I don’t miss my dad every day. I mean, I think of him often, and as my eldest shares his name, he feels quite present a lot of the time. I quote him all the time, as his values-driven approach remains part of my professional DNA and the businesses I am involved in. But I don’t often go “Man I wish he was here.” Friday night in Nairobi was different. The trip was interesting for a few reasons. I have never visited the Masai tribes, shared dinner at Giraffe Manor or climbed Mount Kenya, had an “Out of Africa” picnic at Angama Mara or generally seen what the fuss is about (my wife Caroline loves it in Kenya). My first visit (to international destination number 59, the next trip should see me clock 60 countries) was a 26hour in-and-out to do a session on strategic training with the local chapter of Enterpreneurs' Organization. Thanks to the efficient organization by the local team I could bring my A-game. A 5.30am arrival saw me hit the overwhelming city traffic, but get to the hotel in time to do my tech checks by 7am. We were good to go by 8.30am, 20 energetic founders got to work, and we finished bang on time for beers by 4.30pm. The hotel was the Trademark, a popular conferencing venue in a leafy suburb of Nairobi, and links to a mall with several restaurants. This area, my driver informed me on the way in, is where all the embassies are. This tidbit of info would be important later. So, after learning was done (Strategic Thinking focusing on Core Customer, Brand Promise and Differentiating Activities), we were off to a rooftop bar for some drinks, and then down to an Italian joint for an early dinner (the crew understood that I was probably running on fumes). Things got really interesting at this point. The Italian restaurant hit all the right notes. Good pizza, amazing veal and great pasta, with a lovely Italian wine selection. More importantly, it came pre-loaded with a crooner band belting out old-style hits like “Volare” and “Quando”. The band was all African, except for the lead singer. He looked like Burt Baccarat had made a side trip to Africa. He was all smiles, audience engagement and long piercing stares to the ladies as he leaned over and whispered “When will we meet again” into their ears. The guy was great, and I resolved to do a request. I walked up, ready to request “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. But, at the last moment, the spirit world tugged at me, and I asked him for “My Way”. It was one of my father’s favourite tunes, in fact we used it for the slide show at his 60th. Burt crushed my dreams in the nicest possible way. After making sure he heard me correctly, he glanced at the band, who shook their heads. He gave me an apologetic smile, and with his hand on my shoulder, said: “Not tonight, ey.” I walked back, disconsolate. But only for a moment. My Kenyan companions congratulated me on living the Entrepreneurial spirit – you always try, even if you don’t always succeed. Then, the lights dimmed. The room grew silent. I stopped mid-pizza slice and looked up, and my eyes met Burt, as the first strains of “My Way” started. He smiled, raised a glass, and it was on. Somehow, they had found a way. “To think... I did all that... not in a shy way...” He made his way through the song with a songsheet in hand. Clearly needing to read the words off the sheet, it didn’t matter. “Regrets... I’ve had a few...but then again...too few to mention...” The whole restaurant sang along, and when he came over, songbook in hand, we belted out a duet that would challenge Sonny and Cher for all-time supremacy. “But more... much more than this. I did it myyyyy waayyyy...” It was a jolly old show, I’ll tell you. My fatigue was forgotten, we stayed till late. He did several more numbers, but the kicker was: He wasn’t even part of the band.
The big loud table to the left of us, it turns out, was an ambassadorial get-together. The Country representatives of Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Columbia were all out for a jolly good time, and maybe to do some big deals. Either way, they were having a blast, and our resident crooner was in fact just a regular to the restaurant, and the husband of the Columbian Ambassador. To Ahsan, Paras and the rest of the Kenya crew, I can just say: My first visit to Kenya was truly unforgettable. Not just for the great engagement in terms of the work we did, where I feel we once again shifted the dial in a really positive way, but also in the personal engagement and the memories. I really missed my dad. It was the kind of restaurant and food he would have liked. The chap reminded me of him, and the music was the kind he loved. I probably got slightly emotional there for a moment. But it’s ok. A grown man can cry, and not just at World Cup Finals. I do believe that sometimes we walk quite close to the spirit world. This weekend was such an occasion for me, and I am thankful for the gift.