Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them, wrote William Shakespeare. The words ring true in the contemporary Malawi scene today.
Yet, there are some who have shifted from nobodies to achieve greatness whose stories remain untold. Documentation of such rags-to-riches stories make interesting reads while at the same time providing inspiring lessons.
Malawi has great sons and daughters in diverse fields. There is, nonetheless, one area that is growing in the country, entrepreneurship.
Mention names like Napoleon Dzombe, Jimmy Koreia-Mpatsa, Abraham Simama, and Mike Mlombwa, you have an answer on what success in entrepreneurship is. Diamonds polished from crude earth.
Putting together the life stories of the business gurus in a single book gives a unique dimension in a country that has missed out in publication of biographies and autobiographies.
That is just what Patrick Achitabwino has done in his third book, Trendsetter Entrepreneurs. Apart from the four men with impeccable business acumen, the book also features five entrepreneurs of immense repute: Vanda Cabral, Stain Singo, Edward Kaluwa, Mayamiko Nkoloma and Haroon Sacranie.
The book covers various aspects of entrepreneurship from which the new comer or established businesses can learn. From agri-business, the transport sector, tourism industry, information and technology and insurance, among others. Interestingly, the life stories span generations with a few things in common: Stories of resilience, vision and hardwork.
Says Achitabwino: “It has taken close to a year to put the book together. One thing I learnt from these great entrepreneurs is humility. They took time for my calls, messages and face-to-face interviews. It is also clear that all of them were inspired from the beginning to do great things.”
According to the author, who also has authored I Believe I Can and I am the Flying Me to his credit, Malawi has many other great entrepreneurs, but these provide a starting point for bringing out these stories from which others can learn.
The underlying factor, he adds, it is possible to be successful, regardless of your past.
“What you do today determines your success tomorrow. Get away from the chains of your past and move forward. Shed off the labels that you have no money, uneducated or orphaned,” he points out.
Slated for a launch at Crossroads Hotel in Blantyre on May 25 2022, the book has already attracted some local and international endorsements.
Renowned Kenyan lawyer and Pan-Africanist PLO Lumumba says it is a ‘[the] real life trail-blazing entrepreneurs whose trials and tribulations on the road to success are as energising as they are enriching’.
Both Malawi University of Science and Technology vice-chancellor Address Malata and social psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe say the publication of such stories has been long overdue, as they provide inspiration.
The unique thing about the gurus is how they got to greatness. Dzombe, Mpatsa, Mlombwa, Simama and Kaluwa share similar background in poverty. Yet, their paths to riches take different routes.
Dzombe, who was conferred an honorary doctorate by Mzuzu University, dropped out of school in Form 2, seeing no purpose in school. Through hardships, Mlombwa and Mpatsa defied all odds to get an education up to secondary school, but failed to make it to the university.
Kaluwa went up to Form 2, before going into employment while Simama had tertiary education before he chose ‘no employment’ opting for business.
For Cabral, a marketer, the agri-business that pits her as a force to reckon with is her passion, that she can’t quit employment. The youthful Nkoloma, on the other hand, has two masters degrees to his credit.
One thing that is clear from the entrepreneurs, apart from hardwork, resilience and ability to face challenges, is that they are able to do the unthinkable and challenge conventional thought.
Singo quit Nico Life Insurance to set up Small Life Insurance Company when all the players in the industry like Nico Life, Old Mutual and Vanguard were foreign. When most business owners in Lilongwe thought business should face the road to attract customers and that they should be in central town, Haroon Sacranie started investing in the Crossroads Complex where noone thought would be ideal for business. Today, his chain of hotels also won franchise deals with international brands in the food industry.
When they thought they had a future in employment, Mpatsa and Kaluwa had rude awakenings when they were fired from their jobs. Coincidentally, both were hardworking, focussed and determined.
Today, Mpatsa owns Mpatsa Holdings, while Kaluwa is a renowned freight-handler whose Combine Cargo firm remains one of the big brands in Malawi at the moment.
All the entrepreneurs show us that no matter how great you become, always remember to give back to the community. They are philanthropists in their own right.
Another thing coming out clear from their lives is paying back bank loans. Needless to add that all of them acknowledged that when they applied for loans with their ideas, banks rejected them, but now that they are billionaires, banks ask them if they need loans for their projects.
Simama nails it on prudence: “I tell people in my congregation that when they get a loan, they should not use it even to assist a relative if that is not the purpose. I even tell them that ‘you can’t tithe from the money you get as loan’.”
One thing worth noting is that only one woman, Cabral, is featured. Achitabwino agrees there is a gender discrepancy in the subjects featured.
“I wish I could have more women. Much as we admit there are not so many into it, there are others who are doing real great things. But then, most of those I approached were not forthcoming,” he says.
As they say, the smallest speck is seen on snow, the book has some typos that get into the way of the narrative. You find some spelling mistakes such as ‘philanhropic’ instead of ‘philanthropic’ and misplacements like ‘through’ for ‘thorough’, ‘track’ for ‘truck’, etc.
There are also some instructions that have slid through the work, like where the author was suggesting for the editors to include or leave out a comma.
For the launch on Thursday, Achitabwino says he has partnered with law firm Ritz Attorneys at Law and the National Development Bank Limited.
“As a Malawian law firm, Ritz is coming in since they feel promoting our own entrepreneurs is the way to go. National Development Bank is coming in since this is their area of interest. Developing local entrepreneurs through financing is a must,” said Achitabwino.
Sean Longwe, head of business development and marketing at Ritz says: “The book presents a blueprint for this boat called entrepreneurship. Are you already in business? Or do you intend to get on board. The book will not only reveal secrets to success, but also challenge you to move out of your comfort zone in order to achieve self-fulfilment.”