‘There’s power in focusing emotions’
A survivor. That aptly sums-up the life of Basotho Enterprise Development Corporation (BEDCO) Chief Executive Officer Robert Likhang. An entrepreneur, a life-coach, motivational-speaker, leader, and man of the most humble of beginnings, Mr Likhang has virtually seen it all, so to speak, and in this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Rethabile Pitso, demonstrates that nothing is impossible with respect for fellow human beings, hard work and self-belief.
LT: Could you give us a background of who you are and your upbringing?
Likhang: I was born in 1962 in Ha Nyeye Maputsoe — a place very dear to me because of that connection. i have seen the village develop from a purely rural area to the metropolitan it is today. I did my primary education at Moselinyane LEC and then went to Ficksburg Bridge Primary school, as it was known then, which is today called Maputsoe ACL. I was the fourthbest student of the year in the Standard 7 external examinations, then i went to sacred Heart High School where I completed Form E in 1981 and was the second-best student at the time.
LT: What were your biggest challenges and achievements as you grew up and how have they contributed to the person you have become?
Likhang: I was raised by a sickly, single mother. So because of that situation, I had to resort to business to support the family and put myself through both primary and high school with the money i generated on my own.
i sold apples, panty hoses, dresses and so forth, so i could pay my school fees and also take care of other household necessities. It was a hard life but I am grateful to God and the community i was raised in that my predicament presented me with an opportunity to acquire trading skills at a young age. Whilst my counterparts herded cattle and sheep, i was ‘herding the trade’.
i developed trading skills early and they came in handy during one of the many times I was struggling. I remember not having enough money to pay my school fees when i was in Form A.
The merchandise i had was very little so i decided to change the trade to selling potatoes instead so i could make money quickly and because I could not afford to buy those potatoes, i resorted to stealing them from someone’s field during the night.
I felt bad about the incident even though it was a new strategy necessary during those hard times. in the long run, i realised I needed people to help me run my business so I found myself mobilising a football team whose members I invited to help with sales in exchange for sponsorship.
We started a football team called Moselinyane Young Callies and I promised to buy them soccer balls. I would allocate each player an item to sell with half the profits coming to me and the rest being used to buy soccer balls. I became a small entrepreneur in that sense.
LT: You speak a lot about Maputsoe, your home town. What was it like for you at the time, considering your plight?
Likhang: When i was admitted at sacred Heart High School, it was fortunate they did not have a uniform in the strictest sense. i could afford to buy cheap clothes that I used both for school and at home. I would also buy cheap clothes from Catholic nuns at St Monica’s Mission who used to get them as donations from Canada. So I believe the area was conducive for my upbringing.
LT: What did you want to be in life as you grew up?
Likhang: My greatest desire was to be a Chartered Accountant which however, con- flicted with my other wishh to become a priest. And that created confusionsion in my mind because i looked at an accountant ountant as someone who desired money just like Judas iscariot and on the other hand, priests presented a life of poverty and this was a real challenge for me. I managed to pull throughugh high school but the problem came when I had to attend tertiary. I was admitted at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) forr a Bachelor of Arts (Economics) degree, butt at the same time, my mother’s illness got worse and i had to drop the admission to attend to her. These things humbledled me and robbed me off my pride because I was unable to seize opportuni-pportunities as they came. i thoughtght that was the end of everythingg i had dreamed of.
LT: So how did you move on from this setback?
Likhang: I went back k to Sacred Heart High School hool where i taught for a year and during this time, i studied bookkeeping and theology. ology. A year later, I was recruitedited by Lesotho Bank (now standard dard Lesotho Bank) where i workedrked in the information Technology (it) department.
As a result of my job, I had to abandon the theological course se to study it for a diploma in COBOL programming. After obtaining my IT qualification, I continued my theologicalal pursuit and was helped by the Churchh of Christ to complete my diploma in biblical studies to become a part-time preacher — a course which satisfied the spiritual side of things for me. However, I continued with my accounting studies until i finally qualified as a Chartered Management Accountant and a Chartered secretary. Chartered Secretaries advise company boards on corporate governance.
I became a Chief Executive Officer of the Lesotho Institute of Accountants (LIA) — an organisation that tremendously enhanced my social and interpersonal skills. it was a place that allowed me to establish networks with people who were practical achievers.
i later moved to the Lesotho Telecommunications Authority (now Lesotho Communications Authority) where i started as a Financial Analyst and ended up as the Director of Strategic Planning.
LCA also exposed me to a broader international network where i developed skills in life and business coaching. I also had a chance to work with FSBP Group in South Africa where among other responsibilities, I became the managing director of the Lesotho subsidiary of Paragon Business Products in charge of finance. The chairperson of the board, Norman Adam, became involved personally in developing me.
LT: You are currently BEDCO’S Chief Executive Officer — a position you have held since 2013. How did you end up at the parastaal whose primary responsibility is the establishment and development of Basotho-owned enterprises?
Likhang: The corporation, as you have said, is an enterprise development agency of government and because I perceived myself as a consultant who brings solutions to the table, i thought i had the necessary experience i could apply.
At the time, BEDCO was hitting rock bottom and what i saw was an opportunity to turn it around. unfortunately, there were a number of challenges among them culture, programmes that were not clear and well cutoff, structures that needed to be worked on and conditions around the place which did not portray a good image and reputation for BEDCO.
I was not intimidated by any of those challenges because they presented an opportunity for me to excel at what I do best. Now twoand-a-half years into my contract which ends in January next year (2016), I am happy with the progress i have made. organisational image programmes and systems are in place; the work-culture is in check but we need to work on it along the way in order to enhance productivity.
I also sit on numerous boards such as those of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), a Southern African Development Community (SADC) organisation called Development Finance resource Centre, as well as the southern African division of the institute of Chartered secretaries & Admin- istrators (known(kn as Chartered secretaries southern Africa).Afr i have also sat on the Lesotho Revenue Authority board, and I am also a speaker h having participated in numerous internationalinternationa conferences.
LT: You ha have talked extensively about the interac interaction you have had with the many peop people you have met in your life. What is the advice you normally give to people look looking for success?
Likhang: it it’s strange how we all need assistance from o other people to reach our goals. That is whywh it is always important to identify where you want to go and the people that can help you get there.
i alwaysalw say friendship is not a permanentmane contract; friends need to be changedchan as and when the need arises. if yo you want to develop in a particular area,are befriend people in that field whowh would steer you in the right direction.d
That is not to say you should d discard old friendships but you n need to shed those that no longer a add value to your life. I use what I call a ‘Five H’ model in m my life. H stands for ‘head’ ‘heart’ ‘ha ‘hands’ ‘habits’ and ‘hangouts’. The head means you need to be mentally focused; visualize where you are going clearly; with without a purpose or a vision in your head, you ar are not going to get anywhere. The heart stands for love, passion, emotions.
Whatever your head is directed towards, whatever yo your vision, put your love, passion and emotion emotions on it. sometimes we are not able to succe succeed because we put our emotions in the wrong place rather than on our vision so when the they are scattered around they do not have an impact.
Look at the sunrays; you can place a piece of paper in the sun for ten months without the sunrays burning it. But if you take a magnifying glass and converge those rays to one point, in ten seconds, the paper will burn. So there is power in focusing emotions and visions. The hands allow you to execute your vision; without them the plan would not go anywhere.
Habits formulate what you are; if your habits are wrong, they would not fulfill your purpose. The hangouts are people you spend time with. You are a product of the people you hang out with. Choose peers that, if they beat you, that pressure directs you in the right direction.
LT: What would you like to do after your contract with BEDCO ends in January next year?
Likhang: I have been running a professional services firm before, and I will turn to it. The firm, RL Associates, was involved in chartered accountancy, coaching, and consultancy. Coaching covered life-coaching, business and executive coaching & mentorship. i consulted in leadership, strategy, financials and governance.
My current job at BEDCO has added enterprise-development into my kit of skills. i am an excellent advisor and trainer with rare capabilities which are difficult to copy. I will resuscitate that firm, and I cannot wait.
BEDCO CEO Robert Likhang.