Many people start businesses but after some time, they give up. Very few make it in business— not just in Malawi but world over. As a result, each time I meet a very successful entrepreneur, I like to ask them about their experiences and what made them break through. Four years ago, I had the chance to meet two international businessmen who are both billionaires. I met the first one, an Indian businessman in a flight in Nairobi and another one originally from Pakistan at a hotel that he owns in Kigali, Rwanda.
The first businessman was originally trained as a medical doctor but born in a family with background and roots in business. His father was a successful businessman. He practised medicine for only a couple of years and then while his father asked him to join him for future succession, he preferred to go the tough route of starting his own business with very little capital to weather the storm to the end. He told me that for the first five years, he lost a lot of money and went deep into debt nearing half a million dollars—in the mid 1990s! If you convert that into Malawi Kwacha in real terms without factoring in time value of money, that would be approximately K380 million. Yes, he accumulated loans up to nearly half a billion kwacha. But by the seventh year, he cleared the loans and made a major breakthrough.
The second one did not come from a business family. At the age of seventeen, he said he decided to make a choice between going to college for tertiary education or to start business. He felt that the three of four years in college would delay him from making money and he feared ‘being poor’ for another three to four years! That made him to choose the entrepreneurship route. He got a small loan from his father’s pension and set up a small shop which with time grew. After 11 years, he had expanded his shop business and was able to buy one house.
He then decided to expand his property interests. So, the next three to four years, he invested seriously into housing. He said that this made him very poor and he really struggled. He was heavily indebted and struggled to balance his numbers for some time. By the sixth year, he had something like four houses or so. And that was the time he made his breakthrough. He had made a big name as a good deliverer and executor of actions and a credible supplier and business partner. With that reputation, he won a huge housing contract for the UK Government. Within a couple of years of running that contract, he increased his portfolio of houses from three or four to nearly thirty (30) houses. After a further 15 years, his count of houses reached some 60 houses – yes, 60.
He then sold a few houses – around 10 so that he could build a four-star hotel in one of the capital cities of Africa. The hotel is now well worth over 10 million dollars or an equivalent of K7.8 billion. He owes banks very little money.
As you can see from these two amazing stories of amazing businessmen from India and Pakistan, they broke through in business because they had a clear vision of what they wanted to do, they worked like donkeys and they weathered the storm to the end for more than five years before they could begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Coming back home to a Malawian illustration, when I once shared a stage with the owner of FDH Bank, Thom Mpinganjira at a motivational event at Chancellor College in 2010, Mpinganjira told the students that in setting up the bank, he was very lean with his cash controls for six to seven years when he saw that the bank blossomed. The magic number sounds six or seven in the three cases here! Good luck as you weather the storm for six to seven years! Master the power of resilience and determination in business