Rita Kavashe is the Managing Director at Isuzu East Africa. A trained teacher by profession, Rita started out at General Motors East Africa (GMEA) as a sales representative.
She became Managing Director at GMEA, now Isuzu East Africa, whose name changed when the latter acquired a 57.7 percent shareholding in GMEA.
Rita, an alumnus of Havard Business School, also worked for 6 months as GM South Africa’s Sub-Saharan Africa Export Director.
She shared with Sunday Magazine her secrets and tips for rising to the top.
1. Think big
If you want to grow, you must think global. I always did. I was in sales, but I never only thought about my function. I was interested in finance, I was interested in every aspect of the company and how the different functions worked together to deliver results.
I was interested in other areas from day one, and maybe that is why I got into management and not just as a functional leader. So if you want to get into management, then you have to think company-wide because functioning in a silo cannot deliver good results. I helped out whenever I could, so sometimes they would say, “All your managers were there and Rita was also there.”
2. Count the cost
You have to sacrifice a lot. You will be in the limelight, so if things don’t go well, you have to answer that call. If you want to get into these positions, you need to evaluate and see if it is really something you want to get into. Work towards understanding what the cost is. Find out what the barriers to getting to where you want are.
You need to understand them as you pursue your interest so that you are able to sustain the motivation and the enthusiasm around it other than just wanting it because it came your way, and then you feel overwhelmed or think you did not want to do that or just wanted to be a medium-level manager.
3. Learn to handle the biases
As you rise up the ladder, you need to identify and be ready for biases because they can hold you back. For example, one day someone called this company and asked to speak to the CEO. When my secretary put me through, the person on the other end still went ahead and told me they wanted to speak to the CEO. Something like that is a bias, because the person on the other side thinks that the person picking the phone should be a man. It is important to be ready for it so that you do not react negatively. Knowing it helps you tackle it and still maintain rapport with the client.
4. Give every task your all.
I had no plan to get to where I am, but for every task and every role I was given, I gave it my absolute best. I did not know I was going to rise to this level. I just did my work so well that when the company was looking for somebody, they had to consider me. Is your boss going to miss you if you are gone for five days? If not, then you might not be the person they consider when an opportunity arises.
5. Have a tenacious drive
People ask me what drives me and I tell them that we have work to do. That is what drives me. Having a target to meet drives me. I do not have a style of doing it. I just do the work and deliver results.
You have a target, deliver the target. You have a commitment, do your best to meet that commitment. Be consistent with that, even when circumstances are challenging. Look for opportunities in such circumstances.
6. Be patient
People become great over time. Once you have found your footing and found your purpose as a young professional, you need to invest time. What I’m seeing nowadays is a lot of impatience. Sometimes it is good to take some time to ensure that you become very good, and to be very good, to need to learn.
You need to train, get mentorship, and with that you can become really good at what you do. People nowadays start working and within a year they want to leave.
You can do that, but you will not get richness and depth at what you do.
7. Train and invest in yourself
Everyone has the capability to perform well with some training. If you want to be in management, if you want to be a CEO, you cannot think in a silo. You have to grow and cultivate leadership qualities, to meet leadership expectations. Learn and train yourself.
Education is key. I am seeing a lot of people now getting PhDs before they even get into their first job.
There is a lot of learning that is required. Technology is going to be a major driver going forward, so you need to be aligned with it.
8. Learn to relate with others
The future of work is collaborative. It is going to depend a lot on relationships and building partnerships, so spend some time doing it. It should not be ‘I, me’ all the time.
There are a lot of relationships that are coming into the space of business. For example, at Isuzu I cannot be successful without a bank.
I need a bank to partner with me, to give a leasing product to the bank, I need an insurance company to partner with me to be able to deliver a particular deal, so those relationships with associated companies and industries are very important.
Therefore, your personal engagement and ability to create relationships is going to make you stand out.
9. Don’t fear
What I have learnt as I have navigated through this career is that you should not fear. Fear limits you.
You get scared of trying new ground that you could have conquered.
Eliminating fear, just going there and doing your best even if you know it is difficult ground is very important.
10. Identify people to hold your hand
It might be difficult to navigate on your own. Get a mentor, a coach – someone you can bounce your difficulties and challenges like fear onto. I share with colleagues and even family members about the difficulties I am going through and ask them what they think I should do.
That has been very encouraging for me. It gives you the motivation to go on.