Like companies do, build your personal brand
By Caroline Okello | July 14th 2019
Snehar Shah is the General Manager at Azuri East Africa
Azuri Technologies is a pay-as-you-go solar company providing lighting and TV solutions to rural Africa. My role as General Manager entails leading Azuri’s East Africa operations. Our set up is quite different – in Africa we have about 40 staff who are middle to senior level managers who work with external distributing partners.
I wake up at 5.45 am. I am quite athletic – I go to the gym three times a week and run or walk with my wife every day from 7am to 8am. I get to the office at half past eight. Generally, I have breakfast meetings and use the mornings to network and interact with the team at work. In the afternoons I meet with distributors. That’s when I’m in the country. When I’m not, there’s a lot of travel and meetings with various partners and distributors.
My leadership style is inclusive. I’ve spent 20 years working for big multinationals and corporates, so I’ve gotten a lot of mentorship from previous bosses. I try to act like a mentor to my team.
Our company is a social enterprise. We’re very innovative and try to make a difference. One thing that drives me is the fact that we’re making a difference in the lives of many rural households, giving them access to light and cutting-edge technology at affordable prices, and by that we are uplifting the economic livelihood of rural Africa.
There are many exciting things we are working on. We recently raised Sh2.6 billion in funding. It took a lot of planning and work to make that happen, but now that we are funded, we need to find a way to spend that money wisely. Our current project is planning what products and partnerships we will introduce. In Uganda, we are piloting solar irrigation water pumps. That’s a very different field so I am learning a lot about agriculture and the value chain. This involves going to the farms, talking to farmers, listening to their views and needs and trying to come up with solutions.
The biggest challenge is uncertainty. Day to day there are new things that crop up. We often use creativity, innovation, and the network I have built to meet those challenges.
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The best career advice I’ve ever received was from my mentor, the global CEO Orange when I was working as chief of staff for the company. He told me that just like companies do, build your personal brand. Make sure that whatever you do, you’re known for your expertise and don’t be afraid to talk about it and publicise that openly. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve built my personal Snehar Shah brand - an innovative expert with a good mix of finance, strategic and operations working in cutting-edge business models.
The best advice I’d give is don’t follow the crowd. Try to make your own mark. in your early years, get as much diverse experience as you can but also don’t jump about. Have three-year time frames on achieving those skills or goals. And be patient as you build your expertise. Also, don’t follow the money, the money will follow you.
I don’t go to work early but I end up working till around 7pm. My team leaves at around 5.30 pm. I normally get a lot done between 5.30pm and 7pm because I have a set deadline to be home for dinner with my family. I have two teenage children and we have a rule that the four of us have to be to together. Because I wake up so early, I am normally in bed just before 10 pm.
Outside work, I enjoy running. When running I listen to Bollywood and classical music. I try to place golf on Sundays. It’s very relaxing and enables you to meet your friends. I play the guitar. I read a lot of business books. I’m currently reading Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It and Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish.
The last great thing I watched was Aladdin with my daughter, probably the best movie I’ve watched recently.
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