“Never give up’’, is probably one of the most cliché phrases you will hear as you are building your career. But there is a reason these sayings are clichés—you never know when success really lies around the next corner.

We had a brief interview with Daniel Nyange – Site Manager at Africa Improved Foods as he took us through his corporate journey.

Read on and get inspired!

Describe your current role and Responsibilities.

I am the Site Manager here at Africa Improved Foods which means that I am responsible for Production, Maintenance, SHE (Safety, Health and Environment management), Security, Warehouse and Inventory departments – largely known as Operations. Each of this of course, comes with a set of responsibilities and deliverables. For instance, Production deals with conversion of raw materials into finished goods at the right productivity, quality, cost, operational excellence parameters. SHE is all about ensuring our work environment is safe for all, in compliance with regulatory boundaries and without accidents, the Maintenance guys are charged with increasing the plant reliability and asset care in line with the targeted capacity utilization indicators. The security team keeps all our assets free of incidents and works towards preventing these incidents rather than reacting to them. A key responsibility for the warehouse and inventory team, is to receive, store, deliver goods and materials on time, in full and error free. We are very operational round the clock and heavily team driven and we keep looking out for and inspiring each other to continually improve as we believe that the team is as strong as its weakest member. ‘We Deliver’ is our rallying call and we celebrate our milestones together.

What were your career goals as you started your job here?

To commission the very advanced manufacturing facility and kick start operations with up-skilling of the young dynamic team in mind, in order to stamp out malnutrition. Just being part of this mission, is very exciting. We are now feeding 1.5 million people daily in under 3 years since commissioning. How about that!

To reach the epitome of my expertise in different operational environments by contributing in a new diverse cultural space. Rwanda sets the GDP growth pace in the region and to contribute to this success, is just as rewarding as it is fulfilling.

What key roles helped you prepare for your current role?

I hold an MBA degree in Strategic Management and BSc degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry and I have worked and trained with Multinational, Regional and Kenyan Organizations that prepared me for this role. I started off as a Process Operator and later on as a Quality assurance analyst at Smithkline Beecham, Now GlaxoSmithKline where I got my foundation in Manufacturing. I moved to Unilever EA as Shift Manager where I picked up Operational excellence (Total Manufacturing Management). I was lucky to later manage the Nakuru Unga feeds plant (the biggest animal feeds plant in EA by installed capacity, then) as Plant manager where I picked up Milling and Fortification experience and Gemba Kaizen as an Excellence tool. Tropical heat ltd was my next stop, where I picked up extrusion skills and became the Production and Logistics Director. Each of these Organizations had their own challenges and success stories. I have had so much fun along the way and my family has allowed me the latitude to keep exploring, they have been a beacon of hope all the way. This journey prepared me for my current role at AIF.

What fascinates you about your current role?

To quote Chinua Achebe, ‘People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that is the time to do something about it, not when it’s around the neck’. I keep learning new things every day as we face different challenges. I am amazed by the team spirit at AIF in surmounting the sourcing challenges that we face in the region. In a short time, we have reached further as a young organization than I ever would have imagined. With very limited supporting third party infrastructure e.g. advanced workshops / technology centres, we have optimized and found creative solutions to all the challenges we have faced.

 Have you ever considered a career change?

Strangely, not. But in the past, I have had to quit when it was not exciting any more. Manufacturing has always been a sector that fascinates me. It is all about finding that which motivates me and the team, to perform at peak and while at it, enjoying every moment.

Have you had any mentors in the achievement of your professional goals?

Yes, several actually, but in general I look up to people who exhibit a lot of drive and perseverance through adversity. I think mentors are key for guided growth with self-reflection. As a young person finding my path, I always remembered the African proverb that the youth can walk faster but the elder knows the road. I am still learning to take a pause to self-reflect when I think I am running too fast. I especially admire the training discipline and regimen of the famous marathon Runner Eliud Kipchoge. Even with his world record, he still wakes up every day to practice as if running his dream marathon – under 2 hours. He once said ‘do not ask me about my dreams, ask me how crazy my dreams are’. I also count my blessings when I am down, when I remember what a colleague at AIF had to go through to be here today after the Genocide in Rwanda. This paragraph is too short to do my mentors justice.

What difficulties do you face in your current role and how do you overcome them?

As I said earlier, the support infrastructure in the region is still developing to support the kind of Plant that AIF is, so we have to be creative in designing new routes to expand our product range and developing team and process capability. Luckily, my team is ever ready to face these challenges. We have indeed improved the installed capacity for a single product by 5KT!

Which advice would you give to the younger generation aspiring to do what you do right now?

Keep learning! There is no end to it. The younger people need to keep exploring the horizon within the corporate world. From the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘What hurts, instructs’. There cannot be short-cuts to success, one must invest time to learn. Measurement of key operating parameters always helps in technical problem solving, listening to the customer and delivering to their specification, connecting with colleagues across the organization, continuous shaping of the environment while staying true to the mission, creating time to exercise the body and mind and create enjoyable time with their families while loving each moment!

What challenges and opportunities do you think young people should watch out for in this sector?

I think there are many. In the future a multi-talented operator will always win. operational excellence, industrial engineering and technology are areas that the young people need to pursue. Taking advantage of the technology and systems used at AIF to learn e.g. Milling, Extrusion, Boiler technology, electronics, fortification, Technology (Automation, Optimization and Process control), Chemical and Microbial analysis, fork lift driving, welding, Accounting etc. prepares the individuals already at AIF for any challenge ahead – but they have to create time for these. Generally, an individual should drive his or her own program.