ASK Joe Wanjui, chairman of one of Kenya's leading companies, what makes African industry successful and he has a quick answer: ``In Africa or any place - the key is good management.'' Something must be working. His East African Industries (EAI), which produces margarine, soap, lotions, toothpaste, and other products, is about to expand to a second factory, costing some $25 million.
EAI is not ``protected'' by Kenyan tariffs against import competition, but government controls that keep prices of its products low have the same effect.
Employment at EAI has grown in the past 25 years from around 450 to approximately 1,600 people, who work in three around-the-clock shifts, six to seven days a week.
The company states that annual sales now total about $150 million a year.
Most of the employees are high school graduates and have been with the company more than 10 years.
The least-skilled workers begin at a salary of about $150 a month, higher than many Kenyan industries pay, according to company officials. Employees being groomed for supervisory jobs are given management training.
``I'm not an engineer anymore. I'm a manager,'' says Huntington Awori, a technical director trained in civil, mechanical, and chemical engineering, as he shows a visitor through the plant.
Noise levels in each unit are quite high, but workers do not wear ear plugs. The place is tidy: Floors are often swept, though the floors are slippery in the cooking-oil unit.
In another unit, a machine boxes 350 small cartons of laundry-soap powder a minute. Demand for such products is high. The company advertises widely and sponsors lectures in schools on hygiene, promoting its own products at the same time.
Like many Kenyan firms, it is partially owned by the government - in this case, just under half. The other 54 percent is owned by Unilever, a Dutch-British company.
Chairman Wanjui and all but five of his top management team are Kenyan, as are many of the raw materials used in manufacturing.