Ian Kabiru on the Hot Seat
“Corporate governance is about sustainability”
Ian Kabiru is the founder and managing director at Horizons Offices; an outsourced office and business support network offering meeting rooms, virtual and serviced office solutions targeted at the small and medium enterprise market. The Inquisitor sought to learn about his journey as an entrepreneur and his insights on corporate governance.
From the corporate scene to the entrepreneurship space, how would you describe your professional journey?
Transitioning from corporate was a very big challenge. As a corporate, you are accustomed to structure, resources and having people around you to do things. When you become an entrepreneur, all that is no longer there. What you have however, is your own vision as opposed to somebody else’s. It becomes your drive and motivation. I won’t say I had a clear idea of how I was going to get there, but I knew what I wanted. That is what is important. You take it step by step as you are starting off: selling your vision, looking for finances, identifying the best location and so on. Once you are set up, you find yourself dealing with the day to day issues on one hand and on the other, you are keeping your mind on the vision. That is how entrepreneurs operate. It has been exciting, and it still is because you never really know what is coming next. What is constant is the change. You can never stand still.
At what point did you decide to set up a board for your business?
It was quite early on. What was fortunate about us was that the people who initially bought the idea and came in as shareholders all had corporate backgrounds. There was a certain discipline that we were familiar with. The board was set up very early. The pressure to set up proper structures came when we were at the stage of inviting a VC fund to come and invest in the business. When you are running the business on your own, there is a certain informality in the way you conduct the business. But when you invite someone into your home, that’s when you tidy the place up. It was similar. It also helped the investor get a good grip of the condition of the business with regards to compliance in the statutory point of view.
What criteria did you settle on in choosing your board members?
My founder shareholders were my board. The issue we are currently dealing with is that of independence, and that is the conversation we are now having. We are looking at bringing in directors that do not have a vested interest in the business. But beyond that, I had to consider bringing in people with different skillsets, fresh perspective and objectivity.
How would you define the corporate culture of Horizons Offices?
We always wanted to be an entrepreneurial organization. I wanted our employees to be more like business people: to have that extra grind and not just show up for a salary. When I was starting Horizons, I wanted that to be part of our culture from day one. For instance, I made it clear that we were not going to start off with what most companies do, which is to start creating the belief that you cannot do more than one job. I wanted everyone to see that we are all business people, bringing in a unique set of skills but at the same time having a common understanding that being in business means we succeed: winning that customer and ensuring that the customer remains happy. So, a heart for service and an entrepreneurial and multi-skilled mindset. That is what defines Horizons Offices.
Would you attribute the success of your firm to having sound corporate governance practices?
Corporate governance for me is not only a driver of value, but I believe it helps to sustain it. Corporate governance is about sustainability. The board helps to keep you on track. The trigger for value for me is that entrepreneurial spirit. The board keeps you in check as you seek new customers and opportunities. The two are equally important.
Ian shares interesting yet fundamental thoughts on corporate culture. The entrepreneur’s personal beliefs and values define those of the entity. They define the entity’s character which is an integral part of the value creation process. Beyond that, an entrepreneur’s world is never static. There is nothing constant other than the continuous disruptive change in the business environment. Growth for an entrepreneur means adapting to this change: being flexible enough to ensure there is no stagnation. The sustenance of this growth can be achieved through the adoption of sound corporate governance.