In what is a track off her professional path as a lawyer, Chikondi Suleman manages a variety of beauty related shops in one of the most successful business empires across the country. She has created jobs for many. She shares her story with PAIDA MPASO.
Who is Chikondi Suleman?
I am a lawyer by profession, graduating from the University of Kwazulu Natal in Durban South Africa with two degrees; a B.A Law degree and LLB (hons). I have been residing in South Africa since 1996 till end of 2010 but frequented Malawi for holidays. My mother ran Body map Creations where my siblings and I spent most of our holiday afternoons learning the trade of fashion design and retail alongside customer service and promotions. Later, we graduated into procurement of goods by travelling around the world in search of quality products for our stores. Upon completion of my studies, I made the decision to assist my mother and also broaden my business knowledge.
What motivated you into business?
My mother. She has been in the same fashion business for over 20 years and is still going strong. She has been able to recreate and reinvent her business over the years and still managed to keep a competitive edge. She has kept and established her customer base and personally gotten to recognise their needs. Secondly, I have gained the skill to interact, understand and deal with customers in a way that positively reflects the business outcome and customer satisfaction. That to me is key because the customer is our boss.
What fashions power houses are your running at the moment?
I am currently running Body Map Creation which is our fashion that deals with casual, exclusive and national wear for both men and women. We have also recently introduced a children’s department for boys and girls ranging from 0-16 years. We also have a Blantyre branch stocking the same. I am also running Platinum Aura house of beauty therapy. At platinum, we provide services such as pedicures, manicures, massages and facial treatments alongside the cosmetic areas of hair, makeup, nail and eyelash extensions to name a few. In the social and entertainment arena, I also run the Koccos Shisa Nyama Pub in Gulliver which is currently under lease.
How many employees do you have?
Body map creation has six employees including its tailors and Platinum Aura has five employees including a barber and therapist.
How long have you been in business?
My experience in being an active member of the company has been since 1996. Decision making for me commenced in 2010 to date as the managing director.
Koccos Shisa Nyama has been running for about two years.
What has been your secret to success?
Considering that my background is in the legal field and not in business, one needs to be willing to learn and follow instructions, being open minded and not afraid of challenges. Communication is very important when interacting with customers and negotiating with suppliers. One needs to speak frankly but humble. Always try to please the customer.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered?
Competition and economic changes. Overcoming the challenge of competition was easy in that the only person you should be in competition regarding your business is yourself. You need to be able to evaluate your business with constructive criticism. Always keep an ear to the ground as your biggest critic will be your customer. Stocking things that are relevant and within season is a plus in the clothing department. The same principle applies to procurement. We have to assess when suppliers have quality products in order to get the best stock out.
Have you ever practised law?
I am in the process of arranging attachments. At the moment, I am in business and interested to venture into other businesses.
How do you balance, business and family?
I manage quite well. Mornings till evenings are spent at the shop and salon. Thereafter, I spend time with my family. Sometimes, I take my son along to the shop. I dedicate time to family and business separately. Another advantage is that when you are a business owner, time is flexible.
What drives you?
Being a woman in business is a challenge but not impossible. As women, our persistence and passion keeps us on our toes so I would say to fellow business women to be the best they can be in what they are perusing and love what you are doing. I’ve learnt never to deprive my family or business of my attention. However, priority still weighs more towards my family.
What is your background?
I was born in the United Kingdom and raised in Malawi. I attended Lilongwe Private School before moving to Zimbabwe at the age of 12 where I was enrolled at Roosevelt Girls High School, Harare. I spent most of my adulthood in South Africa from 1996 to 2010. I attended Pinetown Girls High School from Standard Six till matriculation year in 2001. Thereafter, I was accepted to the University of Durban Westville, now known as the University of kwazulu Natal, where I did my legal studies.
And your family background?
I grew up with my parents and two siblings. We had a good upbringing and were well taken care of. We were given great opportunities and a healthy environment in which to develop. Growing up in large family units has definitely been a molding ground for my character and personality by learning how to interact with others.
Studying law is not a walk in the park, what were your challenges?
I was more of a social person who enjoyed the company of people and experiencing new things. At times it affected my studies but I managed to pull through and focus on my first degree as the second was a breeze.
Why did you return home?
Coming back home and making the decision to stay and do business was a challenge because I drastically had to adjust my lifestyle. My social life changed as I left all my friends behind and had to start anew. Over time, I managed to adjust. I settled down, met my husband, Daud Suleman and we have our son Wakati and family members here. This is my home and I can’t imagine going to stay out there again. Just visits.
What are some of your memorable moments?
Some of my memorable moments would have to include, in order: getting accepted into university, being called to collect my certificate at my graduation, opening my first business (koccos Shisa Nyama), my wedding day and engagement, giving birth to my son and I’m sure the list will still go on and on.
Tell me about your parents.
My mother, Violet Savala, has always been passionate about fashion design and studied fashion design in the United Kingdom. She has really been a fashion pioneer in Malawi as her business is widely recognised. She has in the past run various fashion shows and sat on the judging panel of many fashion shows. My father, Professor Marvin Kambuwa, is a Harvard and Oxford graduate whose studies are centred along the business management fields. He has served the Malawian Government in the United Kingdom in the department of foreign affairs. He was the deputy director of the Malawi Institute of management (MIM). He has also worked at Midrand Business School in Johannesburg as a programme coordinator. Currently, he is working at Regent Business School and is also sitting on various boards such as the Centre for Higher Education (CHE).
What have you learnt from your parents?
I have learnt from parents that nothing is impossible if you really have a passion for what you want to do and if you set your mind to it. They both have been hard working parents to get to where they are today.