Aim high… think global

Aim_highmsafiri’s regular business columnist Komla Dumor believes that aiming high and being ambitious is the best recipe for success

In anticipation of the world cup in Brazil I have started learning Brazilian Portuguese. My teacher, a kind and funny woman from São Paulo teaches me proper grammar and structure during the lessons. However, at the end of each lesson she says, “Now let me teach you how people really talk on the street.” Her goal, she says, is to teach me to speak naturally and not greet people with the linguistic equivalent of ‘how do you do’.

The World Cup will be another opportunity to showcase the African brand of football. It is important to remember that there are few platforms that have the global reach of the World Cup. South Africa made a huge statement to the world when it hosted the tournament. SA 2010 was extraordinary as an event, but it was also a bold statement from the country that it had to be taken seriously – not just as an important African economy but as a significant global player. Kudos to South Africa not only for an excellent execution, but having the courage and ambition to say, ‘We can do this.’ And then doing it.

There are lessons in that for businesses and entrepreneurs.

I have to be honest with you, I get a little frustrated when I visit some countries and some product or another is described as, ‘the best in the region’ or ‘the best in the country’. For me, taking a position of being local versus global is just not good enough. Don’t get me wrong. Humble beginnings are absolutely fine – if there is an ambition to be better, bigger and eventually the best. I have had the opportunity to sit down with some of Africa’s most successful businessmen –

Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Patrice Mostepe. What I find about these very extraordinary people is not just what they have achieved, but how they think. Their ambition is not limited by geographical boundaries or personal circumstances. They think big and they think global.

In some cultures, meekness is praised as a positive character trait. Humility is important and few people enjoy the company of the loud or brash ‘know-it-all’ who makes others feel small because of their good fortune. In fact I find that the most successful people I have interviewed are pretty relaxed and easy going when they talk about their goals, plans and achievements. But when it comes to business practice – that’s where the meek, humble, laid-back approach ends. Procrastination – out the window. Prevarication – no time for that.

Kenya’s athletes are no longer content with being the best in East Africa. Forgive the sports analogies, but they are relevant. Imagine if David Rudisha only wanted to be the fastest man in his home town? Imagine if Tirunesh Dibaba limited her running ambitions to Ethiopia? These days, when football debates end up with ‘Who is better? Ronaldo or Messi?’ I remind people of a time when there was no debate. The World, European and African best player awards were held by one man – the Liberian George Oppong Weah. Enough said. In sports, business or any other industry, aim high or stay at home.