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Alain Kouadio on entrepreneurism

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Alain Kouadio on entrepreneurism

Alain Kouadio – CEO of Kaydan Group – is passionate about fostering entrepreneurship. He spoke to Dounia Ben Mohamed.

 

As CEO of Kaydan Group,  – a conglomerate specialising in luxury real estate development – Alain Kouadio  to help stimulate economic development  in his native Côte d’Ivoire.

For the past two years, he has won the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ accolade at the prestigious Africa Economy Builders Awards and he is also the founder of the CGECI Academy forum for the promotion of entrepreneurship.

He has also established the Kaydan Project Foundation to pass on entrepreneurship skills to young people. His other   interests are telecoms and new technologies. In this interview he tells us why Africa needs a dense and strong private sector.

You have received the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ prize at the Africa Economy Builders Awards for the second year running. Yet you dreamed of being a physics professor?

Yes, it is true. I am part of this generation of Ivorians who in the 1980s were seduced by the theory of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who believed that the future belonged to scientists. So I embarked on studying physics, with the goal of becoming a university professor.

In parallel with my physics course, I undertook management studies at evening classes. It was during this training that my economics teacher told me that what my country needed was entrepreneurs and not teachers! I decided then to take a break from my doctoral studies in physics at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada, and enroll in the MBA programme at the University of Moncton in Canada.

I completed my education with a course at Harvard Business School (the Senior Leadership Programme). Back in Côte d’Ivoire, I successively held the positions of Head of KPMG’s Consulting Department and Secretary General of the Petroleum Industry Professionals Group (GPP).

In this role, I sat on the Ivorian Employers’ Economy and Finance Committee. It was then I met the President of the General Confederation of Enterprises of Côte d’Ivoire (CGECI), Jean Kacou Diagou, founder of the NSIA Group, and a true Ivorian icon of entrepreneurship. This meeting reinforced my passion for entrepreneurship. In 2009, I decided to make the leap by creating my own company [he went on to found Kaydan Real Estate in 2014].

As far as the entrepreneurship award is concerned, it is a great recognition of my peers’ work and the whole nation. It is also an encouragement to continue our efforts.

What are the qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

In the world of business, the competitive advantage can come only from cognitive qualities such as daring, perseverance, passion, innovation, resilience. These qualities are not taught in business schools! My success at the head of the Kaydan Group comes from my overflowing optimism, which can sometimes be likened to naivety.

In the world of business, the competitive advantage can come only from cognitive qualities such as daring, perseverance, passion, innovation, resilience. These qualities are not taught in business schools!

When failure comes to remind me that I am too optimistic, I draw the lessons, but I always keep this state of mind. So I do not have any risk aversion and every day I strengthen my resilience to the failures I encounter. I am also passionate about entrepreneurship and it is this passion that I try to share.

Is that why you created the CGECI Academy?

In my capacity as Vice President of CGECI, in charge of strategy and national entrepreneurship [a role he held from 2012 to 2016], Jean Kacou Diagou entrusted me with the mission of creating an event that would act as the annual meeting of the private sector. I proposed this great Forum for promoting entrepreneurship called CGECI Academy, of which I was president for five years. I am delighted that today, this Forum has remained the major economic event of the CGECI.

Is it to go further that you have created the Kaydan Project Foundation?

I am convinced that sustainable and inclusive economic growth in developing countries can only be achieved through the emergence of a dense and strong local private sector.

We must therefore create this vocation of entrepreneurship. It is a drastic paradigm shift, especially since Ivorians have not been impregnated by this culture. We have been programmed to be excellent employees. No action for the promotion of entrepreneurship would be too much. Following this logic, I created the Kaydan Project Foundation, whose mission is to promote entrepreneurship in Côte d’Ivoire.

I am convinced that sustainable and inclusive economic growth in developing countries can only be achieved through the emergence of a dense and strong local private sector.

We highlight successful career paths, [and] men and women who, through entrepreneurship, have led successful and exemplary professional careers.

In particular, we produce webcasts that spotlight local success stories to encourage entrepreneurial initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire. We opted for tools that speak to young people video, the web, social networks, to reach a wider audience. And it works!

One of our programmes, “No regrets” is repeated every Sunday on national television, the RTI. And it’s a real success! Ivorians are taking the trend more and more, and a class of serious young entrepreneurs is being born, who work for the sustainability of their organisations. And this is only the beginning – in a few years Côte d’Ivoire will be a land of entrepreneurs!

 

Do you have other projects for the promotion of entrepreneurship?

Absolutely! Our Foundation is aiming to create the Ivorian Institute for Research on Entrepreneurship. I remain convinced that the effectiveness of the development policies of a strong local private sector, such as the “National Champions” initiative, will depend on the sharpness of the basic assumptions that can only be obtained through a rigorous scientific approach.

Several policies for the development of a large local private sector failed, because they focused on the creation of the enterprise and not on the construction of the entrepreneur.

In my opinion, entrepreneurship is like a Formula One race: just as an average driver driving the best performing car will not win a race, so a bad entrepreneur will not be able to lead a successful business, even if it is the best.

In our cultural environment, which is necessarily far removed from Western realities, by what criteria do we identify the best entrepreneurial profiles? What are the cognitive abilities of a successful entrepreneur in countries like ours? How do we quantitatively and qualitatively measure the impact of the “National Champions” policy on the economic growth of our countries?

In my opinion, entrepreneurship is like a Formula One race: just as an average driver driving the best performing car will not win a race, so a bad entrepreneur will not be able to lead a successful business, even if it is the best.

There are so many questions, which if taken into account would make our policies for building a dense fabric of local entrepreneurs efficient and effective.

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