Brian Sedze is one of Zimbabwe’s leading intellectuals and is currently an executive chairman of Ryan Capital (Zimbabwe and Zambia), lead consultant on Strategy and Innovation at Ryan Octavo Lane and part-time lecturer and speaker in the field.
He’s also contributed to several publications sharing perspectives and insights into various aspects of the country’s corporate and political arenas. Brian holds a PhD from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA.
Rodney Rumbidzai Chawota
Tell us a little about your childhood and upbringing.
It was a hard road growing up with my unemployed but industrious mother who divided her time between farming, doing ‘cross border’ and basically selling anything from fruits to eggs and anything in between. As a family of four we often stared poverty right in the face.
While in secondary school, I joined my father, who had remarried, and was living in Redcliff. He was a locomotive driver for Ziscosteel. We lived a pretty decent middle-class life in a low density suburb. For some reason I was a boarder at school unlike my nine siblings and that kind of left me with a disconnect from my family.
What did you do to get to where you are?
I was probably cut out to be either an accountant or company secretary. My very supportive step-mother wanted me to be an accountant and always said she saw me as a managing director for Ziscosteel. That stayed with me. My father wanted me to be in
the army and at one point, I joined the officer cadet programme of the army but deserted after a couple of months.
When I completed my O Levels, I was recognized as one of the country’s top students. Then came the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) meaning my father was retrenched, so I had to self-school at home for part of my A Levels. I initially studied insurance at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) and then dropped out to study accounting with support from Hexco. Later, I studied law and was subsequently given a scholarship to study strategic innovation at MIT Sloan Management and later strategy at IMD.
When my career started I was a depots administrator, then became assistant company secretary and was later appointed executive assistant to the group CEO and acting company secretary for Unilever. I then moved to Autopax Passenger Services and at the same time I’d been headhunted to be CEO of Zimbabwe Development Corporation at the age of 28.
I then returned to a senior role at Unilever before moving to an executive role at Anchor Holdings when a company known as Lasaffre was acquiring a significant stake in Anchor. After their acquisition I was appointed group CEO of Kingstons Holdings.
Later I had a consultancy and advisory stint in Kigali where we worked on business process re-engineering and modernization for state enterprises and municipalities. I then rejoined Unilever Africa, Middle East and Turkey as a project assistant.
Along the way, I became a fellow of the Institute of Directors, an accredited trainer as well as a councillor and training and development chairman of IOD.
You’ve written numerous articles for several publications over the years on a range of topics. Which topics resonate with you?
The ones on strategy and innovation do because I believe that for our continent, ideas not money, is what’s in short supply. Africa inherited old industrial complexes and without innovation we’ll continue on a downward spiral into highly inefficient economies.
Value creation through innovation will solve our challenges of being a resource-rich continent with poor citizens. The future won’t rely on land and minerals so there has to be a drive to participating in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, value addition and modernization. To get there, it’s prudent to have a factory of ideas where we look for solutions from within ourselves instead of relying on the world to feed us their innovations.
I also believe universities should be centers of research and development instead of just churning out theories. At the inception of the new dispensation I wrote to the president several times about starting university-based innovation hubs; it’s quite encouraging that university hubs have now been established though more can be done to link them
with capital and industry. Our conversations should gravitate towards solutions yet we major more in political dialogue.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a new business?
Focus on the solution and the money will follow.
Hold on to the passion because challenges will come.
If you fail, start again because it’s never too late to
Zimbabwe turned 40 this year. How do you see 40-year-old Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe is a bed of contradictions. We succeeded in accessing education for a new generation, as well improving access to health care. However, we’ve regressed as an economy with old industrial complexes, a comparatively less competitive economy, massive unemployment, infrastructural decay, murky corporate governance structures, failure to embrace the new economy, lack of investment in value addition and innovation. This requires massive corrective surgery.
What will it take to restore Zimbabwe to its former glory?
There has to be more investment into our own innovation funnel to create new industries and local solutions, as well as investment in research and development for industrial sectors not only to increase productivity but to outpace regional peers. Our country requires a process of not re-engineering the fabric of the country but a complete rehaul. We need to change the mindset for value creation by enacting policies that formalize so-called small-medium enterprises to pay tax and contribute to economic growth.
Importantly, our country requires a complete change of murky corporate governance system by implementing a compulsory system of governance and company regulation instead of voluntary compliance.
Do you think the Zimbabwean response to the COVID-19 pandemic is fit for purpose?
I think we should have closed the borders earlier. We did not undertake a wholesale lockdown of the economy, provide more incentives to the corporate world for supporting government initiatives, provide reasonable safety nets for the vulnerable and provide significant compensation for health workers and life assurances.
How do you think the pandemic will affect Zimbabweans in general and how can the country recover should it be hit hard?
The economy is battered. Foreign investment and tourism will take years to rebound. Small scale enterprises have no access to new working capital. The tax base has dwindled. All this means more poverty. The country may need to provide tax and re-capitalization incentives to companies and implement free economic zones to attract the little capital still
A good leader has…
…Passion, character and commitment to providing solutions.
What drives you?
Passion. I also surround myself with high achievers. I read at least two books a week and I’m always challenged by what I learn.
Who are your role models?
I’m inspired by the late Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, the late Prince Rogers Nelson (Prince) and Nick Vujicic.
What lies in store for you in the future?
Venture capital in agriculture and energy.
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Facebook: Brian Sedze
LinkedIn: Dr Brian Sedze