Swaady Martin, is an Ivorian entrepreneur, prides herself as a custodian of Africa’s rich culture and history. And she preserves it with style. After an eventful, high-flying 11-year career at GE, where she held leadership positions in several divisions across the world (including acting as the Director for Sub-Saharan Africa of GE Transportation and acting-CEO for GE South Africa Technologies), she decided to follow her passion for African culture & heritage and founded YSWARA, a growing home-grown African global luxury brand.

Yswara is a gourmet brand creating exceptional products from Africa’s agricultural wealth. Their star product is African artisan tea created using ingredients and narratives from the continent.
Passionately African, Yswara has the world’s largest selection of fine and herbal teas from the continent, offering 27 varieties of premium loose-leaf African teas, including Othodox teas, as well as blended teas and infusions. Yswara also sells timeless tea ware, tea-related accessories and unique soy-wax candles.

Please describe your day in one phrase? Very busy, intense and never the same.

How do you start your day? By praying. And by drinking a big cup of tea, of course.

Tea training at YSWARA

What are your daily habits that make you more productive each day? I believe in eating well. I am very food conscious. I also love keeping fit, so I go to Yoga every evening.  I never rush in the mornings, that way I don’t start the day stressed. How you start your days really has an impact on how the rest of the day goes.

What is the average start and end times for your day? I’m usually up by 8:00 am and I’m in bed by 1:00 or 2:00 am in the morning, as I work late throughout the night.

What is your role and what does it entail on a daily basis? As the CEO of YSWARA I am responsible for ensuring that the company is operational each day. I set out the company’s sales and growth targets each month and make sure that my team is on track against these targets. I also work on business development locally and internationally to expand the company’s market. Given that we do not operate as a traditional and highly structured company, one of the benefits of running a young, all-female start-up is that everyone is flexible with regards to what roles we each play. Lastly, I make sure that everything that YSWARA does remain within the realms of fair trade or supports suppliers in Africa. This is ultimately a goal of mine and the company’s.

Day to day operations at YSWARA

What is the tech that you use on a daily basis? I mostly work on my tablet, smartphone and office landline. With such technology today, I can accomplish a lot with so little. The key thing is Internet, it’s so important to remain connected.

What Mobile Apps do you use on your phone? I use all of the popular social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Skype). Though Shazam and Pinterest are my favourite apps.

What Apps, software and tools can’t you live without? I can live without technology. I’m more of a nature person, so I only use technology because I need to, but I’m neither obsessed with technology nor do I feel the need to always be online.

What is your workspace set up like? I love order, so my workspace is generally well organized. It can get really busy at the office, so I need to know where everything is. I usually keep my tablet, files and notebook on my desk, and, of course, a YSWARA candle to create a lovely aroma in my work environment.

What is your best time-saving shortcut you can share? I always prioritize at beginning of each day, and follow up on what has been accomplished by the end of the day. I get a lot of requests and orders between clients, suppliers and media, so by prioritizing I know in which areas I can put most of my energy in to get the best results for the day.

Brewing tea pot
A pot of tea is always brewing at YSWARA.

What is your best growth-hack advice you can share? Be relentless at getting things done. I never give up and I always push myself. I’m not one to easily quit, you especially need this quality in order to have people believe in your brand as much as you do. I also believe in over-delivering. When you over-deliver, you can build strong relationships with people who may help you grow. Also, I constantly look for ways to uplift people, it somehow allows you to grow as well.

How do you manage your To-Do List/ Calendar/ Email/ Notes etc..? Everything I need to know, do and keep track of is in my diary. I have everything organized in specific sections of my diary, so it’s easy for me to find what I need. I keep all of my notes and meeting notes in the same book. I do the same with my daily file. I also complement this with my calendar on my phone.

What gadgets do you use that you can’t live without? None.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? Nothing really, I just work harder. I believe that what I achieve and succeed at is the result of working with the right people. It’s important to find people who complement your strengths and what you do. I do nothing on my own and I’m a big believer in teamwork. Having come from team-driven environment at General Electric, a culture of teamwork has really been important to me.

Do you listen to music while working and if so, what? I love music! But never while working because I work with others, so it can be a bit of a distraction. I listen to music a lot during my leisure time. I’m a big hip-hop fan.

Swaady Martin-Leke

What are you currently reading? I never read one book at a time. At the moment I’m reading; A course in Miracles published by Dr. Kenneth Wapnick, Resurrecting Jesus; Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic by Adyashanti and The Supreme Gift by Paolo Coelho.

When do you take your breaks during the day and what do you do? If I have time, I take breaks in the late afternoon to drink some the YSWARA teas, test recipes and tweak new recipes. Every evening, though, I make sure I never miss a yoga class.

Which websites steal your attention? Facebook, although I hardly have the time. A browse through Facebook just to keep up to date.

How do you end your day? By praying the Rosary.

What is your sleep routine like? I go to sleep too late, usually not until 1:00 or 2:00 am. I am more of a night person, so sometimes I work all night. I hardly have time during the day. On the other hand, I try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

Photoshoot of YSWARA products.

Is there anything else that you would like to add, that our readers may find interesting? I’m a firm believer in social entrepreneurship, so I try to weave that into my business and life. We have a business philosophy that we live by at YSWARA, called the Luxe Ubuntu. Ubuntu is commonly understood in Africa as one’s humanity being dependent on one’s relationship with others, or more directly ‘I am because we are’. This understanding is expanded into the Luxe Ubuntu in which YSWARA aims to give African luxury an added purpose; by benefiting the community that contributes to our supply chain, through wealth creation. Through this philosophy, we look for ways to keep the value added throughout the supply chain in Africa. This continent is so rich with natural resources that I feel it should benefit from them. I wrote about this in a chapter in a book titled Luxury Brands in Emerging Markets. A goal of YSWARA is to have this philosophy and business model adopted and replicated by other businesses in Africa.

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