48 year-old David Ohana is the Group Managing Director at KenolKobil. He has worked in the oil business for 20 years, 15 of those in Kenya. He was also a major in the Israeli army, having served as a paratrooper, both in combat and in intelligence. Under his management, Kenol Kobil rose in great strides from having a Sh6.3 billion debt to making a Sh2.4 billion profit margin post tax in 2016.
Lead by example
As an officer in the Israeli army, in the combat unit and in intelligence, I trained soldiers and paratroopers. Just like in the army, in business, you do not just talk, you lead. You show them that what you say is what you do, and that your word is your honour. It helps you earn respect from your staff.
Be resilient and tenacious
Stay focused when things are getting hot and tough. We had a very tough business period in 2013 after a disastrous 2012 when we made so many losses. Hard work does not scare me. I do things that people do not like doing or that usually annoy them. Taking KenolKobil from where it was was an uphill task but I've done other things that are by far physically and mentally tougher.
Remember your cause
I was born and brought up in a very poor town in Israel. Apart from my wife and children, that earlier state of poverty drives me. The Government of Israel up to now does not spend anything on those towns- not even on education. I attended very poor schools for my primary and high school education. That gave me the passion to succeed and still keeps me hungry for success. I wanted to prove that you do not have to be born in Tel Aviv or in this case in Nairobi to become successful.
Treat your people well
KenolKobil is run by young, talented Kenyans who are paid well and treated well. They get good bonuses and salaries. I do not do everything. I lead them but the day to day job is done by them and I am proud of them.
Failure can be good
I fail a lot and I have made so many mistakes in my life. However, I like my failures as much as I like my successes. I treat them equally. It pains me when I fail but I enjoy maximising as much from failure as I do when I am analysing my successes. I do not worry about making mistakes because they make me better. I take the time to study them so that I can avoid repeating them.
What are your values?
Consistency, integrity and focus are the most important values I bring to the Company. Whether at work or home, I know that my children and wife are watching. I do not have separate sets of values for the office and home. Highest integrity is paramount. In KenolKobil, we strive to never cheat anyone or break any law. I always try to achieve the best but in a proper manner, following ethics and values.
Do not lose sight of your goals. Also, do not get too excited by your gains. I am very focused, competitive and determined when I want to achieve something not only in business but in my life generally. We had great results in 2016 but I am now focusing on 2017. 2016 is just a story now.
I just keep moving. I do not get tired. That is what helped us sweep through that tough period of 2012/2014. There is nothing that stops me. I like battling through things and making a point. My team acts very fast and is very detailed, studying the industry, studying the oil prices and it helps us always to be ready and to react quickly.
Go the distance
I am not a sprinter, I am a long-distance runner. I take on things for the long run. I got heavy books and had to change many small things over time to get it right, clean the past and get my systems in complete compliance. My aim is that when I exit, I will leave the book as clean as possible –with great balance sheets, good cash and no toxic assets.
Keep an eye out
I respect my competitors; whether big or small. You can always learn something from them. Even when they make mistakes, I watch them carefully, daily even. This is so that I don't repeat them. I do some intelligence on a daily basis. My competitors do many good things too, and that inspires me.
Believe that everything is possible
In the army, even if something looked impossible, we worked until it became possible. KenolKobil was buried under a $200 million debt. The public and investors were running away from us, but we closed in 2016 with the best performing shares. We paid back the debt to the banks and can now choose which banks we want to work with because some ran away from us when we were sick.