From teacher to humble CEO

Circumstances should not define who you are

17 May 2019 | Mense
Leandrea Louw



Bisey Uirab, the former CEO of the Namibian Ports Authority (Namport), will be heading to the Namibia Airports Company (NAC) in the next phase of his life.

Born in a hut, with Mopani trees providing shade in Fransfontein - a village in the Kunene Region - Uirab continues to stay the course and has built up a sterling reputation.

He grew up with his maternal grandmother along with 13 other siblings.

“She laid down the ground rules for me, such as respecting your fellow human beings and being a useful member of society,” he said.

He started his schooling in Fransfontein and later moved to Welwitschia Secondary School in Khorixas for his grade 7.

In his grade 7 year he applied to Martin Luther High School, but his application initially failed.

“I applied again at Martin Luther High, but I had to repeat grade 8. Here I joined a different community. I got involved in various student activities and was named as the head boy in my grade 9 year and got involved in the national students' platform.”

Uirab played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso).

“After my grade 12 year, I was working at Nanso on a volunteer basis, for no fee. I was then invited back to Martin Luther High to teach maths and science with only my grade 12 certificate.”

During his years after school he also joined the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) as a paralegal to help simplify laws and translate them into other languages.

“I later on decided to further my studies in Swaziland and got my teaching degree, I then rejoined the LAC as their head of administration and office manager.

“Through my work at the LAC, I got to meet a lot of people; one of them being Nahas Angula. One day I decided to pay him a visit and he told me about the British Council scholarships and asked if I would be interested.

“Of course I said yes. I was accepted and I spent 14 months in the United Kingdom, where I pursued my Master's degree in business administration,” Uirab said.

After acquiring his Master's he joined the Bank of Namibia as their training and human resources manager.

“During my tenure at Bank of Namibia I was contacted by a recruitment agent, but at the time I had no intention of leaving the bank as I was happy.

“The recruitment agent was persistent and I handed in my CV and was called in by MTC. After a few discussions I joined MTC as the general manager of human resources. It was a wonderful experience since this was a new environment for me. I picked up valuable corporate leadership skills,” he said.

During his time at MTC, Uirab was invited along with other international experts to Somaliland to establish a telecommunication corporation.

“I said: Why not? Thinking about it, who would have thought that a person from Fransfontein would end up in Somaliland? It was an experience I value to this day. The year that I spent there has helped me understand the dynamics of the Middle East. I initially thought I would bring my family with, but I realised when I was there it is not a family environment and decided maybe I should just go home.”

It was during this time that Namport was looking for a CEO.

“Someone sent me the advertisement but I was not interested. When they re-advertised I decided to apply and give it a try. The longing to come home was immense. I went through the interviews and the assessments, and it was not easy, as I knew nothing about the transport or maritime sector.”

He secured the position as Namport CEO and has spearheaded the company for the past 10 years.

“It was a wonderful time at Namport, working with the board, the staff, the port users, the business community, the fishing industry as well as the mayors - past and present - and the governors - past and present. It was a blessing to be here the past 10 years.”

He advises that positions of power should never be used to undermine and abuse other people.

“Today you might be the boss, tomorrow you become a subordinate. We need each other.”

He advised the younger generation that their circumstances should not define them and that there is always hope.

“Faith is believing in something you cannot see or touch. People must have hope and faith. You need to have some ground rules in your life, to appreciate that each one of us has a role to play in society, as well as making a meaningful contribution, and no one should undermine their background, circumstances or role.

“No one is too good to be bad and no one is too bad to be good. Each individual needs to understand that there are societal norms that we need to adhere to.

“To progress, you need to understand what society wants and expects from you. We need to respect ourselves as individuals; believe in yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin.

“All of us have shortcomings, but that should not make you feel inferior to the next person,” Uirab said.

He said at first he was hesitant to accept the NAC CEO position, but then he thought it may be a calling.

“I felt I could make a difference there and that's why I went for the opportunity. We all make mistakes, and as you make mistakes you learn from them. Make a conscious decision to develop yourself academically. Study hard and study in those fields where you can make a difference in Namibia.

“Don't let your failures distract you from your goal. All of us have our challenges, but we should remain focused.”

Uirab said his biggest highlight at Namport is the construction of the new container terminal, which is set to be commissioned in August. “To date it is this is the biggest investment the country has made at N$4 billion.”

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