Abigail Mbuzi, is a mother of 3 boys and an Accountant by profession. She is founder of African Sunsets Events, Marketing and Promotions which runs the prestigious ‘Brand Woman + Brand Man’ Annual business conference in Lusaka, Zambia, the Mastercook Zambia reality TV cooking show where Professional and amateur Chefs compete to be crowned Zambia’s best Chef as well as a restaurant of the year competition. Abigail has influenced many positively through her Mastercook brand where she hosts Adults and Kids cooking Classes every weekend for people wanting to brush up on their cookery skills, offers Mastercook Themed Kids Parties, Team building activities and a Mastercook recipe Magazine. More on Abigail’s work at https://www.facebook.com/africansunsets/
Congratulations on your TV cooking show- Mastercook Reality TV Show. Why cooking and what was your goal in going for a Reality TV format?
Cooking has always been my passion. From a young age I was always in the kitchen experimenting with different foods and cooking up different meals for my family. My business actually started out first as a catering company and then grew to include events, marketing and promotions. Reality TV is really taking the world by storm and I think it’s more to do with wanting to see people’s real and raw emotions. Cooking is an emotional journey and the contestants in the competition come from diverse backgrounds. It’s interesting to watch their personalities evolve during the show and their raw emotions inside and outside the Kitchen.
You are a woman of many skills and experiences; events, scriptwriting, marketing, executive producing etc. How do you keep it all going?
When you’re running a business, you need to be on top of every aspect of it. In the beginning you may not even have the funds to be able to employ enough staff to do the different jobs. To make do with whatever money you have, you find yourself having to learn new skills in order for things to run smoothly. It can be challenging to keep it all together, but I take time out to rest and recharge my batteries.
One of your stated areas of competence is ‘high level negotiations’ What are the qualities of a great negotiator and what does it take to get a good deal?
You need to be able to see things through the eyes of the other person. The deal must always be a win-win situation, where everyone involved achieves something. You need to be attentive to the other party’s needs. You need to be trustworthy and to the best of your ability, make sure you fulfil your end of the bargain.
What’s the best way to negotiate with a difficult or irrational person?
You need to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself what you think drives them and what makes them feel appreciated. Every single person on earth wants to feel appreciated and if you can make someone feel good about themselves, you will make an impact in their lives. Be kind to even the most difficult of people and it’ll be so much easier to negotiate with them and get what you need from them.
Women are deemed to be poor at negotiating good renumeration packages for themselves. Any tips?
I was lucky that in my first job I had a really tough female boss. From her I learned that as a woman, you need to put in 150% to really be taken seriously, especially in a man’s world like finance. To be able to negotiate for better pay and better work conditions, first do the work and show you are invaluable to an organization. Let your work, your passion, your excellence speak for you. When you have shown yourself to be invaluable, then you will be able to back up your negotiations with hard evidence of what you have achieved and are capable of achieving.
Most people want to get to the top and that takes all manner of factors. Where did you start out and has your background helped you in getting to where you are?
When I finished college, my first job was as an admin assistant. Through working hard, negotiating with my boss and ignoring the naysayers, I moved from admin to tax and then to finance and began studying accountancy. I spent more than 10 years in the corporate world but always felt that I wanted to branch out and do my own thing. I tried a number of different businesses that didn’t really go anywhere, but finally found my calling when I founded African Sunsets Events. It actually started out as a catering business but grew to become what it is today – producing the TV show, organizing business conferences etc. My time in the corporate world gave me the foundation that I needed to learn essential business skills like negotiating, branding, marketing, accounting etc.
You’re doing quite well for yourself and making some big strides. What would you say has been your steepest learning curve, how did you get through it and what are some lessons you can share that could benefit others?
Learning to say no! As women, we are taught to try and please everyone around us or take care of everybody else before ourselves. In our careers and businesses this can be our downfall. At some point you need to ask yourself where you are trying to go and what you need to do to achieve your goals. Somethings, no matter how tempting can end up just being a distraction from your main goal. To ensure that you don’t get lost in the sea of trying to do it all, you need to keep the main thing, the main thing.
How do you make sure you are constantly growing yourself?
I like to read a lot and do research on the latest trends in our industry. I am a firm believer in self-improvement and believe we can all get to greater versions of ourselves. I spend time with mentors and peers and I am always looking to learn new things. I personally take part in the cooking classes knowing that there is always something new to learn. Even when we organize the Brand Woman/Brand Man Conferences, I look for speakers that have made an impact on my life as well so I personally learn a lot in our conferences.
If you were to wave a wand to get what you considered the biggest possible opportunity at this point in time what would that be and why?
Right now I think the biggest opportunity would be the chance to take the competition and conferences across Africa. Right now we are still a very local company, and our plans are to be continent wide and have a regional Mastercook competition where different countries and cultures can showcase their cuisines and culinary talents.
What are you thankful for in terms of where you are and how has that set you up for what more you see yourself becoming?
Mostly I am thankful for the struggles we have had to go through to get this far. Without the struggles we would never have been able to build a firm foundation for everything else we are trying to achieve. Above all else, it was the struggles that pushed us to want to achieve more and accomplish bigger and better things.
For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.