Work hard, play harder…enjoy the wonders of life, woven within the sphere of work.
As the CEO and founder of Sellem Industries, a firm based in England, Alec Sellem remains actively involved in each facet of his namesake company. From daily operations, to reducing redundancies, Sellem streamlines the processes that create efficiency, maintain a safe and productive working environment, and continue to scale the successful company. As a gold mining, and gold refining expert, French-born Sellem brings forth the multifaceted talent, interest, expertise, and intuition needed to successfully thrive in the entrepreneurial realm.
Sellem Industries currently mines in Sierra Leone, and Senegal, utilizing bespoke methods for each location, maximizing efficacy, and maintaining a wholesome, community based approach. Through their own Foundation, Sellem Industries works with remote communities to create widely available sustenance through agricultural incentives, employment opportunities through mining job creation, and educational opportunities for children, through their Foundation’s building of a village school.
Through such incentives, coupled with stringent guidelines, strong business acumen, and consistent scaling, Alec Sellem’s company continues to enjoy robust success, increased growth, and continued positive influence within the realm of gold mining, and refining. Sellem’s leadership, understanding of macro-level thinking, and focus on continued growth and cohesive improvement make him a standout CEO, one who has managed to successfully build his empire on his terms.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
The concept for Sellem Industries was borne quite naturally, and organically, and grew from a heightened interest in diving into a practice that I was already partaking in. While trading gold for a friend, I began to think about the entire process, and after delving into the standard realm of the gold trade, I recognized various gaps in the industry, ways in which the process was incomplete, and ways in which the current marketplace lacked common sense.
As globalization has changed the way in which business is conducted on an international scale, I began to consider ways in which the opposite, a more localized operation, would actually be far more superior than the status quo. At the time, it was common practice for African-sourced gold to be sold to Western refineries. With consideration to all parties involved in such an operation, including small scale miners, governments, sellers/buyers, and tax authorities, creating a local refinery instantly appeared to be a far superior alternative.
As with globalization of business, new technologies have also reshaped the traditional way of doing business, creating new venture opportunities at lighting speed. At times, this influx of brand new ideas leads entrepreneurs to forget about looking within already existing industries, and finding new ways to leverage these developed industries to create a more efficient process, end result, and overall operation. In addition to this belief, I have always looked into building a synergy in Africa between a given government, a foreign company, and local communities.
When I initially began working within the business of gold, I recognized swiftly that things were somewhat opaque. By building refineries in Africa to locally refine sourced gold, I realized that this was not a fantastic opportunity to upturn the traditional mining and refining practices, but to also build a beneficial dialogue between all involved stakeholders, both private and governmental.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
One of the facets of entrepreneurship that I value most is that each day is not “normalized”, and no two days are similar professionally. For some individuals, this would create anxiety, dischord, and a sense of disorganization. Conversely, I find that this type of ever-changing environment, coupled with swiftly moving changes, allows me to thrive.
Throughout my time on-site in Africa, I do not typically keep a traditional schedule, and many aspects of my day are not planned in advance. Due to my complete involvement in all facets of my business, I often find myself wearing many hats, and checking in with a multitude of people throughout the day, overseeing many ongoing projects, and even taking over duties that were nowhere on my radar!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, when I am home, I spend as much time as possible with my wife, and our children. This sacred time at home provides me with the strength needed to empty my head, and structure a better way forward. In essence, the time I spend at home fuels my productivity abroad, as it allows me to decompress, bond with the people most important in my life, and hit the “reset” button, which creates a renewed vigor when it is time to return on-site in Africa.
Though I would consider myself a productive person, I do often find myself wishing for more time throughout the day, which I often need to see everyone crucial to ongoing operations, and to take care of a seemingly compounding list of tasks related to my business. As I know this is an impossible wish, I do make a consistent effort to remain consciously aware of my time management throughout each day, and to attempt to cut out redundancies, streamline procedures whenever possible, and take inventory of the hierarchy of each day’s to-do list.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I structure my ideas in a specific way, ensuring that there are no loopholes, no lack of insight and clarity, and no stones left unturned in the development of an idea. Essentially, I must first convince myself of the success of an idea, giving it my full confidence, prior to onboarding other individuals to any idea. I attempt to be as thorough as possible throughout the initial phases of conception, researching various aspects, creating possible scenarios, and considering the wide gamut of outcomes. In doing so, I make every attempt possible to remain unfaltered by my own personal feelings toward this fledgling concept, and I try to play Devil’s Advocate. I consider ways in which my idea may be inaccurate, underdeveloped, and prone to failure.
Once I conceivably remove all possible loopholes, I test my idea with open-minded individuals. These people are not necessarily peers within the specific field of interest, but are all individuals who can keep an open mind, and utilize a critical eye for the benefit of the ideation. In choosing to share my ideas with this broader group first, it gives me an opportunity to share my ideas with people who will first look at the potential opportunity, rather than potential limitations.
Finally, I take this now-developed concept to specialized professionals within the area of interest, for their honest feedback, criticism, and educated response. With their insight in mind, I finalize the concept, and an idea has now become a plan of action! In this general manner, I bring ideas from inception to reality. While this method is highly examined, and isn’t conducive to impromptu decision making, it does allow me to develop ideas fully before implementing them into action, which saves time in the long run, and prevents the need to constantly rework ideas that were unexamined from the beginning.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In today’s constantly changing global atmosphere, ethics have a way of ebbing and flowing, consistently aiming to keep up with new nuances within global business, but at the same time, having to compensate for cultural sensitivities that remain, even in a totally global marketplace and economy. I find this encapsulating concept of professional ethics to be enthralling, and like to follow trends.
For example, some aspects of medical ethics can be seen as universal, such as any medical professional’s oath to helping others, and causing no intentional harm. However, there are also other niche topics within medical ethics that vary vastly throughout different parts of the world, from one culture to another, and from one religion to the next.
In this same realm, business ethics can often vary throughout different regions, where business practice take shape as a result of differing incentives. For example, when creating an infrastructure throughout various villages in Sierra Leone, our guiding factor was not monetarily incentivized, but rather, based on bettering the overall lives of local communities, and building a long-term trusting relationship between all of the local chiefdoms, our company, individuals from these communities, and the local governments.
We created a system, in which individuals from the local villages that comprised a chiefdom could earn an annual salary, without seasonality concerns, by working for Sellem Industries. We developed an agricultural system that allowed other members from each village to effectively farm a certain crop, and created the needed infrastructure that would allow each village to efficiently bundle their yields of assigned crops together, and divide the entirety amongst all families, ensuring that each family would receive a bountiful assortment of goods through this communal system. In essence, this created a positive locally engaged system, a synergy between the villages, and a thriving means of life for villages that were once disconnected from each other. Together, these villages now function as one strong, cohesive unit, rather than many weaker, distant units.
While this investment into bettering the lives of entire villages, and not just employees, may be seen as an extra expense from a business perspective by some, we view it as ethically responsible, and ethically necessary for a long-term successful operation of what is effectively an incubator for artisanal mining.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Inherently, I am a fighter, and tend to view obstacles as mere challenges. In fact, I am motivated by potential roadblocks to success, and tend to want to overcome anything that could stand in my way. I consider this to be ultimately positive in an entrepreneurial environment, where rates of failure are astronomical. If all entrepreneurs gave up after their first failure, there would be no one left standing!
In my mind, if there is a problem, there must be a solution in existence. If there is no solution, then there must not have been a problem to begin with. This simple philosophy shapes my entire business approach. This allows me to be productive, as I accept the notion that all problems must have solutions, and delve right into attempting to formulate the solution. Conversely, if the situation does not exist, I can re-examine whether the problem was, indeed, a problem, and move forward accordingly.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Work hard, play harder. Though this advice seems rather obvious, I would certainly encourage young people to enjoy the wonders of life, woven within the sphere of work. Being young and aggressively focused on growing one’s presence in the professional sphere, young people can sometimes forget to stop and smell the proverbial roses. Within today’s fast-paced global society, this notion can be especially true, where young professionals may feel the pressure to never “turn off, and tune out”. Thus, I would advise all young people to try to find a healthy balance between work, and pleasure.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
In a business atmosphere, where the perceived success of a venture is often tied to a monetary value, the concept of charity is often lost. Many business leaders do not consider charity as an important part of business, and will not consider the bigger picture benefits of an undertaking like building a community infrastructure. Apart from being an inherently beautiful and humane way to help others, creating a functioning communal system for individuals without such a system in place is an effective way for bringing about a brighter future, continued growth for the community, the building of a common goal, and ultimately, even continued successes of business ventures within these communities.
Within the realm of business, people often get caught up in the numbers game, and focus solely on end results, quarterly reports, and the creation of wealth. However, I truly believe that in any facet of business, long-term sustainability, growth, happiness, and stability can, and will, exist through following a “bigger picture” model. Through our various efforts in connecting the remote villages of Sierra Leone, we are providing a synergy to our employees, and local residents alike, allowing them to lead productive lifestyles. This sustainable mining becomes what I like to refer to as an incubator for artisanal mining. Whether we are present or not, this increase in resources, amenities, and lifestyle aides assists these communities, creating a sense of trust, and an atmosphere where business can thrive in the future. In turn, this creates a cycle of ongoing building, moving forward, and overall growth!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I would recommend that all entrepreneurs get involved in a charitable endeavor related to their field of business. Specifically, I would recommend that entrepreneurs discover the ways in which a bigger picture approach to business development, which includes charitable functions, is essential to longevity, long-term growth, and development. In my own experience, a symbiotic relationship can exist between charity, and business, where success in one feeds the success of the other, propelling both facets forward.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It is quite simple, but I believe that listening has helped me to grow my business. One needs to listen to learn. Listen to feedback, listen to need and desire, and listen to the conversation that occurs within the realm of a particular business sense. Often, entrepreneurs develop an idea, and their intense passion and drive makes them lose sight of the trees whilst deep in the forest. Thus, it is important to be able to listen to the outside world, and utilize insight in a positive manner, exhibiting the flexibility needed to change as dictated by the market.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In the past, I have not been as careful, thoughtful, and methodical about spending smaller amounts of money. In a business with many moving parts, it sometimes becomes tedious to track the smallest purchases. Thus, in the past, I have gotten accustomed to the notion of being more casual about smaller spending habits, without much consideration to the potentially detrimental effects of these spending habits. I have realized that these smaller purchases, when not tracked and accounted for, have amounted to large lump sums annually! These seemingly innocent casual charges ended up being monetarily significant in the end, and I have certainly learned to be vastly more responsible, tactful, and methodical when it comes to spending of funds of all sizes. Luckily, I learned this lesson early in my professional career, and have been fortunate enough to remain fiscally savvy throughout the remainder of my professional career.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
As I’ve mentioned previously, I believe there are vast opportunities to be had in already existing markets. There are pockets within markets, where demand is still not being met, and products that could be made locally are still being imported at higher price points. Thus, I would focus on addressing a particular need of many individuals, and figuring out if that need can be met at a lower price point through more localized manufacturing, processing, distributing, and selling.
As the business realm continues to evolve, and globalization has changed the way in which business is approached, it still makes sense to streamline processes, cut out middlemen, and utilize local resources to create products at a lower cost, eliminate the need for cross-ocean shipping, and create jobs for local communities.
For example, one such opportunity exists within the scope of manufacturing ink in Africa. While ink may not be at the forefront of breakthrough technology, it is a product that is utilized by millions of African individuals across all platforms, ages, and economic situations. Yet, all of Africa’s ink remains imported from other countries. In an atmosphere of a huge consumer market, developing a local ink manufacturing facility, in lieu of importing ink, would not only create a more sustainable and local product, but also stimulate the local economy through the thousands of jobs created in order to successfully maintain operations of the aforementioned ink endeavor.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I have purchased flowers for my wife recently, which I would constitute as money well spent. These simple gestures are just as thoughtful as elaborate ones, and are a consistent reminder to loved ones that they are being thought of, cherished, and loved.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Recently, a business partner of mine offered me the newest version of the iPad, which is an extraordinary gift, for which I am thankful. In terms of productivity, the iPad has helped tremendously by being vastly portable, easy to boot up, and quick to utilize. For example, when needing to take immediate notes, the iPad is so much swifter to use than a traditional folding laptop, which is not only clunky, but requires much more attention to get set up, even for a quick task. Thus, this has been a game changing device for me.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I would strongly recommend Napoleon’s letters to be read by anyone seeking insight into leadership, perseverance, and a stubborn inability to quit. I don’t wish to enter the debate of whether his actions were wrong or right. However, it is impossible not to admire one of the greatest military and strategic minds, responsible for building an empire. Napoleon wasn’t destined to be an Emperor, and to rule over Europe. He gained power, control, and authority by being thorough, and extraordinarily meticulous. There are certainly lessons that can be applied to the business world, particularly related to envisioning an outcome, and working toward goals, even if the odds aren’t necessarily in one’s favor.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.