Tag Archives: Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa: Building an Efficient Organization – Part 5


__Process: getting the right things done right.

For the last few weeks, I’ve talked about the critical importance of “people” in organizational management. Today I want to talk about “process.” Every single day, I’m approached by people with great business ideas, and I also have my own fair share of new ideas. Sometimes I just love to sit in my study, or go for a walk, just thinking about a new business idea.

Let me share with you one of my best kept secrets: If I can’t get my mind around the PROCESS, I’m not going to do it!

I have to feel I have a deep understanding of how an organization will emerge to take this great idea forward. I can easily take 50% of my thinking time on this. Once I get my mind around the process, I can then focus on the right PEOPLE to make the right things happen.

__Process and people are the backbone of the organization.

Now what I mean here by “process” is the series of actions you take in order to achieve an intended outcome or result. Within one business, several different processes usually take place – raising capital, strategic planning, recruiting and training staff, research, product development, product testing, marketing and so forth.

When I first started in business, I was still very young, and had worked for just a few years. Fortunately, my two employers had been a computer start-up, in Cambridge, England, and a state-owned enterprise (SOE) in my home country, Zimbabwe. In both organizations I’d made observations about how companies are set up and run.

I loved the start-up, which had only two owners. Decisions were made quickly and I got my chance to do all sorts of things, even though I only had a freshly-minted engineering degree! The SOE was the exact opposite: it had rigid organizational structures. There were many highly-skilled and qualified individuals, but decisions were slow.

Whilst I enjoyed the mission of the SOE, I knew I had to get back to the start-up environment. I nevertheless took away a critical understanding of how big organizations work, including their political culture.

If I’d been able to choose, I probably would have first joined a large international organization before I went off on my own. I certainly would have loved to get an understanding of “best practice” from an international organization like Coca-Cola or GE, both of whom I greatly admired. The opportunity was simply not available, so I did the next best thing… I bought books about them.

My favorite books were written by entrepreneurs, explaining how they set up these businesses. At weekends I’d just disappear into my own world of Sony, IBM, Coca-Cola — the great companies of my day. I didn’t just read, I devoured their material!

SEE ALSO: Strive Masiyiwa: Building an Efficient Organization – Part 1

I wanted more, so I moved into the really academic work of people like Peter Drucker and W. Edwards Deming (Google them). I had all their books and articles.

In my own country, I’d constantly ask questions about the organizational structures of well-established companies. Information was always limited back then, not like now with the Internet!

As a young entrepreneur in Africa, it won’t always be possible for you to start your own business after a professional career in an established organization where you can learn all the ropes, and study processes.

# You still owe it to yourself to try and close the deficit in your understanding of what it takes to organize and build an effective business organization.

# You may not even be ready yet to have people working for you, with all those fancy titles and positions, but you still must have the intellectual curiosity to do your homework and understand what’s really happening!

If you don’t understand the processes that help you build and run an efficient organization — managed by capable, highly motivated professionals — you’ll struggle, wear yourself down, and probably end up bust, or worse.

Let’s get down to business, real business. We’re good managers, what about you?


Strive Masiyiwa: Building an Efficient Organisation – Part 4

__A great vision needs great people.

Organizational management is really about “people and process.” If you don’t know how to master these two, it doesn’t matter what you’ve invented, or how much money you’ve raised… you won’t make it in business.

It’s usually really hard to get the best people to join you when you’ve just started a business because you’re (rightly) considered too risky.

It’s particularly difficult when you, the founder, are yourself young and inexperienced. I know what I’m talking about because when I started out almost 30 years ago, I was only 26 years old and didn’t have either the money or reputation to attract people to work with me.

So I understand why most people in that situation will often turn to unemployed relatives and friends, who can sometimes be unskilled and even troublesome. Believe me, I’ve been there, and done that!

I almost laugh now when I look back, but I hired some people who were downright incompetent and almost got me killed… Remember I’m an electrical engineer by training, and some of my early recruits as electricians did not quite measure up!

In my own case, my partner and I did almost every kind of job in our little business. There was simply no room for “pretending to be the big man”! When we did a job for a customer, I was there myself, and sometimes when we finished, I joined the cleaners to make sure the customer’s premises were left clean. We did the work, the cleaning, the invoicing, and the books. We woke up early, and went to bed very late.

I never complained because it was “honest hard work” for a young man, and I enjoyed it. I interviewed every single person that I hired very carefully. I always looked for people who were skilled, sober, honest, and prepared to go the extra mile. I knew them personally, and their families.

I tried to be fair in every aspect of my dealings with my employees. It wasn’t just that I considered myself an honorable man, but I also knew that “people talk.” I wanted word to get out that I was a “fair guy” in an industry where people were often exploited, and owners of businesses were known to think of themselves first, particularly when they got paid, as I discussed last week.

When I did get paid, the first thing I tried to do was invest back in the business. In particular, I wanted my staff always to have the best tools for their job. I also wanted them to be proud of their employer. I was fastidious over things like uniforms, presentations and appearance before a customer.

Knowing that I didn’t always have the opportunity and money to hire the most skilled people, I focused a lot on training and workshops, which I handled myself. I drilled and drilled my staff. We talked about each job, and I allowed everyone to say something about what we learned. It’s great to have the big idea, but you must have an eye for the details.

Then one day it happened: I got a call from an engineer who worked for a highly reputable and well-established player in our industry. He wanted to join me. And soon it was a flood, with people prepared to take a pay cut for the opportunity to work with my young company.

Now remember what I said earlier: “People talk.” You want them to give you and your company a good reputation, one that attracts the best people to your business. The best people are the most profitable. That’s business!

In his bestselling book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t,” Jim Collins writes, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

Do you have the right people in your company focusing their time doing the right things?

Strive Masiyiwa: building an efficient organization – Part 3


__Always pay your workers first.

You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur if you have the habit of not paying your workers on time, erratically, or not at all. Real business leaders always pay their employees first. Let’s call it the first law of entrepreneurship.

Let’s talk.

I began my business career as a construction contractor more than 30 years ago. My business entailed getting construction contracts, some which took several years to complete. I would sometimes have thousands of people working on my projects. 90% of my people were paid on a weekly basis. It was almost a ritual, whereby we’d go to the bank on Friday morning to collect the “payroll.”

Each worker was paid in cash, and we would sit and pack the money into little brown envelopes, after deducting taxes. We’d then travel to the sites and pay them their money.

I never ever missed a payroll… except once, and it probably saved my life. I was abducted from my office at gun point on one of my payroll days. The person who raised the alarm that I was missing said this: “We know something has happened to him because he didn’t come to supervise the release of this week’s payroll.”

# If you owe your workers money, you’re not yet an entrepreneur.

The second law of successful entrepreneurship is this: If, for any reason, you’re going to miss your payroll, you must always make sure the lowest paid workers are the first to get paid — not the managers and others you deem most skilled.

# Always pay the lowest paid workers first. They’re the most vulnerable.

If we didn’t have enough money to meet our payroll, I spoke to my senior people and asked them to make the sacrifice. It also meant I myself would go home with nothing. But workers like cleaners, laborers (we had a lot of these in the construction business), drivers etc., were always paid first. This always included the youngest people in our business.

If you want to go far as an entrepreneur, treat workers’ salaries and wages as sacrosanct. If you see a big man who has lots of cars, a big house, goes on holiday overseas but is in arrears on salaries and wages, he’s really not an entrepreneur.

Don’t be fooled, he’s not a big man at all! True entrepreneurs pay their people on time, all the time. And they take care of the most vulnerable members of their organizations first. I’d rather someone called me a successful entrepreneur on the basis that I never missed my payroll, than on the basis that I made a billion dollars.

Now to help avoid such a crisis, there’s one thing you must learn to do straight away in your business, and that’s manage your cash flow… your “accounts receivable” (sales) and your “accounts payable” (expenses). If you don’t keep track of your cash flow, I guarantee at the end of some months, you’ll have a shortfall.

If you haven’t already done so, put together a cash flow budget, with a few different scenarios (best case, worst case, different assumptions). You can’t predict everything, of course, and surprises happen, but do your best with what you know now. Cash in? Cash out? Timing? Enough cash to meet payroll? (This is a complicated subject but we’re just talking about payroll here.)

A few years ago there was an article in Forbes’ magazine called “Success will come and go, but integrity is forever.” Never forget that. Most all businesses have legal and contractual obligations which you must respect. But there are also moral obligations to consider… Do you know the difference?


To be Continued…

Strive Masiyiwa: building an efficient organization – Part 2

__Talking a good game is not enough.

I was meeting with one of New York’s most successful bankers, when he quipped, “In my business we don’t rely on intellectual property. There’s nothing we do that’s so special; we’re just damned good managers of businesses!”

I could immediately understand what he meant because when, for instance, you stop to think about a business like McDonald’s, you ask “What’s so special about a hamburger?”

But somehow out of that humble hamburger they’ve built a $96bn business… a global business bigger than the GDP of Kenya ($70bn)!

__They are “just damn good managers of business!”

When we launched our Mobile Money business in Zimbabwe, it wasn’t a new idea in Zimbabwe, or in Africa. To be honest, one of our competitors was a year ahead of us, but it really didn’t matter to me. I knew that when we finally launched our own service, it would be bigger and better because “We’re good managers of businesses! It’s not all IP and innovation!”

Whenever I see a business, as a management practitioner, I’m interested in how it’s run. I’m always asking myself, “How are they organized?”

We hear a lot spoken about good leaders, but a good leader who doesn’t know how to manage effectively, using the latest management techniques, is a total waste of time as far as I’m concerned.

You’ve heard the expression, “He talks a good game, but he can’t play.”

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are like that. They can talk a good game, but they cannot manage an organization. Talking a good game can be important, but it’s not enough!

If you want to build a profitable and growing business organization, you must first have an acute awareness of the role that organizational management plays. Your awareness must extend to an appreciation that it is a “technical discipline” which must be learnt.

It doesn’t happen naturally: Good management is something you must apply yourself to. Never fool yourself into believing that if you have a good idea, and some money, you just hire the right people and “Hey presto, you have a big successful business!”

I want you to be different: I want you to be able to pick up an idea, any idea, and turn it into a successful business organization that generates profits, and can grow into a national, regional, and continental champion, even a global one.


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Strive Masiyiwa: Building an Efficient Organization – Part 1


As an entrepreneur, you may have a great idea or innovation which you believe is going to change your community, your country, or maybe even the world we live in. And you’ll probably make a lot of money along the way. That’s allowed, and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided you don’t harm others, the environment, or break the law.

Go ahead, make money, be a billionaire, and you know I’ll be right there cheering you all the way! But before you can ever get there, you’ll have to build an efficient business organization, employing lots of people, because no one can do these things alone.

In this new series, I’m going to talk about what I call, “The hardest thing to do in business: building an efficient organization.

You’ll face many different challenges as an entrepreneur, but the most difficult is building an efficient organization. What do I mean by efficient? Let me start with one formal definition: “Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.

Most people fail dismally in this area. It’s at once the most difficult and most complex thing that any entrepreneur ever has to do. In this series, we’ll talk about many issues including registering a business, recruiting and hiring your team, and organizational structure.

This is business “MBA stuff” and if you just want to run a little bottle store, it might be tough for you, but if you think you can open more than one bottle store, hang around and see. As they say in my beloved Nigeria, “It’s for the senior class.

You won’t be the next Dangote or Zuckerberg if you don’t know how to set up an efficient business organization.

To lay the foundations for this series, here’s another definition: The Cambridge dictionary describes “organization” as “a group whose members work together for a shared purpose in a continuing way.”

__The verb “organize” is also important here! It means, “to make the necessary plans for something to happen; arrange.”

Do I really need to write much more…? If only it were as simple and straightforward as it sounds!

Building an organization has many different aspects. Can you tell me the importance of nearly each and every word in these three definitions?

Organizations can be almost any size, but the ones I’ll be talking about here are ones that involve a hierarchy of authority and delegation: executive leadership, mid-level management, technical experts, frontline supervisors and employees in different departments, most with different operational functions.

This means a complex array of people with different talents and skills, like those I’m proud and blessed to have on our companies’ teams globally. Maybe different roles and gifts, but the key non-negotiable ingredients? Integrity, shared vision, mutual respect, accountability.

I won’t dwell on problems so much as solutions in this series, but to get started, here’s a list from a McKinsey report on some of the biggest challenges faced by companies (young and old) trying to build organizational capability:

# Organizational resistance to change.

# Lack of resources.

# Lack of credible metrics.

# (Lack of) identification of who is accountable for execution.

# Inability to gain attention and buy-in from line managers.

# Lack of senior management support.

# (Lack of) clear vision or objectives.

# Ineffective training approaches.

# Inconsistent application of methods, processes.

Now you see why I’ve said building an efficient organization is the hardest thing to do in business. But with great people on your team, all is possible!