Young Somali man’s journey from matatu tout to CEO

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Ahmed Abdi, CEO of Amana Insurance Brokerage Limited, receives an award from Hassan Bashir CEO Takaful Insurance on April, 2015 for emerging the best insurance agent. [Mohamed Dakane / Sahan Journal]
At the centre of the bustling city of Nairobi along Kenyatta Avenue, next to the famous New Stanley Hotel is Pan Afric Life Insurance house, an inconspicuous old-style building, different from the glass and steel structures that are typical of Nairobi.

On June 16, I proceeded to interview Ahmed Abdi, CEO of Amana Insurance Brokerage Limited. I met Ahmed swinging in a big seat in one of the plush offices.

Ahmed is an exuberant young man whose contentment with life is evident. Smartly dressed in a modern lounge suite, the 28-year-old father had all the reasons to be happy. His excitement on this particular day was quite extraordinary, a day that came with many blessings.

It was his birthday. And just ten days before, his first child was born. It was the same month of June that he was promoted to be a member of technical and legal sub-committee of the Association of Insurance Brokers of Kenya.

On June 9, Ahmed was featured in “The Entrepreneur,” a weekly program aired on Kenya Television Network that features successful entrepreneurs in the hope that it will inspire others.

Life was not always like this for Ahmed.

Ahmed recounts his past ordeals somberly. He comes from a humble background and encountered myriad challenges that had far reaching implications on his life. Born in Garissa County and schooled in Dadaab Primary School before transferring to Al Farouq Primary, Ahmed’s early life was as precarious as that of the Dadaab camps.

His parents were poor with no much to sustain them. There was no quality education and therefore his future virtually appeared bleak even from his early childhood. Despite the odds, Ahmed did well in his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations in 2002 and got admitted to Bura Secondary School.

Life at Bura Secondary School was tough. Ahmed almost lost hope.

Ahmed Abdi, CEO of Amana Insurance Brokerage Limited, with two of his staff members. [Mohamed Dakane / Sahan Journal]
Ahmed Abdi, CEO of Amana Insurance Brokerage Limited, with two of his staff members. [Mohamed Dakane / Sahan Journal]
He did not have school fees and dropped out of school in 2003. Ahmed, though crestfallen, had no option but to contend with a bitter reality of dreams unfulfilled. However, as the third born and the eldest son of a family of nine, Ahmed was the sole breadwinner. He had to take care of a demanding family with little resources.

Ahmed tried his hand at everything to make ends meet, from a matatu tout, a novice garage mechanic, a truck turnboy and part time driver in Garissa town.

He recalls vividly how no one bothered to reply to his application letter to a certain hardware in Mombasa that promised to pay him a paltry 5,000 shillings ($50) salary a month.

“Life sometimes can be full of tragedy and heartbreakingly brutal,” he says.

On April 28, 2008, while he was going on with his daily chores in Garissa, Ahmed received a call from his cousin Nageye Mohamud Dahir, a call he says that fundamentally changed his life for the better. He was called to serve as an office messenger for Nairobi-based Transnep Insurance Agency, a company owned by cousin Nageye.

A stranger to the city, Ahmed never got swayed from his purpose. He was a zealous hard worker and his determination soon earned him respect and accolades within the organization. In a short span, Ahmed rose through the ranks to become a marketing executive, then general manager supervising all the activities.

When the opportunity came, Ahmed registered for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in 2008 as a private candidate and he got C minus despite all the challenges of studying on his own and still having to earn a living in full time employment. This made him pursue several courses including marketing and strategic management that gave him much needed managerial skills to match his increasing responsibilities.

Ever on the look out for opportunities to excel, on March 23, 2011, Ahmed registered his own company, Al Amana Insurance Agency (later Amana Insurance Brokers Limited), with a friend as a partner. He extended the same zeal to work, only now in his own company and in an industry he understood well.

Amana blossomed. It was the first agency to register with Takaful Insurance (a Sharia compliant insurance firm) and introduce a private motor insurance policy. Since then, Takaful Insurance became Amana’s lifeline, winning several encouraging awards as the best agent.

Ahmed greatly attributes his success and that of his company to Hassan Bashir, CEO of Takaful Insurance who mentored him.

Today, as he enjoys the serenity of his executive office, Ahmed goes down the memory lane.

“Sometime when the memory of my past haunts me,” he said, “I pinch myself to confirm whether it was really me.”

As he sips coffee, Ahmed continues: “Even the sky is not the limit. Today, I have employed six employees from scratch but that is not my satisfaction. I still want to grow [my business].”

He plans to expand his business and transform it into an insurance company of its own. He plans to venture and expand his enterprise to East and Central Africa in the years to come. Besides that, Ahmed wants to venture into agriculture and ICT, stating that it is the way to go in this fast-advancing world.

Ahmed is focused and determined. His days start at dawn after the morning prayers. He then proceeds to his office to enjoy the serenity of the morning hours when the mind is still fresh. Ahmed spends his Sundays with his young family, saying it is the only day dedicated for them. He enjoys remaining fit and therefore occasionally goes to the gym. He also plays volleyball during his off-peak hours to remain healthy.

For Ahmed, his success is just the beginning; he is optimistic that what the future holds for him is even better.

For those in life’s doldrums, Ahmed says it takes courage, hard work and dedication. “Be yourself, accept the reality and move on. Don’t play the victim’s card,” he says.

Life was never fair to Ahmed but he managed to overcome his circumstances.

“In life, there is no short cut, confront it in an objective way and you will triumph’, he says. He stretches his hands while swinging on his big seat as he concludes: “Life can be scary but when it gives you lemon, make lemonade and stop crying for oranges.”

Source: Sahan Journal

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