After the completion of the ZLOG program you redirected your career within the scope of Global Health Supply Chain. First, joining the research group at ZLC and two years later moving to Tanzania. In Dar es Salaam, you had the opportunity to design a research study to help antimalarial medicines reach the country’s outermost villages. It seems like your time at ZLC was an inspiration, a springboard for you to fine-tune your ideas, resulting in your subsequent research study. Am I right?
Yes, certainly. At ZLC I was surrounded by a group of extremely intelligent individuals who were passionate about their work and challenged and inspired each other to tackle large, complex problems. This helped to shape the way I viewed the world and influenced many of my future decisions to take on new challenges.
We’ve heard that you – and your motorbike – became quite popular in the tiny coastal village of Gezaulole in Tanzania! What did you gain from the experience of being one of a few foreigners living in the rural settlement?
Well “popular” may be a bit of a stretch. I was viewed by most of the village as the crazy “mzungu” who decided to live out by the beach rather than enjoy the conveniences of the city. At that time Gezaulole was very isolated with limited Internet, no power, and few services. This less-connected life created the time and space for me to really engage with the people around me and to spend time reflecting on the important issues that often get neglected in the hustle and bustle of a busy life.
Looking at your diverse experience, your profile can most certainly be described as “fearless”. In the midst of a civil war in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, you ran a logistics business and oversaw a downstream petroleum company with $5 million a week in turnover. Considering all your works and activities so far, has this been your biggest challenge to date?
The work in South Sudan certainly had its challenges. I was building distribution companies in a country with few roads, political and economic volatility, sporadic violence, and infamous corruption. However, many of these challenges could be overcome with creative thinking and a sense of humor. The thing I loved about working in South Sudan was that things moved fast. Within 10 days of my first visit to Juba I had incorporated a company, hired a team, established an office (albeit in a modified shipping container), and signed my first customer. What I found much more challenging was navigating the politics of our global health projects and having the patience and perseverance to work through the system and overcome the setbacks and delays inherent in the work.
Back from Africa and thanks to the approach between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, you see a particular gap in the market which would turn into your new challenge: Havana Strategies, a consulting firm that provides advisory services for U.S. companies interested in pursuing business opportunities with Cuba. What prompted you to get into the advisory universe? Which companies have been advised by Havana Strategies up to date?
The decision to leave South Sudan was very difficult. However, after a few years of commuting from the US to Juba and trying to manage the businesses from afar I knew that it wasn’t sustainable. Havana Strategies was the first business opportunity to generate the same level of excitement that had initially drawn me to Juba. My brother Collin has been working in Cuba for 10 years and we had always talked about working together. When Obama announced the policy changes the interest by US companies in doing business with Cuba skyrocketed. By leveraging Collin’s contacts and Cuba expertise and my business experience in frontier markets we launched Havana Strategies and have been providing a range of services to facilitate trade and investment. We have been very fortunate and have a great set of clients. A few examples include Airbnb, General Electric, Facebook, Netflix, and Cummins.