A desire to be an actor of change
I am Alexis Indenge and I’m 54.
I was born in Kinshasa and left for Belgium with my father when I was six years old, who went to further his medical studies there. I stayed in Belgium for 33 years. I lived there, worked there, until, in 2004, I got an opportunity to return to the DRC.
Ever since, I’ve considered myself a returner. Although I studied and acquired my professional experience in Belgium, now that I am home, nobody looks at me differently. There’s no one in a meeting who can see that I’ve been away and that I carry a Belgian passport. I have no issues with being a Congolese Belgian, or a Belgian Congolese for that matter. In my mind, I know that I have come home. And professionally, having studied in Europe is an added value, as Europe’s professional approach is completely different, more result-oriented.
The company I worked for upon returning – Celtel – was looking for people from the Congolese diaspora, locals but with a European mentality and work ethic. That’s how I wound up in Africa again, to work as an ICT Director. Thanks to the company, a large corporate, I could take up regional functions in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. After a while, I joined the Telecel Group in Zimbabwe before meeting one of the shareholders of Global Broadband Solutions (GBS), a purveyor of IT-solutions, looking for a Congolese CEO, someone from the country who spoke the lingo and understood the mentality. That is how I became a returner, someone who studied, got his professional experience abroad, but who, in his mind, knows to have arrived home.
How can you have a masters in ICT without ever having used a computer?
Global Broadcast Solutions
I simply loved working for GBS, especially the challenge of reinvigorating the company. A company’s success depends on its work force, all of it, and there were some 200 collaborators in total. My first task and foremost assignment therefore was to get closer to them and to create a sense of family. You can’t play a match when the team is not supporting you. So, I had to motivate them by becoming close to them and make them feel respected in their job.
Congolese people are generous with themselves, which is hard to find in Europe. When something needs to be done, it will be done. He or she is not going to put up any hard limits, not to be surpassed. People here are willing to fully give themselves. The Congolese will work without counting time or energy. I like that in them.
Once you manage to create a good atmosphere and a motivated team that is ready to put its heart into it, it’s wonderful what you can attain. I understood that it’s necessary to alter people’s mindset, their approach, their way of looking at things, and their dealings with management. The fact that I have the same skin colour also made things easier.
I also gave a lot of opportunities to young people by hiring trainees who just left school and having them do commercial prospection. Moreover, I support all kind of projects that help schools and young people. If nobody does this, what kind of education would these kids get? Once, for example, I interviewed applicants with an ICT major. The first time they got to use a computer was when they arrived with us. How can you have a masters in ICT without ever having used a computer?
But anyway, there are three stages in professional life. The first stage is when you work for someone. The second stage is when you work for yourself. And the third one is when you make others work for you.
I’m at the second stage right now. That means I decided to leave my position at GBS and to create my own logistics company, the General Service Company (GSC), which also functions as a customs office and as a fiscal consultancy for the logistics industry.
What prompted this change, the tipping point if you like, was the realisation that I wanted to have complete freedom in taking decisions, without having to continuously report to some board or distant shareholders. I am now the CEO and major shareholder of my own company. I really feel good in that role. My aim – let’s say in five years – is to withdraw from general management, to become a chairman and to appoint a general manager who will then work for me.
An actor of change
My original decision to move back to the DRC was inspired by my desire to be an actor of change and to find my place in an emerging country and continent. That is why I became a member of certain entrepreneurial associations, like the Makutano, for example, where all big Congolese CEO’s meet. Makutano is starting to find its voice in this country. Only recently, we met with president Tshisekedi and made some recommendations to improve the business climate.
Because I, I don’t want to leave. I am motivated to stay, even though risks and many uncertainties abound. That’s true. But we try to be intelligent and to manage our company in a responsible way, so we may avoid any surprises, budgetary or otherwise. We’re economical and all our projects are short-term because we don’t know what the longer term will bring.
We try to adapt our management style and the company’s development to the political circumstances. When things go bad, we take contingency measures. When things go well, we’re ready to push the pedal and move forward.
In my opinion, the African continent will play a major role in global development. Countries like Senegal and Ivory Coast have plans that focus particularly on major sectors, like education, health care, transport, infrastructure, and agriculture. Those are the key industries that many African countries are developing now. Africa will be tomorrow’s Eldorado.
Mr Alexis Indenge is the former CEO of GBS, a DRC based company, specialised in the design and delivery of broad-based telecommunication solutions, particularly in satellite and radio IP solutions.
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