It’s two weeks into the last month of the year, and Jehiel Oliver remains busy as CEO of his company, connecting with farmers across Africa. And although it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in many parts of the world, Oliver’s schedule is packed with events and meetings, including moderating a top event in Kenya and travelling to Washington DC for the world leaders summit. Despite his hectic schedule, Oliver finds time for our meeting while waiting for the president of Kenya to arrive at the event he would be moderating. After which, he’d hop on a plane to Washington, D.C. Oliver wishes he could be home with his family at times like these.

Jehiel Oliver, CEO Hello Tractor

Having a busy schedule is not new to Jehiel Oliver. He is the founder and CEO of Hello Tractor, an innovative shared-economy platform that makes tractor usage affordable to marginalized farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Through a sharing application, they collect tractor service requests from farmers with limited access to resources to obtain convenient and affordable tractor services while providing additional income and enhanced security for tractor owners. The company has been described by many as the Uber for tractors. Since 2014, the organization has reached more than 250,000 smallholder African farmers.

Before founding Hello Tractor, Jehiel founded Aya Consulting, a boutique development company. With Aya, he worked in over ten countries, including conflict zones, spreading his time in agriculture and rural markets, which eventually led him to found Hello Tractor. As CEO, Jehiel is responsible for the overall management of the Hello Tractor team, strategies, and partnerships. A role he describes as fulfilling. “There is usually nothing I am doing that I don’t want to be doing,” he says. Throughout the year, his resilient team works steadily to ensure the company’s vision is actualized. “There is always so much going on,” he says. “It is great to work, but it can be too much too.”

To acknowledge the work the team puts in, Jehiel throws an end-of-the-year soiree at the Hello tractor office every year. But this year is different. It is not the regular staff party with burnt-out adults walking around with wine glasses, sparsely conversing about the weather and the holidays. This party is different. It is to honour the kids of Hello Tractor. The Hello Tractor staff are bringing their kids to celebrate. They get to see the great work their parents do. And as a bonus, engage in fun activities. “It is our way of saying thank you for lending us your mums and dads throughout the year,” he says. To truly get down with the season, Jehiel is dressing up as Santa for the kids. “I have never dressed up as Santa. So it should be fun,” he says heartily.

Jehiel, his wife, and two daughters on vacation

Family is paramount to this CEO. Despite having a busy schedule, he always makes time for his family. “Work is important, but the foundation of my life is family,” he says. “I genuinely enjoy work and my family. They compete with each other but in the best way possible. The key is having a very supportive wife. It is also about finding that balance and setting boundaries. I make sure I am home at certain times. I play with the kids and tuck them in bed at night.” Good thing the holidays are associated with family. And the Olivers take full advantage of this to create lasting memories.

They usually start decorating the house two weeks before Christmas. The family puts up a tree and covers the house in tinsel and ribbons. But their favourite Christmas tradition is the 12 days of Christmas gifting. Every day leading up to Christmas, Oliver and his wife puts gifts in the kid’s Christmas socks. It is usually a piece of candy or chocolate. But it always gets the family excited for the season. “This morning, one of my daughters opened up a sock and there was no candy in it. She burst into tears,” he tells me. “It was annoying and endearing at the same time.”

On Christmas morning, the kids wake up and sit around the tree. Then the family opens the gifts they have for each other. Jehiel’s favourite thing about the holiday is watching his kids light up over their presents. “It’s really about the kids. Watching them enjoy the time and create these memories around Christmas,” Jehiel says. This year, the Olivers are spending most of the holidays at home in Nairobi. They plan on taking a trip with some family friends to the Kenyan coast after Christmas.

The Olivers on vacation

Family time and vacation are certainly what Jehiel needs. It has been a great but busy year for the Hello Tractor team. In the first half of the year, the company launched a tractor finance product to help get new tractors for farmers. “We are most proud of this product. In the first six months, we financed 5 million dollars worth of new tractors. Which is a huge way to launch a product,” Jehiel says. “These farmers are unbanked entrepreneurs, proving there are opportunities in agriculture and these economies. It is exciting to see,” he adds.

The team also launched a new strategy called the bread basket – where, in addition to bringing equipment to farmers, they utilize digital networks by working with other partners to fill in other gaps in agriculture. “Farmers don’t just need tractors,” Jehiel says. “There have tons of other needs. We partnered with companies that can bring those additional services to our farmers. So these farmers are holistically supported.” For Jehiel, the vision is to establish Africa as a bread basket region of the world and become an exporter of food, not just an importer. 

Jehiel is excited about the new year. He is grateful for the opportunities he has had this year – exploring new strategies, nurturing and partnering with like minds for the farmers. Although it hasn’t been a great year for African investments, Jehiel is looking forward to exploring these new strategies, growing his team, and the culture that underpins the team. “I hope there is going to be a full dive into agricultural investment in the coming year. Because the impact of this industry transcends the entrepreneur. It goes to the economies and communities that these companies service. It would be a shame if there is a pullback because it could have a broader negative effect.” he says.

“How are you doing today?” I hear Jehiel ask someone in the background after he inquires them about the event, which is taking longer than expected. His cheerful spirit is infectious and can be felt through the phone. “I love people,” he says. “It is the bedrock of why I enjoy what I do. Being able to interact with interesting people and do good work for communities that don’t get attention and resources. On a personal level, it has helped me develop a deeper understanding of communities, their challenges, and the opportunities within.” In the meantime, this CEO has other plans for the coming weeks. “This is the time for rest and reflection. During the holidays, I try to wind down on work. And simply spend more time with my family,” he says. There may be no actual break for an entrepreneur, but in high spirits, Jehiel is looking forward to the holidays, and can’t wait to get home to his family.

From this CEO to you, Happy Holidays!

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