Big Boys of Nairobi: Meet the man of steel with a soft heart – Pulse Live Kenya

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When talking about executives who have left an indelible mark on the world quite literally, Manish Mehra is one of the names that you are bound to come across.
From the moment you sit across the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mabati Rolling Mills (MRM), Manish Mehra, you can’t help but get drawn in by his blend of charisma and laid-back personality.
Having spent the last 30 years literally painting his masterpiece in the corporate world, considering the experience of working at one of the leading paint companies (Asian Paints) in the world, he is now framing the aforementioned masterpiece with Mabati Rolling Mills.
The move from paint to steel may be viewed as incidental, but it could also be seen as symbolic – the emblem of a man who has been forged in the global corporate furnace, a man who now possesses a will of steel.
I joined as Asian Paints as a graduate trainee. From there I rose up the ranks to executive manager, retail manager, general manager and I was able to climb up the ladder by focusing on the goals of the company and how to contribute to these goals.
If the company grows, the individual grows. Growth is very important,” he attributed his success to the continual growth of an organisation.
If you’ve ever been to one of the local paint shops in Kenya, you’d have likely come across a tint mixer. This is a computerised colour mixing machine that changed the game completely.
One of the highlights of Manish’s stellar career is the fact that he introduced this innovative technology in New Delhi, India, a move that helped Asian Paints gain a significant market share.
Embracing technology to better serve his market is a common feature I picked up during my tête-à-tête with the MRM CEO.
There’s a pause and a smile that shines through his eyes when the discussion got to his family. I was curious to find out how they handled his job demands, having worked in India, China, Egypt, Tanzania and now Kenya.
Yeah, the moves came at that age when one could make a decision more easily. If I was to do it now, of course, it would be more difficult, but at that time, the kids were young.”
One of the things that stands out during our conversation is his willingness to always put himself out there, a visible effort to ensure continual learning.
For example, his move to China – where he worked for almost a decade, came at a time when the number of expatriates in that particular country could be counted by hand.
Still, Manish took it upon himself to soak in the local culture, going as far as learning Mandarin. He picked up Arabic in Egypt and is now picking up Swahili ‘kidogo kidogo’ as he establishes his East African roots.
Kenya is a country where you get good talent. The people are ambitious, assertive and they always want to do better,
The one thing that he picks out for praise is the famous Kenyan weather. “You get to hear a lot about it but you only get to know how much of a comfort factor it is once you actually get here,” he explains.
He also singled out the thriving Indian community in Kenya and how it helped him settle down with ease.
As is the case with the elite class of corporate leaders such as Manish, he comes alive when the conversation steers towards work.
Having joined MRM in June 2021, the soaring steel prices were bound to be a challenge and so it was. He soon dives deep to explain how he had to find balance in the chaos in a bid to satisfy not only his shareholders, but his clientele as well.
This was a big challenge. We were trying to maintain a balance between volumes and price. We were stabilizing our prices as opposed to increasing them so as to boost consumer confidence.”
We have taken a bit of a hit in profits but we have maintained volumes which is crucial in our goal to maintain and grow our market share. How do we deliver value for the customer? We are constantly looking at ways to deliver value at the right price. This journey is quite engaging.
MRM is the market leader in Kenya with an estimated 35% market share in the roofing sheets business.
Walking into MRM headquarters, it’s almost impossible to miss the trophy cabinet that could rival the one you’d find at Real Madrid’s home ground.
The accolades just keep coming for the company that has been sheltering Kenyans from as early as 1961.
The company is fused with an enviable lineage of leaders, from the Chandarias to the Shahs, a fact that Manish says played and continues playing a key role in its success.
Notably, just a few months into his tenure, the new CEO has already added a trophy of his own to the hallowed cabinet, having bagged the SuperBrands Award.
In a bid to maintain this exceptional record, Manish is constantly looking into ways to drive the company forward, with technology key among his tools of trade.
There are various ways we are exploring how to bring in technology for the benefit of the customer. It will be delivered through partnerships with tech firms whose goals are aligned with ours.
In line with this, the company boasts of innovative products such as SAFBUILD, their all-new pre-engineered steel buildings.
This is a wall cladding solutions that has helped create ideal buildings for warehousing, manufacturing/industrial buildings, agro/food-processing units, market sheds, chicken sheds , workshops, parking structures, churches, schools/colleges, garages, institutional buildings and many more.
Never one to sit on his laurels, the new CEO and proud father of two is already looking into the future and how best to position his company to serve his market better.
In terms of offering better choices to our customers, we have now opened up 6 showrooms in the country. We are not only looking to sell mabati but solutions as well e.g. fasteners, polycarbonate sheets, gutters for rain collections etc.
We are also actively looking to, and partnering with architects and quantity surveyors to come up with innovative solutions in our line of work.
The firm is also engaged with various government institutions such as the University of Nairobi where Manish recently inked a deal to supply cold rooms.
Always challenge yourself, never be satisfied,
An admirer of Apple, and Steve Jobs, Manish is inspired by the firm’s ability to almost preempt what their clients need and serve it to them.
It is this unorthodox, out-of-the-box yet effective business model that inspires the MRM CEO as he goes about his day to day business.
When things go right, it’s as a result of a combination of factors which is why I am always thankful to the Almighty for His grace,” he responded to my query on how he rewards himself.
His personal rewards and tastes may have evolved over the last 3 decades but he attributes his success to God and maybe a little bit of golf.
An avid fan of the game and a golfer himself, he goes as far as revealing some of the so-called cliché statements that carry a lot of weight outside his favourite manicured golf courses.
Your next shot is the best shot,” he further explains how golf translates into his life in terms of cultivating patience and highlighting the importance of having a clear plan/strategy to execute your goal.
This was one of those engagements that leave you with this wholesome feeling. A feeling that can’t quite be described in words.
Manish has gone from a young and ambitious graduate trainee in India, to setting up new offices in China, to navigating a tasking job in the middle of revolution in Egypt, and now fully focused on taking MRM to the next level.
I leave the office looking at the trophy cabinet and think to myself “This must be the human will to succeed in its purest form.
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