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How right networks can do wonders for your business

BUSINESS
By Wainaina Wambu | Apr 6th 2022 | 5 min read
By Wainaina Wambu | April 6th 2022
BUSINESS
BTN Chairman Alex Chesosi.

 

From an early age, Mr Alex Chesosi held lofty ambitions of making it big in business and sharing a table with Kenya’s affluent.

After high school, he was to pursue a Bachelor of Education (Science) course at the university that would have earned him a career as a teacher, but he focused on a different field.

“I always had this desire to interact with the crème de la crème in society. After clearing Form Four, I would even write down a list of all the influential people I wanted to see,” he tells Enterprise.

With an average family background as the son of an accountant and mother (civil servant), he figured out that he could meet Kenya’s movers and shakers either at the airport or on the golf course.

At the airport, he explains one finds business leaders, top government officials and influential people in transit while at a golf course, the same individuals converge to unwind, catch up and network.

But how does a young man without a strong social capital get to these two places?

Mr Chesosi enrolled for a course in travel operations at Utalii College and later secured a job at Kenya Airways (KQ).

“That’s where my networking began,” he says, documenting his rise at KQ from a checking agent, to a checking controller and then to the managerial level. “When one is travelling, he or she is very apprehensive and meeting someone pleasant who pacifies you at an airport lounge is enough to establish a lifelong friendship,” adds Mr Chesosi.

The golfing came later, having finessed his handicap (golf ability). He now enjoys rounds of golf with the big guns in town and across Kenya’s exquisite golf clubs.

“When you have four hours with a CEO at a golf course, you’ll talk about everything. There are no phones and it’s away from the office bureaucracy,” he says.

He adds that golf entrenches the art of time management, patience and teamwork. These, he notes, are some of the reasons it’s preferred by most business leaders. “All the skills required in golf are business-related,” he observed.

Mr Chesosi points to his time at KQ as the real trigger for entrepreneurship. “When travellers were checking in, I could see their dates of birth. These were my age mates and were travelling all over the world to key financial capitals such as London or Dubai,” he recalls.

He realised he had to be in business one way or another. But first, he figured, he had to understand the first principles of business.

He enrolled in business school for a commerce degree at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and later a master’s degree in public policy at Strathmore Business School. Learning never stopped and he is now pursuing a degree in law at the University of Nairobi. “I knew that to do business, I had to study something different from hospitality,” he explains.

But it was the contacts he had developed along the way that truly brightened his entrepreneurial path.

Fate had made him cross paths with Mr Eric Bett – a businessman and chairman of the Kenya Postal Corporation – and friendship ensued. Mr Bett would ask Mr Chesosi to accompany him to a Harambee in Baringo.

A friend of the Moi family, Mr Bett on the way to the Harambee made a stop at the home of the late president Daniel Arap Moi, who was a gracious host. It was there that Mr Chesosi was introduced to Baringo Senator Gideon Moi. This was the Damascus moment where he decided to quit employment after 17 long years at KQ. “We became good friends; he mentored and introduced me to business,” says Mr Chesosi of the friendship.

He describes the senator as a stickler for time, humble, sharp in intellect and business, God-fearing, devoted family man and a sharp dresser – the qualities and values that Mr Chesosi sought to emulate.

He then took a one-year unpaid leave from formal employment to test the entrepreneurial waters. “It was very hard. I didn’t want to go back and my superiors were unsure if I was making the right move. However, I had resolved to take the plunge,” he recalls. He first got into trading, transport and logistics. The business was a brutal world when he started.

He was a supplier to giant retailer Nakumatt, which collapsed with a Sh38 billion debt and also Mumias Sugar where he was sourcing sugar to supply. “I was back to zero,” he says.

Then a personal tragedy occurred and he lost his wife. It was the support of family, friends and the church who helped him get through. He also picked up fitness. But he braved the misfortunes and started exploring new business lines.

His new lease of life was going into technology, where he was introduced by Manase Murei, an ICT guru who has handled key projects across the country.

A friend advised him to venture big into the sector, owing to his good networks, where he could partner with big international tech firms to expand services locally. That’s when he got involved with Baran Telecom Networks (BTN), a telecom and software solutions firm that provides scalable, cost-effective and secure digital solutions where he serves as chairman.

BTN’s ICT solutions include biometrics, AI video management, financial technology and digital payments, software and digital asset management solutions among others.

The firm works with top telcos for solutions including supply, installation, commissioning and maintenance of infrastructure.

Mr Chesosi, who is also a former director of the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation, notes that the pandemic has accelerated digitalisation and opened new opportunities for telecom operators, hardware and software vendors and consumers.

Kenya has been dubbed East Africa’s Silicon Savannah and is the regional leader in broadband connectivity, general ICT infrastructure, value-added services, mobile money and banking services, adds Chesosi.

However, he still believes more can be done. With a staff of over 100, BTN, whose managing director is Eric Akavaga, has partnered with global firms from countries such as the US, Israel and South Africa to offer ideal solutions to the market. Other partners include Gopal Lal, Caroline Kimutai and Paul Olemale.

The firm won a global award as a result of a partnership with RADCom, a top Israeli telecom equipment manufacturer and software vendor which resulted in a Software-defined Wide Area Network solution. This virtual architecture allows enterprises to securely connect users to applications. BTN has partnered with telcos, fintech, banks, retailers and security providers.

He is securing an investment of Sh500 million to set up an incubation hub aimed at helping young techies jump-start their ideas, attract financing and navigate the red tape.

He is also looking to form a tech lobby to champion ICT affairs across the country and bridge the gap between techies, government and financiers.

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