisdom and his fortitude; and above all his sacrifice and his humility. India lost Gandhi long before I was born. I grew up being taught about the values he left behind.
Every century is blessed by but a handful of leaders who are genuinely selfless and who sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. Madiba is nothing short of a rarity.
There is no greater lesson for a leader, than to be selfless.
Of the few significant achievements I have savored was the conceptualizing and financing of the documentary on Lilliesleaf and the Rivonia trial, later produced by Chris Bishop. This story captured a true piece of history, and its production shall fill me with pride for all times to come, as it covers a small part of the life of a legend and is my attempt to commemorate the memories of all those who involved in the trial.
Madiba had a dream for South Africa and for his people. Let’s honor his legacy by doing our small part in fulfilling his dream by shaping South Africa as a country of prosperity and equality encapsulated in the letter and spirit of the Freedom Charter.
I cannot help but recollect the words of General Douglas MacArthur, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” I salute an old soldier. Long live Madiba — father of this great nation.
Rakesh Wahi is the founder of the ABN Group, a media holding company for CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa. He is also the co-founder of the Trans National Academic Group, an education group that includes Murdoch University Dubai and Curtin University Dubai. Mr Wahi, 59, started his career in the Indian Army where he served with the Corps of Engineers before switching gears into the world of corporate finance and investment banking after spending a few months as part of an Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica. The entrepreneur and media baron, who divides his time between Dubai and South Africa, is married with two grown-up children.
Commandant of the NDA, Air Marshal JS Kler, AVSM, VM
Dty Commandant, Rear Admiral SK Grewal, VSM
Officers and Academic staff; and
Cadets of the National Defence Academy.
Good evening to all of you and thank you for your kind introduction.
It is indeed an honour and privilege for me to address you all this evening. I am filled with nostalgia as I joined this great institution 41 years ago in 1976 and graduated from here in June 1979. It may seem a long time ago, but I can still hear myself sing, the announcements at Kilo squadron; I hope that it is still the squadron tradition. I also remember the aroma of the Gole market bakery that sold doughnuts. I must confess, those were the best doughnuts that I have ever eaten.
When I received the invitation from the Deputy Commandant, I was no doubt thrilled to come back to talk to all of you. However, summarizing a life long journey into 45 minutes is not an easy task. There are some common threads through my journey – first as a soldier and then as an entrepreneur, and when I look back at my life, I can see that these threads were woven into my character by the National Defence Academy.
Admiral Grewal asked me to speak about “Leadership and Risk Taking”, but I have been given latitude to cross reference my experiences. The Chief Instructor, Brig Jacob had cautioned me that most of you are going to sleep; I had therefore requested him to provide some pillows and blankets. I believe these are available should any one need them.
During the course of my talk, I will map my journey, both through successes and failures, and also reflect on my recently published book, in which I have proudly acknowledged that I would not be the man I am today, without the strong foundation that the military gave me. You will also see some visuals appearing on the screen; these are pictures from the past and some highlights of my presentation.
I do have to tread on thin ice today, as I want to motivate you to rise to the top in the armed forces; and not leave and follow what I did. But it is important for you, to know the qualities the Army engrained in me, that allowed me to get to where I am today.
One consistent factor in this auditorium today, is recognition, that by being the 8th hardest institution globally, to be admitted into, we are a unique group of individuals. Individuals, who have been filtered through a fine mesh, that above all distils an alumnus of outstanding leaders.
To illustrate this point, my course boasts of 8 Lt Generals, of which three are Army Commanders. The Quarter Master General, General Ambre, who is present here this evening, three Vice Admirals including the Vice Chief of Naval staff, The Flag officer Commander In Chief of the Southern Naval Command and 4 Air Marshals, including one, who was the Commandant of this great institution a few years ago. The inference is, that no matter how you feel today, you are part of an elite group, that will lead the armed forces, in the not so distant future.
So what is this sieve that you are going to be put through for the next 30 to 40 years of your life? How do you prepare for it? What is the code of conduct that you live by, what purpose and goals have you set for yourself, and how do you achieve them? More importantly, what is the legacy that you will leave behind when you finish your innings and head back to the pavilion? These words may sound complex and farfetched, but it is what you do, from the day you join this glorious institution, that will determine your destiny.
From the day that I joined the NDA until the day I left, there was an emphasis on two interconnected values; Leadership and Espirit De Corps. We all arrived here from different walks of life. The first step of the training, consciously or unconsciously, whether on the official parade ground or while front rolling in each other’s vomit after dinner, was to unify the cadets through cohesion.
There was initially a belief that if you were a fast runner, you could rest if you came first, after running rounds of the quadrangular. It is only a myth. Whether the exercise conducted was by your Squadron Commander or by a second termer, or during the various training camps, the outcome expected was the same; and the methods, as brutal as they seemed, achieved the goal of cohesion. It was not who came first, but that we all came together, and came on time.
I remember one of my course mates, after reaching the end of his tether, committed sacrilege by walking up to our Squadron Commander, then Lt Commander Zuthi, and telling him that he was beat, and exhausted, and could take no more of 7th heaven, or the post dinner commando training. We had done so many push ups that night, that none of us could even wear our berets at muster. Commander Zuthi got us all together and gave us the explicit difference between being a man and a sissy; nothing complimentary I might add. He looked at the Squadron Cadet Captain and said that he wasn’t doing his job.
I am sure that everyone in this auditorium would recognize the outcome of that mischievous insult. What resulted from that day on, until camp Greenhorn, was that despite the expected onslaught, we never looked back. When there is no recourse, you look up, regroup and then forge ahead. That is the attitude that is instilled into each of us. This is at the core of who we are; without being together, we are nothing.
My father, who distinguished himself both as an army officer and a corporate legend, defined leadership as, “an ability to influence and inspire people to work willingly and enthusiastically to achieve group goals. At the end of his 65 year career, in his definition, he emphasized the word “willingly”. This word signifies cohesion, through a common mission or goal. Espirit de corps is defined as the spirit, that makes the members of a group want to succeed. So what is this spirit that needs to be instilled in each one of us, to willingly achieve an objective?
This Spirit, whether in the armed forces or in the corporate world, is nothing but the motivation that drives an individual. In the ultimate analysis, the art or science, of motivating people, to achieve a goal, is what leadership is all about.
I was commissioned straight into field, with 113 Engineers. The regiment was on a classified operational task. My first company commander, then Major Jagannathan, gave me my first lesson on leadership.
Jagannathan was a veteran of two wars, and prided himself on his achievements as a soldier on the battlefield. The troops simply loved him. Despite his foul language and rough exterior, they would do anything for him. My first question was: what is the genesis of this loyalty? Combat soldiers may have strong beliefs about patriotism, but when it comes to the crunch, they follow their leaders. They follow men and women, who have established credibility through consistent actions, and can therefore be trusted implicitly.
As I was to realize over the next three years, my company commander personified these ideals. He drilled one important lesson into my DNA: if there is a single soldier under your command, who is on duty, you have to be there with him. To be effective, you cannot lead from behind.
Over the next few years, I understood that he had no agenda other than excellence. As we toiled in the Rajasthan desert, Col Jagannathan relentlessly emphasised some basic qualities of leadership: tireless persistence for perfection; leading from the front; humility; conviction; the ability to always stand up for what was right, and giving due credit to the people that you lead.
I have dwelt on this, as this early experience formed my character, and to this day, I have lived my life following the value system that the NDA instilled in me. Our foundations have been laid in this great institution and these are qualities that each of you have, which will be essential, as you take your positions as junior leaders of our armed forces.
After my tenure with 113 Engineers, I finished my degree course at CME in 1986, during which time I got married. In January, the same year, I was awarded the VSM at our Army day parade. BTW, I can assure you that the VSM wasn’t for getting married. I then moved to 114 Armoured Engineers in Patiala. It was an opportune time to have been with the 1st Armoured Division, as we played an important role in Operation Brasstacks.
Then came the turning point in my life. It had always been my dream to go to the Antarctic, and I was selected to join the 7th Indian Scientific Expedition.
The experience at the Antarctic in 1987 was like no other; it was like living in a refrigerator. Our mission was to build the foundation of India’s second base at Maitri, which is on an oasis, 110 KM into the continent. We acclimatized first at the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg and later at our first base camp in Dakshin Gangotri; we then moved to Maitri which was close to the Russian base Novorossiysk, which is on a glacier.
The experience was enriching as it was my first exposure on inter-service cooperation or jointness of the three services. The armed forces contingent had pilots and technical members from the Airforce and the Navy; they were responsible to ferry, man and material, on Chetak and Mi-8 helicopters, from the continental shelf, to the two base stations.
The weather conditions in Maitri were hostile, and although we had daylight for 20 hours, there were a number of days when the white-outs or blizzards would not allow us to go out, or for the helicopters to fly. The Naval and Airforce pilots, most of them Ex NDA, were our lifeline, and were always on standby to make extra sorties on clear days. It was hard work, and in 3 months, we succeeded in our mission of moving over 300 tons of steel and equipment, over a distance of 110 kilometres and building the foundation of the station.
We would not have succeeded without the team work among the three services, and the great leadership from our Expedition Commander, Col Ganeshan. This spirit of inter-service cooperation is born right here at the NDA and will be an integral part of your careers, particularly as you start to gain seniority in the armed forces.
Other than the experience of building our station, there were a few other important lessons. The most important of which was to respect Mother Nature. I remember one morning when we got up in a blizzard and it took us 4 hours to cover the 200 metres from the outside shelter to the main base station at Dakshin Gangotri. On another night, our porta cabin caught fire and Captain Kurup, Captain Patole and I escaped with our lives, bare foot on razor sharp blue ice. It was during this visit that I saw first-hand, how ice bergs were breaking off because of global warming, which was becoming the cause of changing weather patterns.
During my 4 months on the frozen continent, I began to reflect on what I wanted. It was during days of blizzards, that I dared to start dreaming of the outside world. A world I had no idea about, but a seed had been sown.
On my return from the Antarctic, I spoke to my father, who was livid at the idea of my wanting to leave the Army. My son was to be born any day, and he thought I had lost my mind in the cold. Standing up before a legendary father’s logical statements, and understandable temper, was not easy. You are an outstanding and decorated soldier, he reasoned. Why do you want to leave this wonderful and honourable life? What will you do he asked me again and again; I had no answer. I was stubbornly adamant but did not have a plan. I was scared to tell him, that he had done the same, and had turned out absolutely fine.
What gave me hope were a few things. First, at a personal level, a loving mother; who as most mothers do, felt that my father was being unreasonable! And a loving wife, who at 23 years of age, wisely said, it does not matter what you do, I will always be by your side. At a professional level, I had two degrees, 13 years of tempered discipline, ethics and an exemplary code of conduct; surely these things would count for something.
My father didn’t give up and as a final measure, he asked me to meet one of his retired Army friends. At the end of the lunch, General Dayal, who a few months later went on to become our Lt Governor in Pondicherry, said something reassuring. He said, “Son go out and follow your dreams”. These were important words and while my father was disappointed in both of us, he finally gave me his consent.
I eventually resigned from the Army in April 1988, which was accepted 5 months later. When I left the army, I had Rs. 17,000 in my bank account, a young wife and a 5 month old son. This was perhaps the greatest risk that I have ever taken.
At my home coming party on the 29th of September, one of my uncles who owned a construction company asked me to work for him. He had won a contract for building army accommodation in Patiala, and asked that I move there to look after the project, as Project Director. What followed for the next 3 months was the worst professional nightmare that I ever had. I watched in shock the utter disregard for quality standards and blatant corruption; I had not anticipated the violation of ideals that had been instilled in me. I raised the issue with my uncle, who took pains to explain the way things happened in the construction industry. I wasn’t convinced.
One thing I had to get used to was interpreting what people actually meant with their words. In the army when you said something, you stood by it; it was your honour code. I found people in the real world, say one thing, mean something else and then do something completely different. The institution of implicit trust was destroyed.
As a young officer in the army, you are shielded from the harsh realities of life, but this was being thrown into the deep end. I was disillusioned. The greatest fight was an internal one with my conscience. The bottom line was that I had not given up an honourable life to start a dishonourable one. In 3 months, I resigned from a comfortable and well paid job, and found myself at a cross road again. I swore that I would never go back to the construction business.
As a Sapper officer, my bio had some interesting experiences highlighted; demolitions, mine-field laying & breaching, anti-tank warfare, bridging, laying booby traps; just to mention a few. These are not skills that read well on a CV; since no one was looking for mercenaries in 1988, the responses I got from potential employers were not earth shattering.
I then went back to my father asking for his advice. He was at that time the Chairman of ONGC and also the Chairman of the Standing Committee of public enterprises. I was sure that he would have some ideas on what I could do. My father’s words to me that day were perhaps the most difficult ones to digest. He said, and I quote “I do not know what you plan to do, but this is what you will never do. You will never discuss my business or come to me with any proposals from anyone relating to what I do. People will use you to reach me and this will not happen. You must build your own worth, son, and people must meet you for who you are and not who I am”.
These were the harshest words that anyone had ever spoken to me; but he knew what he was doing. I am sure as a father it must have broken his heart to have said this to me. He was right, and in retrospect, as much as it was difficult for me to understand at that time, my complete success was because my father did not give me a crutch to handicap my life.
Proverbially, when one door closes another one opens. My older sister and her husband were visiting India and on seeing my plight, she asked me to come to Dubai, to work with her publishing company, and try something different. As I took the flight to Dubai in April 1989, I kissed good bye to everything that I left behind in India and never looked back. I undertook another risk to join an industry I was not educated to get into, and detach from a well-recognized family name and legacy, entering into a world of the unknown.
All I carried with me was what I had learnt from my army days; a very strong code of conduct. I swore to uphold these values at any cost, just as my father had, in showing me the door. In the last 28 years, I have never touched a single industry that my father was involved in, nor did any business in India, both by design and by the opportunities that followed.
The stint with my sister’s publishing company gave me a start that I needed in Dubai. This was the start of my second innings, and Dubai has for the last 28 years, been our home away from home.
In 1991 the Russian market started opening up, and with the help of some friends I began to look at opportunities in Russia. It was an opportune time to be there. For one thing, people were as ignorant about business as I was. There was no internet or mobile phones. Communications were by telex or by booking trunk calls to your business partners. There was no commercial or private banking, and people did not even know what personal cheque books were. Yes, it appeared that we were in the dark ages.
Since people were scared to travel to Russia because of the emergence of the so-called mafia, I built a trading business on the principles of information arbitrage. This simply means profiting from peoples lack of information and access.
To my mind, this was a traditional world of carpet baggers. Profiteering from chaos! Everyone had their hand in the cookie jar; this was indeed a period of economic boom. It was also my training ground, for learning about taking risks and getting high returns.
While the opportunities were abundant, one had to travel far and wide, often in under developed areas, with little or no comforts. The problem was personal security, mainly because of crime and lawlessness. Once again, I was blessed to have my army training of making do with little and being very aware of my surroundings. There were a lot of Russians, who would show up at meetings with armed body guards, and on occasion, revealed weapons during negotiations. I followed some basic rules of engagement: Remain respectful of local laws and culture, honour your contractual commitments, be calm and fair in crisis but stand your ground on your rights.
By 1994, the whole world had an interest in Russia and competition became fierce. Hundreds were doing what I was doing; and I clearly lacked any points of differentiation. Additionally, I did not have an organizational structure or personal credibility. It dawned on me that to build a sustainable business, I needed to build an organization. To do this, I had to go back to the drawing board, as I was not prepared to take on the challenges that I faced.
I am a great believer that people play a very important role in your life, and that they come into your life, for a reason. Through interdependence, they become entwined in your destiny. No relationship in life can flourish without mutual interdependence. We rely on each other for our strengths and complementary skills. This is the basis of any team, whether on the sports fields, battle field or in business.
I coined a phrase that I use in my mentorship lessons: “Every now and again in your life, there will come another human being, who will touch your heart, soul and destiny. He or she will be the messenger of an opportunity and, consequently, your destiny”. Keep your eyes open for such people, and do not fail to build interdependence with them.
All the people in this auditorium today are part of a time and space chart that we cannot explain, but there is a greater power that brings about these interactions. You will see as you grow over the years, that your circle of influence will be formed here and will continue to grow from these very relationships that are built at this institution. Do not ever forget to nurture and build on these positively, as you cannot grow in a vacuum.
As I travelled the world, I was introduced to a great American entrepreneur, Rick Michaels. Rick introduced me to investment banking, asset management and the world of Information technology, Media and Telecommunications (ICT as we know it). These were unfamiliar areas, but I spent the next 8 years of my life, from 1994 to 2002, in navigating a path that I knew nothing about.
The army instils in you the habit of personal development and continuous education. You will all recognize the phrase: “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”. There is more truth in these words than what you will ever realize. I went back to educating myself, and since I did not have the luxury of going for a full time university program, I began to get up at 4 AM every day to study finance and read about the ICT sectors. I attended workshops and conferences and took every opportunity to learn. You cannot lead from ignorance, and if I had to lead people educated at Harvard and Stanford, I needed to know what they knew, and more.
This is another important lesson for all my young friends in the room this evening; just being a soldier will not get you to your goals. You need to constantly educate yourself, to keep yourself current with technology, and the latest trends in your respective fields, or you have the risk of becoming a dinosaur. The future belongs to the era of “scholar warriors”.
Studies and hard work paid off; it wasn’t long before I became an authority on my subjects, and a speaker at conferences around the world. I became a pioneer in Islamic private equity, and set up the first team to establish a 50 million dollar private equity fund, focussed on the ICT sector. This period was magical, and was perhaps the greatest learning curve in shaping my life.
As if stability was not to be a consistent factor, the dot com bubble burst. Internet companies that had mushroomed, and gained incredible value, had started to crash. Luckily for us, we had kept clear, by strategy and design, of any investments in Internet companies. However, with the collapse of Dot.com companies, the financial markets crashed, and in 2002, I was faced with yet another crisis, where everything that I had learnt and built for over 8 years, was under threat.
Once again it was time to go back to the drawing board. The only difference was that this time, I was better prepared. I had not only built a better balance sheet for myself, but had significant emerging markets experience, and specialized in the most rapidly growing sector in the world. The ICT sector was not only growing exponentially but, through innovation, was disrupting every other sector. The choices before me were to either continue with asset management, and investing into others businesses within the ICT sectors, or to start building my own businesses.
I took a decision to start building businesses bottom up. The main reason was because the maximum value and wealth creation, takes place when you start a business from scratch. Based on experience between 1994 and 2002, I decided to take well established global brands to emerging markets. The strategy was to become number 1, in every chosen industry, in the countries that we entered.
Over the last 15 years, along with my partners, I have invested into three sectors; IT, media and education. We have partnered some of the best known brands from across the world. We now have a presence in over 22 countries, where we employ a little over 1500 people from over 40 countries.
As we progressed, we did not forget our social responsibilities. As a family we established a foundation to give back. With my wife as its patron, we decided to focus our attention on three areas; orphan children, destitute women and tertiary education for children from disadvantaged families. At this stage of my life, giving back to people, less fortunate than us, has been the most satisfying part of what we have achieved.
I have so far mapped my journey. I would briefly like to highlight a few lessons.
The first is to take failure as a path to success. If you take risks and try to make a difference, you will fail from time to time. Greatness lies, not in never falling, but in rising after every fall. When you fall, dust yourself and start again.
The second is to recognize that change is an inevitable path to growth. Don’t get into a comfort zone of mediocrity or accept the status quo. If you stop growing, it is time for a change. As you make changes, remember to ensure that you educate yourself in line with your new environment.
Thirdly, risk taking is an inherent quality of being an entrepreneur. Lots of people have a notion that when you own your business, it comes with a lot of freedom. On the contrary, being an entrepreneur takes away all the freedom you enjoy in a structured environment. From being responsible just for your own family, you are now responsible for the lives of hundreds of people who rely on your leadership and vision, to make sure that they have stable jobs and a secure future.
The fourth lesson is that, the biggest challenge, when you set up multinational corporations, is in building teams and bringing a common culture across the organization. Finding good people, aligning their goals with those of the organization, working synergistically with other team members, and motivating them to deliver your vision, requires patience and a belief, that people all over the world are inherently good.
The one thing that has not changed over the last 28 years, since leaving the army, has been my belief in people. This is fundamentally at the core of what I learnt in the army. No battle can be won without the involvement, loyalty and the commitment of the very people that we are called upon to lead. Since people are your greatest assets, I personally oversee the human resources department in my business, and make sure that there is a clear management of expectations between the organization and its people.
There are some basic qualities that I have looked for in people over the years. I coined a term LIACC.
Loyalty, Integrity, Attitude, Competence, Commitment
In my view if people don’t have high marks in these 5 qualities, they are unlikely to make it into my senior team. Warren Buffet said: “In hiring people look for three qualities: Integrity, Intelligence and Energy. If they don’t have the Integrity, don’t bother with the rest”.
Other than integrity, the most important quality in my dictionary is “Attitude”. A good leader is not only someone who is positive at all times, but is able to surround himself with positive people, who can find solutions and not become part of a problem. You will see on the screen an empirical illustration about the truth to life.
The fifth lesson is to recognize the involvement of youth in our organizations. Youth are our future and we can only ignore them at our peril. As I was building my organization, I focussed a lot on the development of the middle management. This is generally people in the age group of 28 to 35. Other than starting the Young Leaders Program, which was a mini MBA related to our business, I encouraged team building exercises that are no different from the camps that you are all familiar with.
In 2013, I took a team from CNBC Africa and Murdoch University, to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. At about 6000 meters, Mt Kilimanjaro is the highest free standing mountain in the world; only 41percent of the people who have attempted to climb it, have made it to the top. More people have died trying to climb Kilimanjaro than Mt Everest. From an age perspective, at 54, I was the oldest member of the team and my son, Sid, at 25, was the youngest.
Understanding the enormity of the task, I started training with my team about 6 months before the climb. Other than the basic fitness requirements, I brought the discipline of buddy pairs, and taking regular breaks after every 40 minutes, to breathe, stretch and eat high energy food. Some team members thought I was old and unfit, when I made them walk slowly and stay together. When we started the hike up Killimanjaro, I ensured that the team continued with the same discipline. Since the first four days were relatively simple, the team was anxious to move faster, and also break up into smaller groups based on individual strengths.
It was easy to see the logic of what they were trying to do; in its most simple form, it was to separate the strong from the weak. For me, it would have defeated the very purpose of the trip. I intervened, and made sure that on summit night we stayed together. The goal was clear. We would stay together, and 100 percent of the team had to reach the top.
I would now like to play a brief video to illustrate what happened during our hike up Kilimanjaro.
As seen in the video, I faced a personal crisis at 300 metres from the summit. I had seen my son struggle right through the climb, but seeing him turn blue in the face, was heart wrenching. Sid developed acute mountain sickness and his lips turned purple. The guide advised that he move down to a lower altitude quickly. I was faced with a dilemma, whether to go down with my son, whose life was in imminent danger, or to go up with the team, and send him down with a guide. This was not an easy choice. However, I finally chose to entrust his care, in the hands of a qualified and experienced mountain guide. In the condition I was in at that altitude, there was nothing I could have done for my son.
You can play board games and go to bowling alleys or parks for getting to know each other, but if you want to test character, take people out on a tough, real life expedition. You get to see how people behave when the chips are down and when their existence is being threatened. I was proud of each and every one in the team, but most of all, of my son. I knew what he went through that day to turn back and make sure that he did not let me or his team down. This is what true leaders are made of. When he gave his debriefing address in Johannesburg, he stated proudly that it was on top of the mountain that he learnt the true meaning of the word “humility”.
I pray for God’s mercy as I know that He tested us all that night, and each one of us overcame our personal limitations to achieve our goal that day. The trip helped me build one of the most formidable teams in our organization.
As you all progress in your own journeys, whether personal or professional, you will be called to make difficult choices. Despite the stress and physical hardship, you will have to think calmly and after taking council from your closest advisors, you will need to make the right decision. At all times remember that as a leader, the goal and the mission is all that you need to focus on. Everything else is secondary.
In November 2016, I published my memoirs titled “Be a Lion – Dare to Dream and Live Fearlessly”.
People have admiration for different animals; I have since my childhood been fascinated by Lions. If you have seen how a pride of lions lives, you will have seen their implicit respect for hierarchy, yet there is respect for every member in the pride. When they hunt, and depending on the prey, it could be the fastest, that leads, or the stealthiest, or the most experienced, or the strongest. This is what makes a pride of lions the most feared predators in the world. It’s all about teamwork.
For me the Lion symbolizes power, and metaphorically, is someone at the top of his game. To be a Lion is to be fearless, to protect what we are entrusted with; to build something that will endure; to ensure a succession of strong, resilient leaders who will give their lives to protect the honour and legacy of what we have set out to establish. From one Simha to another, pass the mantle of succession and, a legacy of immortality.
I was in Prague in December 2015, completing the legacy chapter of my book. It was an opportune time for me to visit Charles University that was established 7 centuries ago. After 700 years, Charles the 4th is not remembered for anything other than this grand university that is churning out thousands of students in various disciplines, and who carry a certificate bearing his name. It made me reflect on what a legacy truly is. People seldom remember you for the wealth that you accumulate. They will remember you, for your deeds, and for the impact that you make on the lives of others.
Cadets of the National Defence Academy, and the young officers present in the auditorium; take these words from an old horse:
Life is not going to be a bed of roses; each day will come with new opportunities and challenges. Face the challenges like men and overcome them. Take opportunities fairly, and carry with you the people that you lead. There will be times when you fall. Failure is a path to success. Lift yourself when you fall and come back stronger. Learn from your mistakes. Do not put limitations to your potential and overcome all barriers that hold you back. Go out there and conquer the world; serve your country with honour and dignity; make each day count and achieve perfection in all that you do.
What I would like to leave you with is a couplet, written by Dr Iqbal, that my father shared with his children until his last day:
Khudh hi Ko Kar Buland Itna, Ke Har Taqdeer Se Pehle, Khuda Bande Se Khud Puche, Bata Teri Raza Kya Hai.
Develop yourself so well that before every decree, God will himself ask you: “What is it that you wish for?”
Thank you very much.
Dare to dream and live fearlessly
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Johannesburg, 10 November 2016: Entrepreneur Rakesh Wahi; Chairman of CMA Investment Holdings, founder of CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa, Murdoch University Dubai and Lancaster University Ghana this month released his autobiography titled “Be a lion: Dare to dream and live fearlessly”.
Today Wahi led a panel discussion featuring the current CEO of African Rainbow Energy & Power Brian Dames and leading female entrepreneur Phuti Mahanyele, exploring the impact leadership has on markets.
Wahi said; “Leadership remains a very complex and understudied subject. As a leader you need to know where you are going, then devise a plan and surround yourself with the right people and skills. What follows is trust based on interdependency between people and effective communication.”
27th November 2015, Johannesburg, South Africa
On Friday, the 27th of November, 2015 Forbes Africa and the ABN Group hosted the 5th Annual Forbes Africa Person of the Year award dinner. The award has moved from Lagos to Nairobi and now finally made its way to Johannesburg South Africa.
The award was won by Mohammed Dewji, CEO of the MeTL Group, Tanzania.
The following are excepts from my address that evening:
Earlier this year, Akinwumi Adesina was appointed the President of the African Development Bank this year – in 2013, he was elected Forbes Person of the Year. Mohammed joins Dr. Adesina, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, James Mwangi, and Aliko Dangote as part of the Person of the year Alumnii. An honour that is globally second to none.
The award is more than than the individual. In a very real way, is about Africa’s place on the centre stage of global economics and innovation. I just attended the Global CEO forum in the Manila and I was so proud to see that the optimism that we all share about the African story is now being recognized as a reality of every self-respecting business family in the world.
What we also witnessed in the discussions was the disruption being caused by innovation in almost everything we do. My generation does not accept the status quo that “we should do things because that’s how things are done”. We want to turn everything on its head – sometimes to our own peril and detriment.
Innovation is almost never clean and linear. Much like running businesses in the African continent, it is messy and involves lateral thinking. When connecting the dots in retrospect, we may realize how different things turned out from the initial idea, after countless permutations and transformations.
An entrepreneur must be prepared to change; to adapt; to evolve; to push through boom and bust cycles with an eye towards the horizon; to understand that what drives growth today will be different from what drives growth tomorrow. The underlying driver is the belief of one’s vision and the ability to work relentlessly. Forbes Africa encompasses and recognizes these values.
In a recent interview, Mark Mobius made this observation: “the headlines are usually very bad about Africa. But if you go on the ground, if you look carefully at what is happening, you will find out in fact that there is a lot of opportunity, tremendous opportunity.” In every issue of Forbes Africa, we give voice to entrepreneurs, trailblazers, and innovators who were able to capitalize on these opportunities. We hope that investors looking to mine superior returns will find, through our magazine, evidence of commercial possibility in Africa.
The first issue of Forbes Africa lined newsstands in October 2011, when digital platforms were already beginning to challenge the supremacy of print media. But we forayed into this fiercely competitive arena because we felt the lack of an outlet that captured the stories of those who have brought about tectonic shifts in the business and economic landscape of Africa. If you look at the picture of Patrice Motsepe on the cover of Forbes Africa from October 2011, you’ll notice the air of confidence about him, confidence which comes only with a great deal of experience.
In that issue, we related Motsepe’s inspiring story: from the six-year-old helping his father behind the counter to the sharp lawyer who had the crazy idea to take over and turn around some loss-making, low-producing marginal mines. It is through such stories that Forbes Africa kindles in young Africans the kind of risk-taking mentality and can-do attitude it takes to be successful.
The magazine under Chris Bishop has grown from strength to strength, with every new issue setting a new benchmark for editorial excellence. In an industry like ours, where changing media consumption habits and increased competition move the goal post on a daily basis, our team has done extremely well in not just remaining relevant, but continuing to grow our spheres of influence.
While speaking at a conference on digital media in Nairobi last month where somebody pointed out that the audience, and not content is king. While that might be the case in some markets, in Africa, distribution is king kong. Distribution of a pan African magazine presents numerous logistical challenges – so being recognized by IPSOS as the most widely read monthly magazine among Africa’s affluent is testament to our success in this regard.
Chris Bishop and I attended at the first ever Forbes partner conference in New Jersey last month. 32 out of 37 local language and regional editions were present to discuss a number of challenges, from magazine layouts to dealing with native content and advertising strategies. When we launched, we were the 16th licensee. Today, with 37 partners across the globe, the Forbes brand has, in 4 short years, become not just the most powerful business media brand in Africa, but also in the world.
I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight a few other notable accomplishments of the team.
- Jay Caboz, a journalist on the Forbes Africa team has won three awards for the magazine this year, winning two awards just earlier this month at the ZIMEO “Excellence in Media” Awards Dinner on the back of the African Media Leaders Forum.
- Our latest count shows that 14 of 29 dollar Billionaires in Sub Saharan Africa have graced the covers of Forbes Africa.
- Wendy Applebaum was the first woman to grace the covers of both Forbes Africa and Forbes Woman.
- Earlier this year we launched our first ever 30 under 30 list – our most popular issue till date. Next year we will build on this franchise by incorporating an event focused at issues around youth, unemployment and entrepreneurism.
- Finally, The South African Advertising and Research Foundation, who run the All Media Product Survey once every quarter released their latest survey in Q3. The most recent tally puts Forbes Africa ahead of all its competitors in the business genre, with the magazines average issue readership sitting at 197,000.
The event was attended by 150 African Chief Executives, Government dignitaries and members of the financial services community.
This was presented at the annual African Media Leaders Forum in South Africa on the 12th of November 2015. Scroll down for the complete presentation.
It is estimated that internet penetration is close to 300 million or 26% of Africa’s 1.1 billion strong populous. Additionally, bulk of those connections are concentrated in markets like South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya. This represents the massive digital divide, both internally as well as in the global context. The cost and availability of inland broadband is prohibitively expensive due to monopolistic tendencies in certain markets in Southern Africa, while a demand supply mismatch in Nigeria and Kenya are to blame for pricing irregularities.
— Dianne Regisford (@D_Regisford) November 12, 2015
On a more positive note, 89% of the mobile devices shipped to Africa in Q1 2015 ran the Android operating system, while close to 45% of those devices were prices under US $100. Service providers like Safaricom have partnered with device manufactures to take advantage of this mobile boom and roll out a number of devices that are affordable and feature-rich, for example, the Huawei Ideos, the Microsoft 4Afrika smartphone or Yolo by Intel. The graph below represents a shift from the consumption of feature phones to smart devices. Growth of mobile and mobile internet will be driven by the affordability of data, smartphones and the proliferation of local apps and content.
Mobile penetration in the continent surpasses that of the developed markets at close to 80% and over 110% in certain countries in East Africa. Africa’s current contribution to its iGDP or the contribution of the internet to a country’s gain, we see that it represents just 1% of the continents GDP. In comparison to the developed world at 4% of total GDP, the absolute value of the Internet’s contribution to GDP in Africa is estimated to be US $18 billion. If you assume that the growth of the internet will follow a similar progression to that of mobile telephone services, where Africa surpasses the developed world in terms of contribution to GDP, a McKinsey Global Study (Lions Go Digital) forecasts a similar leapfrog effect where the contribution of the internet to GDP in Africa could be as high as 11% by 2020.
Looking at sectors such as banking, healthcare and education, Africa significantly lags behind the rest of the word. Financial inclusion is exceptionally low with 76% of the population being excluded from the formal banking sector.
Education in Africa isn’t much better. When looking at metrics like student enrollment rates across primary, secondary and tertiary, Africa lags behind the rest of the world in nearly each segment. The quality of education is also sub par, where one teacher is responsible for, on average, 42 students.
With respect to healthcare, as the slide below depicts, Africa is behind the rest of the world when indicators such as infant mortality, life expectancy and the prevalence of AIDS are considered.
— Birgit Schwarz (@BirgitMSchwarz) November 12, 2015
The point behind depicting these stats is to present the massive opportunity out there in overcoming these challenges. ICT, if used correctly, can be used to fill gaps in each of these sectors through innovative products and services. In the financial services sector, MPesa has helped over 20 million Kenyans without bank accounts facilitate payments, take out microloans or purchase airtime.
Jason Njuku’s iRoko TV has helped Nigerian cinema or Nollywood create alternate revenue streams in an environment where structured distribution for over 3000 films produced annually does not really exist.
iCow is an innovative startup that allows farmers in Kenya with a regular mobile telephone track the efficiency and productivity of their dairy farms using the power of big data and cloud computing, accessed through simple text messaging.
Bright Simmons created mPedigree to prevent fake and counterfeit medication from being consumed in Africa, effectively saving millions of lives.
I would be remiss not to mention how this digital evolution impacts the media business. Media consumption is shifting from traditional platforms to digital. Digital has some clear advantages over it’s predecessors when it comes to things like measurability, interactivity, context & relevance of advertising and continuity of discussion across platforms.
This evolution has changed not only the way we consume content, but also how it is produced. Social media has enabled content consumers to track and report on news stories. Sohaib Athar live tweeted on Operation Neptune Spear, without knowing it, and brought the world real-time updates on the capture of Osama bin Laden. In Egypt as well, activists mobilized groups of people using Twitter and Facebook.
You can view and download the entire presentation here:
CNBC Africa – the pan-African financial and business news channel –will be syndicating its award-winning multimedia and video clips to Newstag, an innovative ‘mobile-first’ video news service. The multi-year deal grants Newstag the right to share and distribute CNBC’s news videos on its mobile and online platforms alongside current affairs and entertainment content from other professional content producers around the world, including AP, AFP and Reuters.
CNBCAfrica.com Chief Executive, Sid Wahi said: “Newstag is to professional video news what YouTube is to amateur video clips. They are the world’s largest online network based on videos only from trusted sources. CNBC Africa is the largest and most credible source of business content from around the continent with over 35,000 videos interviews and clips available through its digital publishing channels. This partnership will extend our current reach and enhance our digital ecosystem.”
Newstag’s ‘mobile-first’ service enables users to create their own ‘tagstream’ (or personalised TV channel) in seconds, organising, consuming and sharing stories among their social networks using the latest web and mobile technologies. These stories are available from a number of different perspectives, resulting in a platform that allows converging viewpoints to be presented side by side, shedding new light on international news as it breaks.
Newstag CEO, Henrik Eklund, says: “Newstag is committed to providing global news coverage from truly distinct perspectives and we’re delighted that CNBC Africa has partnered with us to offer our users a refreshin g insight into African news through an African lens. It’s a dynamic time for Africa and in less than a decade CNBC Africa has built a solid international reputation for providing credible and impartial news, presenting an exciting picture of a continent in development from nuanced reporting on the ground. We hope that combining these strengths with Newstag’s innovative news model will amplify Africa’s voice, allowing it to reach a large international audience.”
Launched on 1 June 2007, CNBC Africa celebrates its 8th anniversary as Africa’s first and only real-time Pan Africa financial and business news network. Part of the global CNBC family, which reports around the clock from major financial centres worldwide, CNBC Africa covers business and financial markets news from across the continent, telling the story of Africa on the move.
Since the channel’s launch, CNBC Africa has been breaking ground across the African continent and amongst many successes and achievements, is the only pan-African television network to report live each day across Africa. The combined reach of CNBC Africa and its affiliated networks is 390 million viewers around the world. Its reach on the African continent has been growing by the day through its distribution partnership with MultiChoice. CNBC Africa has grown beyond all expectations since it was launched eight years ago, and everyone on the CNBC Africa team is justifiably proud of the respected media brand that they have all helped to create. Through accurate and incisive reporting and analysis, and an attractive and dynamic programme schedule, CNBC Africa has clearly positioned itself as the premier African news and information resource for CEOs and senior corporate executives, financial houses, investors and aspirational viewers across the continent.
This announcement follows Newstag’s selection as a top international start-up by Mobile World Capital Barcelona in an international contest to recognise the most innovative use of mobile technology in business. In addition to this, Newstag has recently been nominated for ‘best international news site’ by WAN-IFRA alongside Business Week and Singapore Press Holdings.
For Further Media Requests Contact:
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