Born in Mombasa in a lower middle-class family, Al-Fayaz Sunderji, 37, found himself in Nairobi at the age of nine.
Like any other child his age, he struggled to adjust to a new kind of life in the big city, a new school and making new friends. Years later, he had dropped out of secondary school due to financial challenges.
This saw him struggle in various jobs from working as a mechanic to installing cable television, retail sales of telecommunication equipment to sales for a family-owned florist business, where his father taught him on the job. “I had to work to stand by my family in tough times,” he says.
In a few months, he discovered that he had a natural gift of the gab. “I mastered the art and social science of sales. At times, my father would tell me, ‘Son you have outdone your teacher’. This really encouraged me to perfect my skill. I noticed that the more I practised, the more passionate I became about sales,” says Mr Sunderji.
Unknown to him, this marked the beginning of his career in sales and marketing. For the past 22 years, Mr Sunderji has taken up different jobs in sales and marketing. He is working as the sales and marketing director for Wilex GmbH, the biggest supplier of OEM spare parts for European trucks and cars in the East African region. Mr Sunderji has worked with Wilex GmbH for the last 15 years, and he frequently travels across East African countries and to the company’s headquarters in Germany. “Talent and passion have kept me here, doing the same thing – sales, yet differently and refreshing every time I serve a client,” he says.
He started out as a messenger, running errands and any other extra chores for his boss. Being that gifted sales person, Mr Sunderji would occasionally engage in word-of-mouth marketing to people who were known to him and this would generate inquiries and good sales. “In no time, the business was booming and my partners started seeing growth they had not realised before and I asked to be allowed to do the sales for Volvo, VW, Mercedes Benz, Scania, Iveco and Man spare part brands in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Mozambique and Malawi which also picked up,” he says.
GREW WITH THE FIRM
Mr Sunderji grew with the firm over the years. “I worked very hard, diligently and honestly. Knowing the customer’s mood gave us a big advantage over the big multinationals entering the market. Along the way, I got approached by competitors to join them, but I turned down the offer as my loyalty was with Wilex which had given me the first opportunity. Soon, I started travelling the world and our products spread in Africa and the Middle East,” he says. In 2009, he made his greatest achievement. “I was made part owner and partner in the German firm, with the position of sales and marketing director,” says Mr Sunderji.
According to Ms Pauline Kiraithe, the founder and lead coach at Talent Gurus @254, with passion there is no limit to what one can achieve. “What Mr Sunderji did was ingenuity and innovation that demonstrates his expertise in sales and marketing. His passion for sales is what illuminated his talent, even though he was initially serving in different roles,” says Ms Kiraithe.
Unfortunately, a majority of young people are highly talented and do not know it. Like Mr Sunderji, those who discover and nurture their talent are passionate about their careers, says Ms Kiraithe. “This is seen through repeated actions which form a consistent pattern in their professional history. There is that demonstrated effort about their work,” she adds.
She says passion is innate, and forms part of an individual’s working habits, adding that people who pursue their passion have the greatest achievements. “It is when work stops being work that it becomes more enjoyable as the person operates within their natural flow. Productivity is enhanced and a person exceeds expectations,” says Ms Kiraithe. adding that this breeds innovation and creativity.
Without a natural flow, a person has to be supervised to deliver work, but otherwise, work becomes a hobby that they pursue and professionalise. “They, therefore, push themselves to extremes of self-discovery, immersing themselves into their practice or craft,” she adds.
Mr Sunderji says the pursuit of passion gives an immense satisfaction. “The greatest satisfaction I get today is when I close a deal and both my client and supplier are happy. I’m passionate about what I do and I want to do it up to 200 per cent. I want to be the best at it,” he says.
Employees who are placed in roles that they are passionate about are loyal and feel they are part of the company, says Ms Kiraithe.
Mr Sunderji feels the same. “My job is my life and Wilex GmbH have become my family,” he says. Millenials, born between 1981 and 1996, who jump from one job to the other may not have found an area within their passion.
“They are bursting with new ideas and keep chasing opportunities for growth. If they are placed in an area of passion they can stay there forever,” she notes.
Ms Kiraithe points out that with passion, employees do extra and are highly productive and more of problem-solvers. “This increases the attainment of strategic objectives, which makes a lot of business sense for companies,” she adds.
Mr Sunderji has benefited from advanced technical training and product education from the manufacturers, which he passes on to Wilex GmbH distributors across the region. He says: “But, the most beneficial aspect is my skilled expertise while interacting with clients and suppliers. This is an art; it is my secret tool to my success. For an international firm, being based locally is key because I deal directly with the market.”
In a field where technology changes very fast, his passion has pushed him to explore new trends. “I would advise young people to follow their passion to the very end. Work hard, focus, be disciplined, value honesty and integrity,” says Mr Sunderji.
Nairobi-based Talent Gurus @254 is running a corporate programme that is geared towards helping employees to discover their area of passion within their organisations.
“With this, they can pursue professional courses that are in line with their talent and this makes them more useful to the company in that role,” says Ms Kiraithe, adding that this has seen many switch careers.