As mentioned previously, I have been putting together an assessment of my client’s real estate investments. In essence, I have been gathering information on what the client currently has, what challenges they face, and what the options are going forward. Yesterday, I took part in my first client-facing presentation in my new role here in Kenya. There are some challenges I faced that are specific to Kenya and other developing economies, while others likely come with consulting in any context.
- While access to information is an issue anywhere, it was an especially difficult task on this particular project. I was lucky enough to have audited financials prepared for tax purposes over the majority of the past five years, but specifics like ongoing revenues and expenses were kept on loose paper. Loan information was personal bank account debits and credits. There were literally stacks of notebooks with scribblings on them which served as journal entries.from the past few decades. Spreadsheets had hard-coded numbers for entries and contained references to other files which were missing. One common topic that keeps coming up with my colleagues is how well many of the businesses in this country are doing in spite of themselves. The financial estimates I gave were oftentimes surprises to the client.
- Because the company had little to no structure, I had no true point-of-contact to ask for clarification. There isn’t a CEO or manager I could go to, and since I wasn’t part of the initial contracting phase, I had a difficult time establishing a connection to those within the business. At this stage, I didn’t encounter the internal politics that others often do, but I don’t doubt that it exists. Hopefully, the presentation solidified my advisory role and truly gave the family a sense of value that could be created going forward by an ongoing arrangement.
- The decision to collaborate with a client or tell them what to do. This is both a culturally-specific and stylistic choice that needs to be made. I have sensed that in Kenya’s professional world, people are reticent to speak critically or to say ‘no’ to others who are equals or of a higher standing (more on this point in future posts, guaranteed). At the very least, some information needs to be massaged, and that’s what we did. We decided to pick our battles, and so pushed hard for some things (mostly basics to professionalize the business) while teaming up with the client come up with ideas of they more strongly agreed with (priority of objectives and long-term goals).
Overall, I believe the presentation itself went well, and soon enough will find out if the project will continue. Regardless, I learned a great deal from the experience and enjoyed the complexity and difficulty of the work itself.
One very cool aside: earlier this month, I was able to travel to the neighboring town, Karen, on the outskirts of Nairobi to visit a friend of a friend. It was my first respite from the congestion of the city in about two months, and I was grateful for the opportunity. If Karen sounds like an odd name for a town in Kenya, that’s because it is. It is named (one way or another) after Karen Blixen, the writer and main character of the memoir and film, Out of Africa. Her compound still stands much as it did nearly 100 years ago just a short distance from where I was visiting. In fact, the people I was with are direct descendants of some of Blixen’s business partners and contemporaries.
Finally, most of our team took advantage of the recent holiday weekend by visiting Diani Beach. We could cut the humidity with a knife, which was a stark departure from the arid, dusty, and windless Nairobi. The beach itself was great: powdery white sand, warm placid water from the Indian ocean, and hardly anyone around to bother us. Sadly, the latter may have had as much to do with a drop in tourism following Westgate and the Mombasa shootings as anything else.
Other beach notes:
- Along the roads roamed packs of baboons
- I fed a monkey (not a baboon) an apple, which he enjoyed immensely
- My favorite meal on the continent was in a cave in Diani (Ali Barbour’s)
- We learned to make homemade piña coladas
- When travelling around East Africa: always fly rather than drive