[Interview] Clement Tulezi, CEO, Kenya Flower Council
Kenya Flower Council has a new boss. With an experience spanning 23 years across media, communications, marketing and international mediation, Clement Tulezi now takes charge of the umbrella growers and exporters body, at a time when the country’s flower industry is celebrating major achievements including sustainable growing practices, access to the US market with the introduction of direct flights and self-regulation.
In this exclusive interview with Africa Business Communities he details how he intends to breathe new life and strategy to the Council, positioning the brand Kenya flower in the international arena and growing more markets through collaboration with government.
Congratulations on your appointment Mr. Tulezi. Tell us about your background
Thank you. I have over 23 years working in media, communication and marketing. I started off as a radio journalist predominantly covering health and development for both local and international media before moving into advertising and later to the nonprofit and quasi-business institutions.
I love new territories and challenges so I ventured into peace keeping and conflict resolution working with the United Nations.
I have been involved in finding solution to conflict across Africa, from West Africa, Central Africa, Somalia and Sudan. One of my last assignments was ensuring a smooth power transition in Liberia from former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to George Weah.
It was a great moment for the country and continent and a great win for democracy. Academic wise, I have an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies, a Post graduate diploma in Mass Communication and Public Relations and a Masters Degree in Project Management. I am also a certified international mediator.
Interesting. From Communications and Media, to regional peacekeeping and conflict resolution, to now trade.
When I was in communications most of what I used to do was to institute systems and strategies that championed the interests of the clients while driving the industry. It worked perfectly when I moved to mediation.
The communication skills came in handy because part of what I was tasked with was to foster understanding of the parties to the dispute, which could only happen if you encouraged dialogue and communication.
I have experienced this while working in other agricultural value-chains. When the Kenya Flower Council was looking for someone to fill the CEO’s position, they wanted someone with requisite communication and marketing skills and who could position the industry to target audiences both locally and internationally.
My diverse background fits the bill.
What do you think of the Kenyan flower industry in terms of competitiveness, its global position, innovation and sustainability?
I am proud of the great milestones the industry has made despite the numerous odds it has had to surmount.
The Kenyan flower industry is a force in the global floriculture sector. It has shaped itself as a unique brand going by the number of international buyers expressing interest and the growing volumes we continue to trade in international markets.
I am equally impressed at how seriously the industry has taken self-regulation and conformity which has contributed a great deal in restoring and building market confidence.
This, combined with sustainable practices like green energy initiatives, integrated pest management practices and workers welfare are panaceas for an even vibrant and globally competitive sector.
We still have some hiccups across the value chain like the cost of doing business and improving government- sector relations but we hope to address them as we go along.
The Kenyan industry is a dynamic one, with opportunities and challenges. What is your priority as you take office?
I am happy I am taking over at a time when the industry has worked tirelessly to build a name, reputation and grow despite the challenges. I would want to build on the strong foundation the sector has already established.
I am keen on fostering sustainable practices in line with world’s best practices and make KFC a reference institution for championing sustainable flower production world over. The Kenya flower brand is globally acclaimed for quality and I want to leverage on that and push that message even more.
I still think we have a lot of work to do in marketing. I also look forward to working with all the players to push for more self-regulation and building up on the council’s standards that have become international benchmarks.
Where do you see the industry in the next five years?
With the direct access to the US market, the opening up of new and even lucrative markets and the sector’s innovative response to the burgeoning and diversified market needs, I am confident that we will grow our global share tremendously within the next few years.
The diversification to new markets that have different preferences is offering our members new lifeline and we want to assist them capitalize on that.
What legacy are you looking to shape as the man at the helm of one of the most critical sub sectors in the country?
When I took over this job, I knew, like I have in my many mediation interventions, that it is no ordinary job. Millions of people rely on the flower sector, to educate and feed their children and to cater for their needs.
Working with the board, the members, other private sector players and the government, my resolve is to see a conducive environment for investors in the industry that translates to more stable jobs and more income for the country.
I know it may sound easy on paper but the dedication of the members that I am privy to and the commitment of the board is enough to make us take this sector to a whole new level because the potential is immense.
Kenya Flower Council is a voluntary members association, boasting of over 100 members. How do you intend to foster their interests?
The investment the members of KFC have made to the sector is immense and the contribution the sector is making to the economy cannot be gainsaid. As one of the key foreign exchange earners, the flower industry definitely needs attention.
Members have complained of tough business environment which has seen earnings dwindle, loss of jobs and in some painful cases closure. We need to change this. One of my intentions is to seriously push for bilateral discussions between government and the sector players on lowering the cost of business, primarily on energy, taxation and transport.
We are also looking at engaging government more on trade protocols that are favorable to the industry so that we can expand our markets.
You get into office at a defining moment for the industry, with the introduction of direct flights to USA, Kenya’s increasing capture of vital markets and continued pole position at the global floriculture scene. How do you intend to uphold the place of Kenyan flower in the regional and international arena?
It is indeed an exciting moment for the industry and we intend to leverage on the reputation of the brand Kenya flower to market the sector more to these new markets. Like I had alluded to earlier we already have systems and processes in place that are crucial for a booming industry.
Our standards are receiving global thumbs up, our members are sustainably producing flowers and getting global recognition for that. We only need to build on that.
What philosophy guides you?
I am an avid reader and you will find me going through any literature I can lay my hands on. It is the quest for knowledge that drives me, because I am a strong believer in the fact that knowledge, any knowledge today is enough to change any situation.
I love sports and keeping fit. I wake up at 4am and run 12 kilometers every day. I do a marathon after every four days and that has been consistent. Besides helping me focus and keeping fit, it helps me translate that consistency and allegiance to rules in my area of duty.
It matters that I commit to do something, and I will carry on with that commitment no matter what.
What is your greatest fear as you begin your tenure?
Well like you said the flower industry is dynamic, with its set of opportunities and challenges, but most importantly, the Kenya flower sector is resilient.
So we are ready to tackle any challenges that might come along the way, but more importantly, I am excited to be heading one of the most important sectors of the Kenyan economy at a time when the world recognizes and celebrates the Kenyan flower.