A milk investor juggling many balls – Business Daily

Joachim Westerveld. NMG PHOTO | DIANA NGILA
Joachim Westerveld has tried his hand at numerous things. He was a safari guide/ camp assistant in Serengeti and Arusha in his younger years, sticking his finger in a mound of dung and announcing wistfully to tourists, ‘Elephants. Fresh.
They are headed East.’ In Pakistan, he founded a company called ProFarm that sells bovine semen and now serves over 100,000 dairy farmers. Then there was a dalliance with film-making that didn’t quite take shape. 
Back at home in the Netherlands, he studied history and briefly pursued academia and realised that was not his kettle of fish. He then got into humanitarian aid work, working for War Child in Eritrea and the International Rescue Committee in Guinea.
He co-founded TBL Mirror Fund, a private equity fund focused on Nigerian and East African SMEs then also co-founded The Blue Link, a double-bottom-line investment firm operating in East Africa and Pakistan.
He is currently the CEO of Highlands Drinks and the chairman at Bio Foods Kenya. 
He also enjoys a  good tipple and recently cracked open a bottle of whisky with JACKSON BIKO at the balcony of his expansive home set on a deeply forested hill in Nairobi’s Spring Valley. Snickers, their Dachshund skirted around. 
You seem to have many balls in the air. How do you keep track of all these opportunities and investments, and also stay interested in all of them?
Staying interested is not the issue because I love it. They are all close to my heart. First of all, I think it sounds like a lot—and it is a lot —but we are not like all over the place.
I’m quite disciplined and engaged. I make sure that I have my daily, weekly, or monthly calls with the management. I read reports and make visits. I try to go a lot on the ground; Kangemi, Luanda, Nigeria, just to understand what’s happening.
Because things move fast and if you sit behind your computer things will change around you in a second. 
Is there such a thing as luck in running a business or do you create your own luck?
This is a very good one. [Pause] You’ll have another drink while I think this one through? [Laughs] I wouldn’t call it luck. I think we are here because we made vital decisions at certain times and we have followed them with hard work.
We have also not taken our eyes off the ball. I mean, there are probably people that are lucky to start something but I think most of the time it’s just a matter of reading the signs, being connected with your market, seeing dynamics.
Would we have invested in Greenspoon pre-Covid? If you read the signs, you have a higher likelihood of making the right investments. Is there luck? Yeah, for sure, people are lucky, sometimes.
What’s been the most significant crisis in your life? 
Losing my parents. These losses seemed to come one after the other and at a time when the businesses I was engaged in were at crucial points of take-off.
They were happening when I was moving countries, finding my feet, trying to set up other businesses, and also going through a divorce. I felt like I had to deal with so much in a short time.
Through all this, you have to find calm to get the best outcome of situations like this. There is overwhelming grief, yes, but there is also acceptance and moving on.
There is a scene  in the movie ‘Bridge of Spies’ with Tom Hanks where the Russian asks him, ‘are you not worried?’ and he asks, ‘would it help?’ So yes, sometimes you just forge ahead, you become practical because would it help to stay stagnant?
What do you fear now at 47?
I don’t fear. Things happen and then they unhappen. There will be many crises in life, storms will always come but I also have confidence that if you are humble, if you listen, if you have the right people around you, then you’ll overcome.
So I don’t have a lot of fear. 
Talking of humility, where does humility come from? Are you born humble or is it something you have to work on?
These are such difficult questions, Biko. [Laughs] I think a lot of it is nature. You’re probably born with some kind of inclination. A lot has to do also with the environment, experience, and also reflection.
Regardless of where it comes from you will always need to work on it because you will always risk losing to your ego. You should read this interesting book called ‘Ego Is The Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday. There is always a risk of becoming larger than yourself. 
Is there something interesting you’re learning right now in life? 
I’m learning to laugh at the mistakes I make in life, and at the things that don’t always have to work out. So when you’re between your 20s and 30s, you’re just trying things.
You’re learning what you like, especially what you hate. Then between your 30s— at least for me — I was building my business and learning all the tricks.
And then once a business is cruising and also with life events changes, you start to learn more about yourself as a person, how you interact with the world and things.
Whereas I would get very frustrated when things weren’t working out before, now I try to laugh at it. Sure it didn’t work out, things don’t always work out. So, maybe self-reflection, that’s what I’m learning.
Do you believe in the afterlife? That we will come back as, I don’t know, a rat, a baboon, or a queen of a kingdom?
First, I believe in the very clear ethics of the goodness of man. That we need to be good people, not just to avoid some punishment or attain entrance to another life, whether there is an afterlife or not.
I believe in the intrinsic obligation of humans to believe in a good society, to be a good people.
I believe in a strong set of values that define that. Is there an after-life? I have no reason to believe there is but I also have no reason to believe there isn’t. What I believe though, is that it shouldn’t matter.
I believe in living this life I have now to my full potential as a good human being whether I will be back or not, whether there is heaven or not.  
When you give so much in these businesses that you run, what do you give yourself for the effort?
[Long pause] I never thought of it like that because I never see it as work. There are things I do to enjoy and balance my life out. I have this list of happiness principles, things that I wrote down, behaviours that make me happy.
And one of them is to collect experiences rather than things. I love camping, I love running, Kacy [his partner] and I go to the gym daily. I love to cook with her and sit down for dinner with Jasmine, her daughter who is now my Jasmine.
Kacy is teaching me to dance salsa. I have two children of my own with my first wife. 
The blended family thing is working for us, so all these things bring me such happiness I feel that in itself is a reward. I’m very lucky, family is very important to me. 


By Kwetu Buzz

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