Snapshots of Workplace Bliss

I have said little of the “internal dynamics” of Karisimbi Business Partners. Moving 16 people to Kigali entailed taking on risks to safety, health, reputation, finances, family life and our kid’s education. On top of these risks, I didn’t want to acknowledge the strong possibility that the three business partners setting off to start a Rwandan company may not work well together. To be honest, quite a bit of our personal and professional lives together here have depended on a satisfactory answer to this question. As we begin to think about returning to the US to visit family and friends for the summer, one year after we began this adventure together, it seems an appropriate time to reflect and count our blessings.

Dano, Greg and I are three of the most ambitious businessmen I have ever known. Prior to Karisimbi Partners, I had known each for many years, but we had never worked together (even when Greg and I worked at Microsoft at the same time, we never interacted on the big campus). In our late 30’s (ok, I’m 40), we have each developed our preferred working styles and standards. We each have different skill levels and preferences in the various aspects of management. Dano and Greg did not know each other well before we began. We are all fairly independent and hard-charging people. Team building experts would never put three such individuals in the same work environment. True, we have many things in common: a social (even Gospel) motivation, a heart for Rwanda, a preference for strategic impact, a practical bent for tangible implementation, and similar tastes in music movies, and humor. Yet none of these aspects guaranteed we would work well together. Here are a few actual “snapshots” of times in our working relationship this past year that represent more “workplace bliss” than we could have anticipated:

Snapshot #1: Over lunch with an investor who doesn’t speak English, Greg carries the conversation in French, Dano translates assumptions into anticipated financial returns on his laptop, and Carter says (through Greg) something of competitive advantages to be had.

Snapshot #2: Carter identifies and nurtures a new business relationship; Greg crafts the contracts that will ensure mutual expectations are fulfilled; and Dano drives the schedule and money to ensure we meet or exceed what we’ve signed up to do.

Snapshot #3: We glance quickly at each other with amusement and terror when the honey production company manager tells us as we approach a bee hive in Nyungwe Forest: “You might see monkeys here… but be careful, African bees can be aggressive.”

Snapshot #4: Dano expresses doubt we can succeed; Carter fails to see how we could possibly fail; Greg talks us all onto a realistic middle ground.

Snapshot #5: Carter begins a business plan speaking of global trends and concepts; Dano makes order of the chaos in the details; Greg creates the PowerPoint presentation to simplify a complex plan for company investors and managers.

Snapshot #6: Dano rides off after a client meeting with Carter perched on the back of his motorcycle.Dano offers the caption for this picture: “Karisimbi Partners does its part to reduce its carbon footprint.”You’ll probably see the picture in a future version of our monthly newsletter (Makuruki) that Greg writes.

I will go on record: these moments have brought an occasional tear to my eye.As expected, we have had challenges as well, working to curb and accommodate the edges and elbows we didn’t know we had. But I feel I can safely say that the fear we would not work well together has been largely put to rest. Recently, a number of our clients have commented on what an “outstanding team” we are, noting the diverse opinions and skills we bring to assist their organizations. Some days I feel anyone could succeed if they were partnered with Dano and Greg—I am that fortunate! I must say it again: doing great work with great friends is certainly one of the highest rewards of our first year here!

Onward and Upward,
-Carter

Launching a New Networking Event in Rwanda

 

It seemed an idea whose time had come. From what we can tell, if Rwanda fails to reach its ambitious development goals it will not be for a lack of vision, hard work, international goodwill or even a lack of finances. The chief barrier that public and private organizations here must overcome is a lack of management capacity. While Karisimbi Partners continues to assist a handful of companies in this regard, this pervasive challenge seems to require efforts on an entirely different scale. With the prompting and encouragement of the US Ambassador to Rwanda, Stuart Symington, Thursday marked the day we began to tackle this issue with the creation of a monthly networking event we’ve called the Management Exchange Roundtable.

 

While the result was uncertain, the recipe was simple: gather a dozen business managers, mix them in the same room with a dozen business support organizations (NGO’s, Government agencies, etc.), place a compelling talk from an insightful person in the middle, and sprinkle food and drink around the edges. While private sector networking events are a common occurrence in other countries we’ve lived, they are still new here. The hope was that creating such a forum could identify management needs, offer management support services and have some success in connecting people and solutions that would not have met otherwise. This initial event was immensely boosted by our adviser and friend Eric Kakou, Managing Director of On the Frontier (OTF), speaking on “The Leadership Gap: The Case of Customer Service”. The research and thought-provoking ideas presented during Eric’s discussion were illustrated by Emmanuel Murekezi, Operations Manager for perhaps the best-known restaurant in Rwanda: Bourbon Coffee. Now our challenge will be to improve on this event with future events!

 

To leave you with a small taste of what resulted from this recipe, one of the recurring themes expressed by those present was this: Customer service is not only an issue for the person facing the customer. Customer service also involves shaping the expectations of the customer. Importantly, customer service is a mindset, or attitude, that must also permeate the ownership and management of a given organization. An example was given of an owner that trained service personnel extensively, but seemed surprised when their training was not evident following months when the owner failed to pay salaries (an unfortunately common occurrence here). The good news: mindsets can change; the bad news: changing mindsets can be a long and difficult task that must affect everyone from the owner to the customer.

 

Onward and Upward,
-Carter