Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Ashok Shah (AS): I have been in the insurance industry for nearly 50 years, both in East Africa and UK. I started my career in the UK working as an insurance broker, specialising in life insurance and home mortgages. I returned to Kenya in 1975 for a short holiday, but ended up staying. In 1977 I established the Apollo Insurance Group where I currently serve as the Group Chief Executive of Apollo Investments.
In 2006, we formed the APA Apollo Foundation, the leading philanthropy arm of the Group which aims to empower Kenyans. The foundation’s flagship initiative, Sand Dams, has seen over 30 built to date.
MB: Please introduce your business and the problems you’re trying to solve.
AS: Apollo Group is a one-stop financial services company offering innovative products and services in insurance, pensions and investments. It has been built on, and operates under, the tenets of commitment, integrity and innovation, which has seen the Group evolve to be one of the leading providers of insurance and financial services in East Africa.
I believe business has to be all encompassing and create opportunities for its stakeholders. For us, that primarily means our staff and clients. We need to demonstrate that we can change the destiny of those around us through our positive actions. Competition and business pressures can make you act in many detrimental ways, but through fair practices we can achieve a much better long-term benefit to all concerned. We must use our influence, and our resources, to help those in need.
Our inclusive insurance gives the uninsured masses solutions and benefits that will enrich their lives and give them protection and a helping hand. Our sand dams provide water all-year-round and take away the drudgery of fetching water, which was done by women and children. Our scholarship programme helps give quality secondary education to deserving individuals, who we then continue to support through University.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now and what support do you need?
AS: Our biggest focus is getting like minded corporations and organisations to help us build 12 sand dams a year, which will help the Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) counties in Kenya.
These ASALs make up more than 80% of the country, home to approximately 38% of Kenya’s population. These regions contain the majority of wildlife that supports tourism, as well as livestock herd within Kenya. However, these areas were marginalised and had some of the lowest development indicators in the country. The sand dam building projects we are focusing on address severe water shortages by providing drinking water, as well as water for rural commercial activities such as small scale irrigation, and water supply for the surrounding villages and industrial activities.
MB: What is your ambition for the future of your business?
AS: Our business has a long lifespan, but our growth has to incorporate profit with purpose. I hope that the Apollo Group can continue to support the needs of the population we serve, and create awareness of how they can improve their lives and the lives of those who are near and dear to them.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
AS: While we need to be profit-oriented and growth-driven, let us make sure that we are the catalyst who can help change the future of the masses by supporting them to improve their lives. It is our responsibility to help enrich the environment we live in and work to stop climate change.
MB – Tell us a mistake you’ve learned from:
AS – When you seek an opinion from others and they prevaricate, go ahead if you are certain that what you are doing is correct.
MB – How do you spend your time away from work?
AS – Trekking, holidays and trips to unique places – Svalbard to see the Eclipse, northern lights in North Norway, trekking in Bhutan.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
AS – As the CEO, you are always available.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
AS – Lord of the Rings and Dune.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
AS – Listening.
MB – What’s one thing you want to achieve in 2022?
AS – Transformation of the Apollo Group and build a minimum of three sand dams.
Discover the other leaders recognised on the 2021 MB100, for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Global Goals, here.