Soft skills are more than a bubbly personality and a bright smile. You can teach yourself the ones you need. Vaolah Amumpaire CEO of Wena Hardware shares her career journey and the most important soft skills you need for that job you have.
Vaolah Amumpaire is a CEO heading a team of over 50 people at Wena; a 5-year-old online hardware store. Wena is available in Uganda, Zambia, and Kenya. A disruptive business bringing indoor and outdoor appliances and construction materials to you from the comfort of your mobile phone.
Vaolah has had to learn a lot of things on the fly to make this business work. From Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies at Havard Business School to becoming a professional Marketer from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, she also holds a post-graduate diploma in Psychology of Sales and Digital Marketing from Shaw Academy, Dublin, and a Bachelor's Degree in International Business from Makerere University Business School. Other certifications to her name include; Digital Skills for Africa from Google, Inbound Sales by LinkedIn, and Essentials in Corporate Finance by Wave.Inc.
But she doesn’t pay tribute to the knowledge acquired as the reason for her role as the highest ranking officer in her company. It is the number of growing businesses she worked with to get here. In her words, “Working with growing companies taught me how to execute with limited resources and see how business owners run their businesses.”
Here is this CEO’s career journey and the most important soft skills you need to position yourself better for that job.
Her career journey
I started my career as a Marketer at Century Bottling Company. First as a field-based intern (Account Developer) and later as a Retail Sales Tracking & Analyst. While at university, I used to post a lot about digital marketing, and a security firm saw my content and hired me as a Marketing Manager. I had no idea how to do the job but I utilized a popular digital marketing website to teach myself what to do alongside my university studies.
After that, I worked as a storyteller for So Many Stories - a Publishing House. Then I served as an advertising apprentice at Fireworks Advertising for a year. It was a definitive all-around training for my career journey. I was exposed to different departments of the organization, different aspects of advertising and marketing, campaigns, etc. I networked with many different stakeholders within the company and the Advertising industry.
Then I worked as a Marketing Manager for a baking company, this is where the idea of Wena was birthed.
Was there a turning point when you started working towards becoming a CEO?
There was. I did not start out wanting to be a CEO, I just wanted to start a business. I was travelling a lot to the Albertine region on the job I’d taken on. Those trips made me observant of people’s needs and reflect on what kind of business I’d consider in order to address those needs. I had two ideas on my mind, both digital-based. I contacted an app developer and we discussed these ideas. He and so many other people in my circles appreciated the online hardware idea better. So I quit my job and ran to execute it.
Yes, I quit before I even had the market for my product. A few months later I was broke because the business wasn’t picking up, so I took on one last job as a Marketing Manager for Nyka Hotel in Fortportal as I continued to build the business. I had two employees running the business in Kampala while I worked in Fort portal. One year later, the business picked up and I quit again this time for good to focus on running the business.
When you look back, before you became CEO and after you became CEO, how differently do you solve problems?
In my previous roles, I only handled problems that were specific to my department. I knew I could always be the go-to person within my department, which stretched my abilities. It also made me comfortable with risk-taking, very action-oriented, and about business growth. But my biggest interest as a problem solver was just doing my role.
Being a CEO you have to handle situations that affect the profitability of the business, people, and all stakeholders. I’ve had to intentionally learn how to best solve problems using data. I have also learned to always ask the right questions to find the solutions we need. My most recent lesson is that it is okay not to know everything but rather know who can best solve the problem.
What would you say is the relationship between one's role and the soft skills they possess?
Different roles require different soft skills. I believe everyone can learn the soft skills they need to carry out their role.
For example, being a marketer and an advertiser made me a people person by default, despite being a quiet person. I had to engage with employees and stakeholders for them to buy into what the company was selling.
As a CEO, communication is a big part of what I do. I have to continually pass on the vision to my team so we can work better to achieve the quarter’s targets.
What key 3 soft skills would you say have played a critical part in your career journey?
Stakeholder management: For Wena, I have had to partner with different stakeholders. To reach them, I had to know how to engage with them, identify their needs and communicate how I can address these needs as they address my own.
Problem-solving: I identified recurring problems and introduced automated tools. We have been able to solve them quickly so we do not waste precious time. It has enhanced performance.
Stress management: This role comes with a lot of anxiety especially when the solutions are not yet in the sustainable phase. So I am intentional about planning and taking time off so I can manage my team and myself better.
How do you grow your soft skills?
I still utilize online tutorials on YouTube and Certifications by Google or Havard. I am also currently doing an executive leadership program in partnership with CEO Summit and Private Sector Foundation to build my qualifications further for the CEO role.
What soft skills have you struggled to learn and how did you overcome this?
Managing people and guiding them to deliver quality output. I have countered it by observing my team, taking on management courses, and sharing clear and concise job descriptions that translate the vision to the day-to-day operations. I also utilize tools to track performance and share feedback based on the data collected not my emotions.
Adaptability; especially when staff does not put as much effort into their work as I do. I realize that often people will not work to their potential because they don’t know what to do or how to do it. So I invest time in training both for myself and them so we can share knowledge and have a quality output.
What are the top 3 soft skills you look for when hiring someone in your company?
Given the nature of my business, a digital hardware store, I do not have a lot of similar businesses to refer to. Neither do the people that are looking to be hired. So one’s study background and experience aren’t key. I focus on;
Attitude: Wena is changing the status quo, making hardware resources accessible without having to move. It requires a lot of positive thinking. We meet a lot of people who are quick to say it can’t be done, and we can’t have that on the team.
Openness to learn: To execute your role better, there will be a lot of novel ideas that need some learning to execute. Whether it is by finding easier work methods or more information.
Time management: For both self and work output.
The first two are more about the character and can’t be measured by a tool. So I consider the most important.
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