If Dr Amit N. Thakker was to print his business cards it would be an exercise in excess. Because he’d have a card for his role as; Founding Director, Avenue Healthcare Group, Founding Director East Africa Healthcare Federation, Chairman East Africa Health Platform, Chairman Kenya Healthcare Federation, Chairman Africa Health Business Limited, Chairman Africa Healthcare Federation, Managing Director Unicare Holding, Strategic Advisor to a dozen healthcare organisations.
He’s a board member for Seven Seas Technologies, Amref Flying Doctors, Eastern Africa Association, Eastern Africa Healthcare Federation. It goes on and on, one man and his many hats.
Gracefully, he only hands JACKSON BIKO three business cards upon introduction and holds court at the head of the table in his office’s boardroom in Westlands.
Thakker, white stubbled and bedecked in a trendy checked woolen suit, fills his space as a man used to having the room turn to him for direction.
I’m comfortable. I’m enjoying it. When you enjoy the kind of work that you do and you’re passionate, you don’t call yourself busy, you call yourself creative. My work life balance, sometimes has to be in perspective.
What does this mean for you as a husband and as a father and how do you decompress from all these?
The Japanese have a word called Ikigai, it means “reason for being.” This is my Ikigai, my sweet spot, something the world wants and I get paid for. My purpose is to make a difference in people’s lives, that I’m clear about and I’m able to then cherish that happiness with my family. I usually decompress in the evenings and weekends. I gym and enjoy playing squash and golf but I’m struggling with getting enough time because of the work-life balance. It doesn’t help that I travel a lot,
What has to happen for you to say, “I’ve done enough.”?
(Pause) I think if I’m able to still continue doing what I can for the rest of my life. I hope that I have the ability, the mental and physical health with me through the many years of productive life that still remains in me.
Pick one person that you would like to sit down for dinner with and what would you ask him if you had one question?
I would have loved to sit down and have dinner with Stephen Hopkins. I would ask him how despite the odds of poor health he still successfully provided insights into one of many deepest questions about the universe and the origin of life on earth.
Because you strike me as a man who is used to having people hold the lift for them, what do you fear?
I fear nothing. I long moved out from the ecosystem of fear. Fear is false evidence that appears real. I have no false evidence and so I don’t suffer from fear. I’m enjoying freedom as a result.
At what point in your life did you find yourself disillusioned and why?
I think in my early days, growing up in a very conservative home in Mombasa. I lost my mother at the age of 10, I felt like everything had been taken away from me.
I quickly needed to think about responsibilities, and, my father, who raised four children, who never got married again teamed up with me and used to call me brother and not son.
Together we were able to transcend into a level where we believe we came out from the disillusionment about life and had more hope. He moved our entire family from Mombasa when my mother died. That was traumatic to move to Nairobi and my life began. We grew up in lower middle-class.
I went to a public school in South B, my father was running a hardware shop on Mfangano Street, it was difficult for him to pay school fees for all the four of us.
So, I did four holiday jobs, I sold stationery. I worked as a debt collector, I sold books and reject flowers which I’d get from JKIAs cargo unit. Yes, so there was disillusionment at the beginning of my life.
The reason why I ask this question, is some of us well, I grew up in a fairly middle to lower middle class family and even now I always feel like poverty is never too far behind me. I only need to make a few bad decisions and I’m poor. You are accomplished professionally but more so financially, I always wonder if men like you ever think of being poor?
Of course, all the time. Malcolm Gadwell says, “there are advantages of disadvantages and disadvantages of advantages.”
In my case, growing up in a middle-class, I can say that it’s an advantage of a disadvantage because I had no second chance. There was no room for failure, so, you passionately deliver what you had to.
The disadvantage of an advantage of an upper-class, is always like, yeah, well, my dad’s got more money, I don’t mind. I tried this, it failed, my family is going to give more money.
I think his [Gladwell] book”David and Goliath” is what I believe drove me to be focused and I think we are at an advantage position to be honest, we’ve been there and we’re here because of our roots.
The things you’ve succeeded in are well documented but then, I’m keen to know what have you failed at…I mean, flat-on-your back failure?
I failed in emotionally connecting to the loved ones around me while lost in building my business, which I will always regret.
One such person is my father. I lost him 10 years into my business when the growth was high, and he was happy with my success, but I didn’t give him enough time because I was still on the growth trajectory.
So, I lost him in 2007. I was 40 and I missed the time, the emotional bond, all my three sisters, who are now married and they are outside Kenya, I think I could have given them more time.
The good thing is they’re still alive, so, I’m trying to do reunions and I know I have missed an opportunity of usually connecting with the people who missed you the most. This has been my greatest loss.
Has anyone told you that you look like a Bollywood actor, or it’s just me?
[Laughs] Funny you should say that because acting has been a part of my hobby. I’ve got about four productions under my belt at the Kenya National Theatre.
I like your suit. You seem to be the kind of guy called a dandy, he who loves clothes. What’s your relationship with suits?
I enjoy fashion and I pick my own clothes carefully. My suits need to be clean and sharp. If you do what I do – looking after people- you have to look after yourself.
Your clothes should depict a personality that inspires confidence in the people who trust you to take care of them.
I have favourite shops that I buy my suits from. There is Suitsupply, a Dutch brand and Massimo Dutti an Italian brand. There two brands fit my style and I’m happy to dress up when it is required.
The same money provides freedom. What do you find yourself pursuing freedom, things that money has accorded you?
Somebody said that, “this man is so poor that the only thing he has is money.” I am keenly pursuing the happiness beyond just financial or economic freedom.
The happiness comes from significance. Earlier you talked to me about success. Success is not just bottom line or statement. It’s about pursuing happiness and joy of people around me, whether it’s my family or whether it’s my staff or it’s my clients.
In the olden days in Egypt you were asked two questions by God before you were let into heaven.
The first question was, did you find happiness in your life? My answer is yes. The second question was; Did other people find joy in their lives because of you? That’s the second question I’m after.
The curtains are falling, you’re told by a voice above, “Mr Thakker, you have one apology to make to somebody!” Who would that be?
My father. I would apologise for not being present during the last days of his life. If I was to hug him just one more time, I would not let him go.