Rwanda Rising

Nobody likes to say “No, Mr. President.” So three years ago, when Costco CEO Jim Sinegal got a call from shareholder Dan Cooper, a partner in Chicago’s Fox River Financial Resources, asking if he’d have lunch with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, he agreed. That meeting in New York led to a presidential stop at Costco HQ near Seattle. Which led to Sinegal’s promise to visit Rwanda. “I made it in a moment of weakness,” he says, “before I realized how long it takes to get there.” He ended up taking his whole family, and today Costco is one of the two biggest buyers of Rwandan coffee beans — about 25% of the country’s premium crop, by Sinegal’s estimation. Without Cooper’s introduction, “no way would this have happened. I knew the Rwanda story, but I wasn’t intimately involved,” Sinegal says. “It took more elbow grease to get this started up, but it has been very profitable. Good for us and good for them.”

From the article in Fast Company magazine that CEO of Rwanda Development Board, Joe Ritchie, had mentioned in our interview last week in Kigali. Fortune magazine also addresses the issue of why CEOs love Rwanda.