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Business Development Across East Africa

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In a given month, Jacob Wanjohi will spend two weeks on the road. Sometimes even three.

Kenyans Come Home placed Jacob in his current role as the Business Development Manager, East Africa for the Canadian-based technology company ACL—covering Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and the two Congos. He reports directly to CQS GRC Solutions (Pty) Ltd., the Africa partner for ACL, which is an enterprise governance platform that powers audit management, risk management, and compliance management.

Kenya is a big economy and generates a lot of work for the company. But sometimes I am here for only a week,” he says.

But working for companies with heavy travel requirements in the region is something he has been doing for decades. As a result, Jacob has become an expert on how different nations in the region do business.

For example, the one thing that is consistent throughout East Africa is the lack of follow-through, he points out.

If you walk into a place, and put in an order that is supposed to be delivered by Friday, by [Friday] you will have no order and no communication about your order,” he says. “And for the next two weeks, you still won't have your order!"

This, of course, drives foreign partners and clients crazy!

This is very common in all of East Africa," he explains. "It is a culture that is very deeply ingrained in us. Someone will tell you that they will follow through on this order and they don’t. Then you have to call four or five times to get it.”

As for the differences in doing business between the countries, Jacob says it all comes down to aggressiveness. Somalis, for example, will always be straightforward about what they can and cannot do. Rwandans will take their time in negotiations but move quickly once that is done.

"You must have an open mind that each experience could be good or bad,” Jacob tells anyone planning to do business in foreign countries. He also believes that is important to follow-through on what you say you will do.

That has been the biggest drain,” he says “Do people do what they said they will do?”

It’s a similar philosophy he uses with balancing his hectic travel schedule and his home life. Because he spends so much time on the road, Jacob has to be very intentional in spending time with his wife of 10 years, and his children. For one weekend a month, he disconnects from the world and focuses solely on them.

"The balance is between quantity versus quality," he says. "I don’t care if people tell me that I need to spend every single evening in a week with them. I’ll spend one evening in a week, and give it my all.“