How I was Programmed To Be an Entrepreneur From the Age of Twelve (12)
My mother had a desire to make us entrepreneurs and leaders from a young age when it came to the bakery business. She even taught my sister and me how to drive a car. Once I hit the age of 12, we graduated from doing house chores during school holidays to working at the bakery.
On my first day, mom gave the floor supervisor some instructions then looked at me to say, "Zaheen, you are going to learn how we bake bread and what goes in it. You will listen to what the floor supervisor tells you because in two weeks, you will take over his position so he can go on holidays. Is that understood?" I nodded.
The floor supervisor looked at me and smiled, "Toto ya mama (child of madam), taonesha bakery sasa hiwi (let me show you the bakery first)," he said in Kiswahili as he led me on while the smell of fresh baked bread filled the air.
He took me to the raw ingredients area and spoke in Kiswahili as he showed me how the raw ingredients - sugar, fat, yeast, and salt - were measured ahead of time for each 90kg bag of flour. He explained that this was the most important part of the production because it was the taste of these raw ingredients that made the bread. I nodded as I observed the workers measure and weigh each ingredient on a scale before placing them in a bucket. He then walked me to the mixing area where little buckets of raw ingredients sat near the big dough mixer.
A Kenyan employee picked up the huge bag of flour and dumped its contents into the mixer before turning on the mixer blades. After a few seconds, he added the contents of one bucket that held the raw ingredients as well as some water and then waited for the dough to form.
Near the dough mixer was the kneading area where two workers were cutting a small amount of dough, weighing it on a scale, kneading it into an oval shape, and throwing them into loaf tins. I couldn't believe how fast they were, and I was hypnotized by the speed and continuous motion.
"John, how many loaves of bread do you get from one bag of flour?" I asked the supervisor in Kiswahili.
"Three hundred and forty," he answered.
"How do you know how many loaves of bread to make for today?" I asked curiously. John smiled and explained that we have orders from businesses, and we also go by an average number from previous sales.
We arrived at the second most important area, where the bread was proofed and baked. John pointed to the proofer and explained that bread has to rise to a certain level before it's baked in the ovens. I stared at the large deck ovens that were higher than even John, and as the baker opened one of the doors, the humid air became even hotter. The golden brown loaves of bread were removed from the ovens, and the smell made me want to take a loaf of bread, rip it open in the middle, and grab the soft whiteness and devour it.
"Smells good, doesn't it?" John asked in Kiswahili as though reading my mind. I smiled.
"Here's the last stop in the production process," he explained as we arrived at slicing and packing. One person was weighing the baked bread to ensure it met food standards and then passed it on to the person in charge of two slicer machines that vibrated loudly. As the bread was sliced by a slicer machine, it was whisked up by the workers who placed it in a plastic bag, tied it up, and placed it in large square crates.
"What you saw is only the production system, which you have to understand because it is the foundation of all the other systems," John explained in Kiswahili. I looked at him in confusion and he explained further. "After the loaves of bread are packed, we have the loading system where each truck takes a certain amount to sell. This way we can then keep track of how many loaves of bread we made, how many were sold, and the sales we should make based on those numbers."
When John left on his holidays, Mom quizzed me on what I had learned - the amount of yeast, fat, sugar, flour, and the number of loaves that must come out from one bag of flour. And if we were to make a certain amount of loaves for the day, how many bags of flour would that be, and how many hours would that take, and so on. The next few weeks were exciting and challenging as I supervised adults, which increased my self-confidence, but also taught me a lot about being a leader. At 14 years old, I had graduated from floor supervisor to balancing the production and sales sheets. If these didn't balance, then there were holes in the system, and it was my job to find the leak.
These experiences not only taught me how to be an entrepreneur, but they taught me about the value of systems and organizing when building a business or a company.