Karisimbi Partners: Progress after more than two years in Rwanda

For several years Rwanda’s companies and industries have suffered due to a limited level of skilled management. Even when resources are available in adequate supply, the lack of business strategy, gaps in resource allocation and low numbers of educated human capital remains an impediment to the growth and success of industries.
The Karisimbi Partners- Greg Urquhart (L), Carter Crockett (C) and Dano Jukanovich (R). (Photo T. Kisambira.)
The Karisimbi Partners- Greg Urquhart (L), Carter Crockett (C) and Dano Jukanovich (R). (Photo T. Kisambira.)

For several years Rwanda’s companies and industries have suffered due to a limited level of skilled management. Even when resources are available in adequate supply, the lack of business strategy, gaps in resource allocation and low numbers of educated human capital remains an impediment to the growth and success of industries.

Consequently, groups of highly skilled experts are sometimes contracted to empower the local workforce in order to restore continuity in development within the industrial sector.

One such group is Karisimbi Business Partners (KBP), a socially motivated management-consulting firm that set-up in Rwanda two and a half years ago to focus on small and mid-size enterprise development.

The founders of Karisimbi Partners consist of three highly skilled Americans, Carter Crockett, Dano Jukanovich and Greg Urquhart, all in their early 40’s, with backgrounds in top business management and expertise in the following areas: strategy, finance, operations, human resources, sales and entrepreneurship.

Additionally, in the last year, KBP has hired another American, a Canadian and two Rwandans, expanding the company ranks to seven employees, supported by an additional network of talented local and international experts who participate in various projects as requirements demand. This group of “Karisimbi Associates” has increased KBP’s capacity for serving more client companies.

In an interview with The New Times, the Karisimbi Partners share their experience, in a country where the current inflation rate and GDP growth is at 7.56% and 8% respectively, according to Central Bank’s  2011 Monetary Policy Statement.

“Two years ago, we only had three clients, today we are pleased to have served 45 to 46 companies,” says Crockett, whose background includes nearly 20 years of business experience in automotive, consumer media, coffee, and information technology industries.

Out of the 45 clients, about eight are long-term partners—something that fits well into Karisimbi Partners’ plan. KBP believes the written plan never solves problems by itself, so they look for opportunities to work with companies on the hard work of implementation.

“One of the biggest challenges in Rwanda is the implementation, so we like to partner with those hard-to-find managers that have the capacity to do the implementation required,” Crockett says.

Crockett has also published several academic business journal articles and this experience has positioned him as a member of the Ethics Committee at the Private Sector Federation (PSF), that is responsible for crafting and implementing the National Code of Business Ethics.

Since moving to Kigali with their families, Karisimbi Partners has worked across sectors including; agro-processing, ICT, Professional Services, Media, Manufacturing, and Private Equity. They have met with senior government and senior business officials to tackle issues that hinder business growth. This has exposed them to several businesses with the potential to drive growth of key industries, expand employment, transfer knowledge and contribute to the economic development of the country.

Dano Jukanovich, a partner with more than 18 years of experience in business development is known for his excellent capacity to ensure organizational efficiency. He crafts strategy, marshals finance and streamlines operations—which are crucial requirements for any business.

“All things have to come together for development success to work,” Jukanovich says. “We need effective government leaders that are going to support industries; that are going to make decisions and take action. We need a strong corporate culture and business to build industries around and, we need management capacity in all different levels.”

According to Jukanovich, part of the firm’s success is a function of the ability to facilitate some of the growth of select business clients, promising companies within high potential industries.

Rwanda’s Ministry of Commerce (MINICOM) has partnered with KBP on several occasions to identify strategic sectors that need growth. Sometimes companies are revived while those with unfeasible challenges face closure.

On occasion, Karisimbi Partners offers an expert opinion for struggling companies, helping stakeholders to decide whether an opportunity for investment is within reach or if it would be wise to focus resources elsewhere.

“Sometimes the answer has been: “it probably does not make sense to continue”. When the industry has changed, and given EAC integration and other competitive factors, it’s not going to be worthwhile to revive such a company,” says Greg Urquhart, the third partner who contributes more than 18 years of sales, strategy and management experience to the firm.

For other companies, Urquhart says, “there is big opportunity for the company to revive, succeed and for new partnerships to come together.”

As Karisimbi Partners seeks to participate and have an impact in each company, they ensure that they are painting a clear picture for decision-makers: what is in the real market, what should the business plan include, what is the ideal path for the future and who will be responsible for making it happen.

“Once that plan is in place, and leaders make decisions in support of it, the next opportunity is to invite investment. First, in order to execute we may need to serve as interim management, go and get a full management team, and work with them. We need to think about building the sales plan and talking to end customers. We try to stay as involved as possible going forward to ensure the best chance for success,” Urquhart explains.

The momentum for growth

According to Jukanovich, they did not know what to expect before they came to Rwanda, even after they had made exploratory trips, talked to people about what was needed and, how they could help.

To justify the risk and expense involved, they agreed, “If we were here for five years and there were five companies that were growing and stronger and employing more people and generating more revenue because of our help, that would be very worthwhile.”

“We have been business owners and managers in the US and we know:  It’s not easy to make money,” states Jukanovich. “So to think that a company can be turned around, or resuscitated or changed in one year, is not realistic. It takes five to ten years for a company to really develop.”

In the two and a half years KBP has operated in Rwanda, more than five of the major clients they have served have had their revenues increased, employees increased and some have begun to receive new investment. KBP believes they have added value for every company they have worked with, but they have registered significant impact in approximately 20% of the companies they have worked with.

“… or even, we consider this a success to say, we advised a shareholder to shut down his business and told him that his money could better be used elsewhere. He took the advice and shut down his business. Now that might not be well received but that was a good business decision,” he adds.

Crockett emphasizes, “On occasion, we tell our clients the hard truth. It’s easier for us because some local consultants are often afraid to do so due to cultural issues and a fear of disrespect.”

Jukanovich explains that their model is results-oriented.

“When we arrived here we said, let’s not come to Rwanda and try to build a building, set up a company and then return to the States. That happens too often… people come and leave and nothing happens.

“We are here for the local companies. If we have a relationship with company leaders, we advise them, and if they find that day, that hour, useful, then it’s worthwhile.”

Urquhart clarifies, “When determining company success, we hold ourselves to a very high standard. We try to say, at the end of the day, how does a business look from beginning to end. Given all the challenges that exist here in terms of cost of production, taxes, transport, etc., it takes a while before we can say a company is a success.”

However, he reaffirms KBP’s position, “We came very committed to Rwanda. We are here with our families, our children and are fully living here. We have adopted Rwandan children and we feel very strongly about the opportunity that the country presents for the region.”

Role change and Trust

Karisimbi Partners have a mindset of being execution oriented because they realize that is where you make money—on the details and the execution.

On the other hand, they have noticed a change in roles, overtime.

“What we didn’t realize is that we’ve become more of a ‘Trusted Advisor’, the ‘Independent Outsiders’” Jukanovich says, “…and because we have moved here with our families, we’ve gained the trust of our clients. In each meeting, we’ve shared our objective opinions. We are very humbled and pleased to be trusted.”

Crockett says, “Sometimes it takes over 10 years to gain someone’s trust.”

Urquhart adds, “We are fortunate just to have broad experience internationally, in Africa, Europe and America. Our mindset is—and I think our clients understand—we are vested in the success of the country and their companies as few others are. We are socially minded which is why we moved here.”

Explaining further, “There are plenty of consultants who will get on plane, get here and do a very nice plan for you and they are out, that’s it, they are paid and they are gone. That is not our mindset and we have been able to clearly communicate and demonstrate that because we are part of this community.”

Concerning the trusted network between KBP and their clients, Crockett says, most Managing Directors of the companies they work with are impressed by the Degrees, MBA’s and PhD’s they hold.

“But more important than the degrees, we have credibility as people who have run both small and big organisations that they have heard of. This has helped us in many ways,” explains Crockett.

Carter Crockett has worked under product management at Microsoft and as Co-Founder/President of Dealer Trade Group, a wholesale (B2B) marketplace for vehicles. Dano Jukanovich has worked with AT&T Wireless, before he became CEO for family-owned business, Lifestyle Homes & Construction and as an Army Airborne Ranger and Senior Intelligence Officer for the United States Army. Greg Urquhart has worked with Microsoft, and with technology companies in the US, East and Sothern Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Regional Perspective

According to Crockett, KBP has recently begun to become regionally engaged for the benefit of their clients.

“To do business in Rwanda and serve our clients better, we must have a perspective of the region. We started to become regionally aware because our clients need that knowledge,” he says.

Additionally, Foreign Direct Investment potential is starting to be realized in Rwanda.

“Now that we’ve become fairly savvy in understanding the Rwandan marketplace, we find that we are in a really unique position to attract foreign investors who otherwise don’t have people on the ground and are hesitant to invest,” Crockett explains. “We are in a place now to give them greater confidence about the market, to help them get educated quickly, and find the best opportunities.”

The three partners are working with investors more than they used to, and that is another adjustment to the original Karisimbi Business model.

Why Rwanda? 

Jukanovich says, “We have a faith-based motivation. We are Christians and we believe in the fundamental principle to ‘honour the poor, the widow and the orphan’—it’s just part of our lives.”

According to the founders of Karisimbi Partners, the decision to move to Rwanda happened independently and collectively, when the three of them were in places in their successful careers when they started to feel strongly about the need to be in a place where the needs are greater, where they could do more to benefit the poor.

“If you look at the world map, and try to find a place where you could do what we are talking about, Rwanda is the place. There is great confluence of openness to foreigners, safety for families, anti-corruption, growth and opportunity for future growth. We didn’t know this at the time, but we were fortunate we chose to move to Rwanda,” Jukanovich said.


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