Robert Bayigamba: How I have made my way to the top

His career progression could be sort of deceptive if one were not to look at it critically to find out what makes him ‘stand out of the crowd’. From getting a first fat job as an MD of co-operative society just after university to where he is today, all the posts and roles Robert Bayigamba  has carried out show a mark of a hard worker. A person who knows what he wants, is focused, surrounds himself with the right people and creates good will among his peers, reports Collins Mwai
Baygamba (left) with colleagues at function in town. The 46-year-old is an astute businessman and professional. The New Times / File
Baygamba (left) with colleagues at function in town. The 46-year-old is an astute businessman and professional. The New Times / File

His career progression could be sort of deceptive if one were not to look at it critically to find out what makes him ‘stand out of the crowd’. From getting a first fat job as an MD of co-operative society just after university to where he is today, all the posts and roles Robert Bayigamba  has carried out show a mark of a hard worker. A person who knows what he wants, is focused, surrounds himself with the right people and creates good will among his peers, reports colliNs mwai

Are shrewd businessmen born with coins in their hands? Do they have big eyes to seek out huge opportunities? What makes a great businessman or executive?

These and more questions go through my mind on my way to attend a presentation by one of Rwanda’s accomplished businessmen and professional. Robert Bayigamba, the president of the Rwanda Manufacturers Association, was scheduled to ‘pass on’ tips and lessons he learnt over the years to multitudes of entrepreneurs in Kigali. The presentation was aptly dubbed ‘How I’ve Made My Way’ on the third day of the recently concluded Global Enterprise Week.

The 46-year-old Bayigamba is a man of many hats; he is also the Rwanda National Olympic Committee boss and the managing director of Manumetal, a local manufacturing firm that makes and retails furniture. He has been a Minister for Sports and Culture, the head of the privatisation unit, president of the Rwanda Volleyball Association, the Private Sector Federation president and treasurer for the employers association, besides other many roles in business and social spheres.

His career progression could be sort of deceptive if one were not to look at it critically to find out what makes him the entrepreneur he is. From his first job as an MD of a farmers’ co-operative society to where he is today, all the posts and roles he has carried out have a mark of a hard worker. A person who knows what he wants, is focused, surrounds himself with the right people, creates good will among his publics and is skilled.

What makes this 46-year-old business man tick? One could also ask how Bayigamba has managed to achieve a lot at a young age. Well, from his own words, there are about a half a dozen or so things that have seen his star rise high and higher all the time:

Bayigamba says that though he has worked in many fields, where he had little knowledge at the beginning, he always consulted to learn how the various businesses and fields operate.

“Whenever I get new roles, I take time to learn from experts in the field. I ask questions and get tips on how things work,” he explains.

He also says his skill as a gifted negotiator has often bailed him out, even when he was staring death in the face. Bayigamba points out that at one point his life was in the hands of armed militia men (literally), but his negotiation skills came in handy and he lived to tell the story.

“My major secret during negotiations is empathy. Whenever you are negotiating with anyone, try as much as possible to put yourself in their shoes. See the deal or whatever it is from their perspective or how they would want it to be. With that you will always be a step ahead of them,” he notes.

Bayigamba notes that consolidating and harnessing the abilities of one’s teams are essential for anyone to make it.

“Take time with your team and brainstorm, figure out where you are and where you want to get, plan on a path that will get you there,” he counsels. He adds that it is important to delegate tasks because you cannot run everything alone. “You have to trust your subordinates’ capacity to deliver,” he says.

He has also been selective as far as business partnerships are concerned. Bayigamba cautions young entrepreneurs to avoid entering into partnerships blindly. “When you want to venture into something, conduct background checks to find out what kind of people they are. This will reduce chances of getting into a wrong deal,” he points out.

And who said that being a jack of all trades puts one at risk of mastering none of them? This could be because they never had a chance to interact with Bayigamba. He says his ability to multi-task has greatly contributed to his career growth and landed him juicy jobs, including the first one which he says he secured soon after university. “I am always multi-tasking. If there isn’t anything else to do, I always create something.”

Has he been lucky?

Despite all the achievements and positions he has held, Bayigamba is modest about them.

“I might have been at the right place with the right skill at times to get to where I am today.” Talk of luck meets opportunity!

He says he has held positions in leadership since he was a 14-year-old.

“I was class representative and later on a team captain at high school, university and national team levels,” he notes.

The son of a civil servant had a chance to live in Belgium for six years when his father was deployed there in 1973.

His first job was with TechnoServe, a Canadian corporation, as managing director of a rice firm in the northern part of the country, thanks to his ability to multi-task. “It was a co-operative supported by the Canadian corporation and my former university dean knew I could multi-task,” he explains.

That was early 1993. Bayigamba says that after the liberation war, he got a new job at Manumetal as the managing director. “When I took over as the interim CEO, most of all the company stocks had been looted, and only seven of 77 employees were around,” he points out.

He adds that having been kind to people in the past, someone helped him recover the hidden merchandise. “The man approached me and said he knew where most of our stock was hidden. We got Police bailiffs and recovered goods worth over Rwf40m. With that, we were back in business,” he notes.

He says thereafter, the company had a smooth run as most people were trying to re-establish their enterprises and had to get new furniture. This is how his journey to being the firm’s major shareholder in the firm started when he secured 10 per cent equity.

Bayigamba says on top of his agenda is steering the manufacturing sector so it contributes greatly to the country’s foreign exchange revenues.

“We are working hard to see how we can solve challenges like access to finance, electricity and affordable transport services, as well as how to brand and package Rwandan products to make them competitive on the regional and global markets,” he points out.

But you never know where the star will take this versatile, self-confessed workaholic.

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