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Rwanda's first female pilot takes to the skies at 24 Esther Mbabazi trained to fly Rwandair regional jets despite her father being killed in a plane crash when she was eight Esther Mbabazi was eight years old when her father was killed in a crash as the plane he was flying in overshot the runway landing in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
So when, a few years later she announced her intention to train as a pilot, the planwas not well received by some of her family. But at the age of 24, Mbabazi has made history as the first female Rwandan pilot – although as a woman she says she doesn't make flight announcements because it scares the passengers. "Some people questioned why I wanted to do it, they thought I wanted to be a pilot to find out what happened to my dad, but that didn't have anything to do with it," Mbabazi said. "Being a pilot really was my childhood dream, I don't think anything was going to stop it. It started when I travelled with my family and we would get the free things for kids, like the backpacks. I really liked that and I just liked to travel. The whole intrigue of this big bird in the sky, I was amazed. That and the free backpacks planted the seed." Mbabazi, who is fluent in five languages, trained at the Soroti flight school in Uganda before being sponsored to continue her training in Florida by national carrier Rwandair.
She now flies the company's CRJ-900 regional jets across Africa. The death of her father has influenced the way she flies. "It has moulded my character as a pilot, and I think what happened to my dad makes me a little more safe. It could have stopped me, but an accident is an accident. If someone is knocked over in a car you don't stop driving. As a pastor's child I know that you have to let stuff go." One person who never questioned Mbabazi's plans was her mother, Ruth. A strong farmer and businesswoman, she wasn't fazed to see her daughter take to the air after what the death of her husband, who was a Pentecostal pastor before his death. "I didn't get any resistance from my mum," Mbabazi said. "In her time she was the only girl in her electricity class, so she doesn't have any issues with what I do.
She has five children and whether we want to do fashion or aviation, as long as we're doing something we're interested in, she's happy." Mbabazi was born in Burundi, where her family had moved beforeRwanda's genocide in 1994. The family moved back to Rwanda in 1996. While not without its critics, particularly on human rights issues, Rwanda is now a secure and rapidly developing country. GDP grew by 7.7% last year and the government claims to have lifted one million people out of poverty in five years. Particular progress has been made towards gender equality. Women make up more than half of MPs. "Things are changing in Rwanda," says Mbabazi. "Before you wouldn't find women driving taxis here, and now you see it. There are men who cook now in Rwanda, when, in an African culture, women have to cook. So I think eventually things change. If you really work hard and you prove that you can do something well, I don't think there's a question of you being a woman, it doesn't come into the equation. "There are not so many male Rwandan pilots either. So even though I am the first female, my colleagues are the first male Rwandan pilots to be flying commercial planes. So I think it's a big change for all of us Rwandans and something that should be celebrated."
Chiyangwa splashes US$1m on Rolls
While all economies of the world reel under the worst recession in the history of mankind, property magnate Phillip Chiyangwa is living in a world of his own which seems unfazed by the developments in the global economic arena.
Last year the flamboyant businessman bought himself a black Dodge Nitro with personalised registration "Ndigere" and a Bentley Continental with "PC" (abbreviation for Phillip Chiyangwa) as its registration.
Anyway, he no longer drives the Dodge Nitro. Why? He says: "I liked it at first and I thought it was a unique car. All of a sudden a lot of people are now driving it. I have since given it to my son. The driver's seat of that thing is not very comfortable for my back.
"Ndiri mwana waMwari, mwana waZvimba Machiorera, Ngonya chaiyo," and like his famous gospel, "No weapon formed against me shall prosper, for He is in me and I am in Him."
Last month he bought himself the latest Toyota LandCruiser — black in colour — and a gold Mercedes-Benz GL 500, both V8 machines.
Last week he unleashed a black Rolls Royce Phantom (extended wheelbase) — the most distinguished of British automakers.
Phillip Chiyangwa's Rolls Royce Phantom is the first one in the country.
He seems to have more cars in his garage than undergarments in most people's wardrobes.
This car is royalty and does not come cheap. Who would honestly splash US$500 000 or R5 million on a car, this figure is minus the duties to the fiscus, adding up to US$1 million?
By the way, this is the guy who owns one of the largest houses in Zimbabwe with 18 en suite bedrooms and 25 lounges?
Phillip Chiyangwa's Phantom is a 6,75-litre V12 machine. Just the size of its engine speaks volumes. With 48 valves churning 453 horsepower at 5 350 rpm.
The Phantom's brutally powerful powerplant is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission gearbox.
Chiyangwa also owns a very expensive Bentley Continental (convertible), Hummer H2, a Chrysler Crossfire, the latest Mercedes-Benz S600 V12 sedan, two latest Mercedes- Benz S350 models (the difference is in their colours), a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG two seater, among a fleet of other expensive cars.
Most cars come with options, which come at an additional cost, but for Phillip Chiyangwa that is never an issue. All his cars come full house.
He has proved beyond reasonable doubt to be a trendsetter when it comes to the automotive world in Zimbabwe, if not in the region.
His Phantom comes with GPS navigation aid with full map and voice activation, a Harman-Kardon AM/FM Radio with 420-watts, speed-sensitive volume with Lexicon sound system and 15 speakers in total and a satellite radio that can catch any news channel in the world.
By the way, Harman-Kardon automobile sound systems are ranked among the top five best car audio systems in the world.
This car has massive wheels and tyres, which are to date the biggest in the production sedan car business, with an effective 21-inch diameter.
More importantly, the tyres employ Michelin PAX run-flat tyres, which means that you do not need a spare wheel and you can continue with your journey in case of a puncture.
I guess the size of those tyres is a must given its weight of three tonnes.
Sitting in the back seat of one of the most quintessentially British automotive hallmarks and being chauffeured by Chiyangwa himself, I could not help feel like the Duke of Edinburgh although I am a prince from the City of Kings, kwaBulawayo.
At the rear seat arm rest, at the touch of a button there is a mini fridge, a compartment of two wine glasses engraved RR (Rolls Royce), another compartment with two water glasses, another compartment with two whiskey glasses and finally another compartment with two glass jugs — all branded RR.
Behind the two front seats are high-resolution colour television screens. At the touch of a button curtains automatically move to cover the back seat occupants at all angles.
The interior is royalty, guess being a British car although now owned by Germany's BMW it has done well to remain very English.
The interior is all wood and hand-stitched hides. Stepping on the lambs' wool rugs without my shoes and socks, it was the softest and most comfortable thing I have ever set my feet on. To sum up the rear, the configuration eschews the individual and personalised seat solution advocated by many latest luxury limousines - it's a full-house luxury lounge on wheels.
The Phantom also comes with a trip computer, tyre pressure monitor, and steering wheel-mounted controls for audio, telephone and transmission, voice-activated controls and memory adjustments, among a host of other electronic gizmos.
The Phantom has not been christened yet. I suggested that he personalise it "Bvumai" because, hey, we just have to admit that he has style, the dollars, the taste and choice.
His Mercedes-Benz S600, Hummer H2, Bentley and Dodge Nitro have been christened Tsivo, Chisora, PC and Ndigere respectively.
After the Rolls Royce Phantom - which is the epitome of automobile engineering in the world and a hallmark of excellence since 1912, who knows what car he is buying next? Probably, the 16-cylinder Bugatti Veyron? Time will tell.
For 2012, 59 business champions, each one a winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in their own countries or regions, gathered at the fabulous Salle des Etoiles to witness the crowning of the champion of champions, the World Entrepreneur of the Year.
The stakes were very high and anticipation was rampant. When the envelope was opened and Mwangi’s name was announced, there was a hushed silence for a few seconds before the audience burst into applause and gave the Kenyan a standing ovation as he went up to collect his award.
This was a historic victory not only for Mwangi, not only for Kenya, not only for the banking sector, not only for Africa but also for all black entrepreneurs everywhere. It marked a first for each category.
It also marked the apex of an extraordinary journey that began 52 years ago in a small village on the slopes of the Aberdare mountains in central Kenya – a universe away from the glitter, the wealth and the glamour of Monaco.
Foundations of success
The Aberdares, site of the majestic Mt Kenya – considered by many as the spiritual heart of Kenya – was also where Kenya’s pre-independence freedom fighters, the Mau Mau, were locked in a fierce battle against colonial armies.
“My father fell a victim to the struggle,” James Mwangi told me when I interviewed him in London shortly after he had received his award. He was the sixth of seven children. “My widowed mother had to find ways and means to feed and raise us in a deeply rural setting.”
There was no time for childish games – everyone had to pitch in to keep the home fires burning. James, like the rest of his siblings, had to put in his share of chores – tending to the livestock, making charcoal, selling fruits and other produce for small margins.
Although the family was poor, “my mother ensured that we were disciplined and she laid out a set of values which became anchors in our lives,” Mwangi recalls. “There was one point on which she was not prepared to back down or compromise one iota – that was education. She decided that her children, all her children, would be educated – no matter what it took,” Mwangi said.
As Mwangi talked, a picture of the mother, Grace Wairimu, began to emerge. Here was a woman, well past the first flush of youth, who was straining every sinew and using all her ingenuity not only to feed and clothe her children, but was adamant that they not only go to school but learn.
When she insisted that her daughters also attend school, a shudder of apprehension went through the village of Kangema, their home. Girls did not go to school. There was a lot of shaking of heads, but Grace Wairimu was adamant. Perhaps this inured the young James Mwangi to criticism and allowed him to ignore a lot of head shaking later in life when he was trying to breathe life in a defunct organisation.
Despite enormous social and financial problems, Grace Wairimu ensured that all her children were educated. “Much later,” Mwangi remembers, “when I had my own four sons, their granny supervised their education and kept them away from harmful teenage activities going around. When they got their school reports, they first went to their granny, rather than me, their father. She passed on a wealth of wisdom through storytelling and, in many ways, moulded my family.”
Mwangi’s children have attended the famous Ivy League institutions in the US – Yale, Cornell, and Brown – and Carnegie Mellon. “When she had placed the last one in university in the US,” he said, “she rested.”
Grace died at the age of 98, exactly one year to the day to when we were having our interview. Given the enormous role she had played in his life, I glanced at Mwangi to look for signs of sadness. But I only saw pride for his late mother shining in his eyes. Somehow I knew that when he received his award, he had raised it in silent tribute to his mother.
James Mwangi attended the Nyagatugu primary school in Kangema village. But money was short and the family teamed up to supplement their income by engaging in ‘small business’. While this may have been humbling for the boy, he was nevertheless absorbing invaluable business lessons that would stand him in good stead in his future.
He was learning, without consciously doing so, the basics of business – what people needed, what they were prepared to pay, how to add value to mundane articles, how to negotiate, how to make a sale and turn a profit. With no role models to emulate, he and his family were in effect, discovering the basics of business all by themselves based on observation of what worked and what didn’t.
He obtained outstanding results at the end of his primary schooling and this provided a government scholarship to attend the Ichagaki Secondary School. Here he was introduced, for the first time, to accountancy and commerce.
“This was an important discovery,” he recollects, “I could see how the systems related to the small businesses we had been doing. We had been going about ‘business’ in a haphazard way but here was a systematic method of doing the same things with far better results. It was an eye-opener.”
Once again, Mwangi obtained outstanding O level results and went to Kagema High School to read his A levels in economics, literature and geography. Whatever he was picking up in theory, he was mentally applying to real life situations and his earlier, unformed brushes with commerce. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Nairobi, passed a Certified Public Accountancy course and was ready to face the daunting and mysterious world of work.
The Equity saga
At the age of 28, although he himself did not know this, James Mwangi was primed, in terms of character, values and down-to-earth business savvy for the major role he was about to play in the nation’s commercial life.
Kenya was going through an uncomfortable transition phase from the old colonial structures to the needs of the relatively new nation. Although there was a huge demand for banking and credit services, the industry remained more or less a closed shop. The vast majority were simply shut out of the financial system. The international banks turned their noses up at the prospect of catering to the masses. This led to the growth of numerous indigenous mutual societies.
Many of those who started these savings societies did so with the best will in the world but lack of expertise meant they were trying to learn the ropes while on the run. The result was a series of crashes with hard-earned money from depositors – many of them small-scale rural farmers – vanishing at an astonishing rate.
One of these mutual societies, which had remained standing but was severely battered, was Equity Building Society. In 1993, the chairman, Peter Munga and the CEO, John Mwangi turned to James Mwangi, who had established a reputation for honesty during a period when that commodity was in very short supply, to help wind up the business. It had already been declared technically insolvent.
“That was an understatement,” Mwangi told me. “To cut a long story short, the building society had been making losses of Kshs5m ($58,000) every year and was now facing a cumulative loss of Kshs30m ($350,000), the staff had not been paid salaries, morale was at rock bottom and membership was dwindling by the hour.”
But rather than throw in the towel, Mwangi wondered if he could intervene and ‘reinvent the organisation, transform it completely.”
He became the strategy and finance director. At the time, Equity had 27 employees, 27,000 customers, five branches and stood at number 66 out of 66 in the financial sector rankings.
“I accepted the challenge because I could see clearly how important a properly functioning society was to the masses. Micro credits, which would make a huge difference to people’s lives, was their only avenue out of poverty. I felt I had to do something – somehow square the circle.”
But he had no resources, no money, no way of raising capital. A banking licence, which might have provided some leeway, was not forthcoming. Public confidence in indigenous organisations was at rock bottom.
“How could I entice people to come to Equity? What could I provide that was needed but not available? I decided to look inside the organisation. If I could change the culture internally, I would have in effect succeeded in reinventing Equity.”
Mwangi set about retraining the staff. He introduced a concept which at the time was practically unknown – customer care. “Put the customer and his or her needs first – he is the most important person in the world. Treat people with dignity and respect. Serve, serve to the best of your ability.”
He encouraged his staff to use their own networks, as he did his, to persuade people to join the society. “I told them, trust me. They believed me because I believed it myself. If you expect anyone else to follow you, you must have absolute confidence in yourself.”
What he felt most at this time was a heavy sense of responsibility. “I knew I could not let down the Chairman and CEO and above all, I could not let down the customers. When I said ‘trust me’, I meant to keep my word.”
The first sign of success, he said, was a complete change in the attitude of the staff. They were now motivated, they had a direction to follow and what they were doing was bearing fruit.
“We were able to give them their first raise in eight years. I also persuaded them to use 25% of their salaries to buy shares in the company. Now they were involved. It was as much their company as anybody else’s. They knew that if they succeeded, they had a lot to gain.”
Slowly but surely like a ship that was almost underwater, the company began to right itself. Customers, many of them peasant farmers, were given the red carpet treatment. Accounts were kept meticulously. Confidence began to blossom.
In Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus had demonstrated that the Grameen system of micro finance was transforming the lives of millions who had been shunned by the mainstream banking industry. It was also helping the impoverished nation to raise its economy by its bootstraps. But elsewhere, micro finance was seen as something of a charity case – throwing away good money for bad.
Mwangi was convinced that micro finance could not only transform the lives of the masses, it could also turn a profit. Equity’s growing customer base and a healthier sheen to the company’s balance sheet was the proof he needed that the venture was on the right track. Despite the head shaking within the industry, he and his team ploughed on.
“By 1997, we were ready to expand. We invited customers to buy shares in the company and we started to pay them dividends. The word began to spread – Equity was different; Equity could be trusted.”
Mwangi had witnessed how the power of computer technology was altering business processes out of all recognition. But it was still believed that such advanced technologies were expensive toys for the elite and that the masses were ‘too backward’ for such sophistication.
He begged to differ. In 2000, he persuaded the European Union to support a computerisation programme for Equity as part of their poverty alleviation strategy. The impact was instantaneous. “Transaction times dropped from 30 minutes to five; queues disappeared; the process, including signatures and so on, was automated. Equity was now on a rapid, but solid growth path.”
But expansion needed an injection of capital which was still very difficult to come by for indigenous companies. Approaches were made to Africap, a funding organisation set up by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and other partners.
Africap provided $1.6m but demanded 16% of the whole enterprise. This led to a second wave of computerisation and further expansion. But by 2004, the company ran out of capital and invited private placements. $10 million was raised in two weeks.
“On the last day of August, 2004, we made our biggest and boldest step. We became a bank,” Mwangi said. “We could now roll out a full range of products and services.”
In 2006, Equity Bank listed on the newly established Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE). More capital, this time from the giant Helios fund supported by IFC, CDC and Opic who bought 25% at $185 million, allowed the bank to become the most computerised in East and Central Africa.
“Now, building on the IT platform, we launched an aggressive growth campaign. In five years, we increased our branches from 36 to 450 and the customer base rose to 8m, nearly half of all bank accounts in Kenya,” Mwangi told me. The figures are mind boggling: From a loss of Kshs5m ($58,000) in 1993, the bank registered a profit of Kshs12bn ($140m) in 2011. Equity now has the largest customer base in East and Central Africa, and is the most profitable in East and Central Africa.
Since listing on the NSE in 2006, shareholder value has grown 900%, turning a large slice of shareholders into millionaires.
Mwangi expects profits to rise to Kshs 15bn ($175m) this year, making it the most profitable company in the region. The compounded annual growth rate over the past 10 years has been an incredible 78% and the bank has been growing tenfold every five years for the last 20 years. From a staff level of 27, Equity now employs just under 8,000.
Innovations such as mobile banking – taking the bank to the people in remote areas – and agency banking, where customers can carry out transactions in shops, has made this once given-up-for-dead institution the most progressive on the continent. In the process, it is spreading entrepreneurship, creating jobs and wealth.
The bank has expanded regionally and now has a welcome presence in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and was among the very first financial institutions to open a branch in the new country of South Sudan.
Stranger than fiction
The story of James Mwangi and Equity Bank – from a young boy selling charcoal on the slopes of the Aberdares to becoming the most successful banker in the history of modern Africa – is so incredible that it rightly belongs in the realms of fiction. In this case, fact is far stranger than fiction – and a thousand times more inspiring.
But he remains humble and cheerful, ready to make a joke at the first opportunity. He has never forgotten the struggles of his childhood; he has set up a series of foundations to ensure that no deserving youth will miss out on education, nor will anyone lose opportunities through lack of financial knowledge.
He spends half an hour every day running on the treadmill and is a voracious reader. “I am up at 3am every day and I read – mostly business and management books and biographies,” he said.
His role models? “Nelson Mandela. The way he has changed people’s lives inspires me every day. That is what drives me – the feeling that I am changing lives for the better, being an agent of social-economic transformation in Africa.”
Among his business gurus, he counts Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, Bill Gates, who he says showed him how to think more broadly about society, Bill and Melinda Gates for their contribution to the disadvantaged in Africa and Steve Jobs for his technological genius.
What makes him most happy? “Whenever I can bring a smile to someone’s face, I am amply rewarded.”
Dr. Chakara completed his graduate studies at Widener University in Clinical Psychology with emphases in two areas: Neuropsychology & School Psychology. His doctoral dissertation focused on Social Problem Solving skills among brain injured individuals. He completed an APA approved pre-doctoral internship through Widener University's Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology. His focus was in pediatric and adult neuropsychological assessment, and he completed a clinical rotation at Lancaster General Hospital. He completed his post-doctoral fellowship at Hershey Medical Center where he worked with children and adolescents with a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders. In this setting, his responsibilities included neuropsychological evaluations of clients engaged in civil litigation, creating treatment plans and providing consultations for elementary and high school. In addition, he provided cognitive rehabilitation services for patients with various neurological disorders. His postdoctoral experiences also entailed supervision of clinical staff.
To date, Dr. Chakara has coauthored five book chapters, published from 2004 through 2012. Besides clinical work, he currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses related to psychological assessment.
Below is the transcript of the talk of Dr. Richard Teo, who is a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon with a stage-4 lung cancer but selflessly came to share with the D1 class his life experience on 19-Jan-2012. He has just passed away few days ago on 18 October 2012.
Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse, so please bear with me. I thought I'll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I'm a medical doctor. And I thought I'll just share some thoughts of my life. It's my pleasure to be invited by prof. Hopefully, it can get you thinking about how... as you pursue this.. embarking on your training to become dental surgeons, to think about other things as well.
Since young, I am a typical product of today's society. Relatively successful product that society requires.. From young, I came from a below average family. I was told by the media... and people around me that happiness is about success. And that success is about being wealthy. With this mind-set, I've always be extremely competitive, since I was young.
Not only do I need to go to the top school, I need to have success in all fields. Uniform groups, track, everything. I needed to get trophies, needed to be successful, I needed to have colours award, national colours award, everything. So I was highly competitive since young. I went on to medical school, graduated as a doctor. Some of you may know that within the medical faculty, ophthalmology is one of the most highly sought after specialities. So I went after that as well. I was given a traineeship in ophthalmology, I was also given a research scholarship by NUS to develop lasers to treat the eye.
So in the process, I was given 2 patents, one for the medical devices, and another for the lasers. And you know what, all this academic achievements did not bring me any wealth. So once I completed my bond with MOH, I decided that this is taking too long, the training in eye surgery is just taking too long. And there's lots of money to be made in the private sector. If you're aware, in the last few years, there is this rise in aesthetic medicine. Tons of money to be made there. So I decided, well, enough of staying in institution, it's time to leave. So I quit my training halfway and I went on to set up my aesthetic clinic... in town, together with a day surgery centre.
You know the irony is that people do not make heroes out average GP (general practitioner), family physicians. They don't. They make heroes out of people who are rich and famous. People who are not happy to pay $20 to see a GP, the same person have no qualms paying ten thousand dollars for a liposuction, 15 thousand dollars for a breast augmentation, and so on and so forth. So it's a no brainer isn't? Why do you want to be a gp? Become an aesthetic physician. So instead of healing the sick and ill, I decided that I'll become a glorified beautician. So, business was good, very good. It started off with waiting of one week, then became 3weeks, then one month, then 2 months, then 3 months. I was overwhelmed; there were just too many patients. Vanities are fantastic business. I employed one doctor, the second doctor, the 3rd doctor, the 4th doctor. And within the 1st year, we're already raking in millions. Just the 1st year. But never is enough because I was so obsessed with it. I started to expand into Indonesia to get all the rich Indonesian tai-tais who wouldn't blink an eye to have a procedure done. So life was really good.
So what do I do with the spare cash. How do I spend my weekends? Typically, I'll have car club gatherings. I take out my track car, with spare cash I got myself a track car. We have car club gatherings. We'll go up to Sepang in Malaysia. We'll go for car racing. And it was my life. With other spare cash, what do i do? I get myself a Ferrari. At that time, the 458 wasn't out, it's just a spider convertible, 430. This is a friend of mine, a schoolmate who is a forex trader, a banker. So he got a red one, he was wanting all along a red one, I was getting the silver one.
So what do I do after getting a car? It's time to buy a house, to build our own bungalows. So we go around looking for a land to build our own bungalows, we went around hunting. So how do i live my life? Well, we all think we have to mix around with the rich and famous. This is one of the Miss Universe. So we hang around with the beautiful, rich and famous. This by the way is an internet founder. So this is how we spend our lives, with dining and all the restaurants and Michelin Chefs you know.
So I reach a point in life that I got everything for my life. I was at the pinnacle of my career and all. That's me one year ago in the gym and I thought I was like, having everything under control and reaching the pinnacle.
Well, I was wrong. I didn't have everything under control. About last year March, I started to develop backache in the middle of nowhere. I thought maybe it was all the heavy squats I was doing. So I went to SGH, saw my classmate to do an MRI, to make sure it's not a slipped disc or anything. And that evening, he called me up and said that we found bone marrow replacement in your spine. I said, sorry what does that mean? I mean I know what it means, but I couldn't accept that. I was like “Are you serious?” I was still running around going to the gym you know. But we had more scans the next day, PET scans - positrons emission scans, they found that actually I have stage 4 terminal lung cancer. I was like "Whoa where did that come from?” It has already spread to the brain, the spine, the liver and the adrenals. And you know one moment I was there, totally thinking that I have everything under control, thinking that I've reached the pinnacle of my life. But the next moment, I have just lost it.
This is a CT scan of the lungs itself. If you look at it, every single dot there is a tumour. We call this miliaries tumour. And in fact, I have tens of thousands of them in the lungs. So, I was told that even with chemotherapy, that I'll have about 3-4months at most. Did my life come crushing on, of course it did, who wouldn't? I went into depression, of course, severe depression and I thought I had everything.
See the irony is that all these things that I have, the success, the trophies, my cars, my house and all. I thought that brought me happiness. But i was feeling really down, having severe depression. Having all these thoughts of my possessions, they brought me no joy. The thought of... You know, I can hug my Ferrari to sleep, no... No, it is not going to happen. It brought not a single comfort during my last ten months. And I thought they were, but they were not true happiness. But it wasn't. What really brought me joy in the last ten months was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through. That brought joy to me, happiness. None of the things I have, all the possessions, and I thought those were supposed to bring me happiness. But it didn't, because if it did, I would have felt happy think about it, when I was feeling most down..
You know the classical Chinese New Year that is coming up. In the past, what do I do? Well, I will usually drive my flashy car to do my rounds, visit my relatives, to show it off to my friends. And I thought that was joy, you know. I thought that was really joy. But do you really think that my relatives and friends, whom some of them have difficulty trying to make ends meet, that will truly share the joy with me? Seeing me driving my flashy car and showing off to them? No, no way. They won’t be sharing joy with me. They were having problems trying to make ends meet, taking public transport. In fact i think, what I have done is more like you know, making them envious, jealous of all I have. In fact, sometimes even hatred.
Those are what we call objects of envy. I have them, I show them off to them and I feel it can fill my own pride and ego. That didn't bring any joy to these people, to my friends and relatives, and I thought they were real joy.
Well, let me just share another story with you. You know when I was about your age, I stayed in king Edward VII hall. I had this friend whom I thought was strange. Her name is Jennifer, we're still good friends. And as I walk along the path, she would, if she sees a snail, she would actually pick up the snail and put it along the grass patch. I was like why do you need to do that? Why dirty your hands? It’s just a snail. The truth is she could feel for the snail. The thought of being crushed to death is real to her, but to me it's just a snail. If you can't get out of the pathway of humans then you deserve to be crushed, it’s part of evolution isn't it? What an irony isn't it?
There I was being trained as a doctor, to be compassionate, to be able to empathise; but I couldn't. As a house officer, I graduated from medical school, posted to the oncology department at NUH. And, every day, every other day I witness death in the cancer department. When I see how they suffered, I see all the pain they went through. I see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. I see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all. But it was just a job. When I went to clinic every day, to the wards every day, take blood, give the medication but was the patient real to me? They weren't real to me. It was just a job, I do it, I get out of the ward, I can't wait to get home, I do my own stuff.
Was the pain, was the suffering the patients went through real? No. Of course I know all the medical terms to describe how they feel, all the suffering they went through. But in truth, I did not know how they feel, not until I became a patient. It is until now; I truly understand how they feel. And, if you ask me, would I have been a very different doctor if I were to re-live my life now, I can tell you yes I will. Because I truly understand how the patients feel now. And sometimes, you have to learn it the hard way.
Even as you start just your first year, and you embark this journey to become dental surgeons, let me just challenge you on two fronts.
Inevitably, all of you here will start to go into private practice. You will start to accumulate wealth. I can guarantee you. Just doing an implant can bring you thousands of dollars, it's fantastic money. And actually there is nothing wrong with being successful, with being rich or wealthy, absolutely nothing wrong. The only trouble is that a lot of us like myself couldn't handle it.
Why do I say that? Because when I start to accumulate, the more I have, the more I want. The more I wanted, the more obsessed I became. Like what I showed you earlier on, all I can was basically to get more possessions, to reach the pinnacle of what society did to us, of what society wants us to be. I became so obsessed that nothing else really mattered to me. Patients were just a source of income, and I tried to squeeze every single cent out of these patients.
A lot of times we forget, whom we are supposed to be serving. We become so lost that we serve nobody else but just ourselves. That was what happened to me. Whether it is in the medical, the dental fraternity, I can tell you, right now in the private practice, sometimes we just advise patients on treatment that is not indicated. Grey areas. And even though it is not necessary, we kind of advocate it. Even at this point, I know who are my friends and who genuinely cared for me and who are the ones who try to make money out of me by selling me "hope". We kind of lose our moral compass along the way. Because we just want to make money.
Worse, I can tell you, over the last few years, we bad mouth our fellow colleagues, our fellow competitors in the industry. We have no qualms about it. So if we can put them down to give ourselves an advantage, we do it. And that's what happening right now, medical, dental everywhere. My challenge to you is not to lose that moral compass. I learnt it the hard way, I hope you don't ever have to do it.
Secondly, a lot of us will start to get numb to our patients as we start to practise. Whether is it government hospitals, private practice, I can tell you when I was in the hospital, with stacks of patient folders, I can't wait to get rid of those folders as soon as possible; I can't wait to get patients out of my consultation room as soon as possible because there is just so many, and that's a reality. Because it becomes a job, a very routine job. And this is just part of it. Do I truly know how the patient feels back then? No, I don't. The fears and anxiety and all, do I truly understand what they are going through? I don't, not until when this happens to me and I think that is one of the biggest flaws in our system.
We’re being trained to be healthcare providers, professional, and all and yet we don't know how exactly they feel. I'm not asking you to get involved emotionally, I don't think that is professional but do we actually make a real effort to understand their pain and all? Most of us won’t, alright, I can assure you. So don't lose it, my challenge to you is to always be able to put yourself in your patient's shoes.
Because the pain, the anxiety, the fear are very real even though it's not real to you, it's real to them. So don't lose it and you know, right now I'm in the midst of my 5th cycle of my chemotherapy. I can tell you it’s a terrible feeling. Chemotherapy is one of those things that you don't wish even your enemies to go through because it's just suffering, lousy feeling, throwing out, you don't even know if you can retain your meals or not. Terrible feeling! And even with whatever little energy now I have, I try to reach out to other cancer patients because I truly understand what pain and suffering is like. But it's kind of little too late and too little.
You guys have a bright future ahead of you with all the resource and energy, so I’m going to challenge you to go beyond your immediate patients. To understand that there are people out there who are truly in pain, truly in hardship. Don’t get the idea that only poor people suffer. It is not true. A lot of these poor people do not have much in the first place, they are easily contented. for all you know they are happier than you and me but there are out there, people who are suffering mentally, physically, hardship, emotionally, financially and so on and so forth, and they are real. We choose to ignore them or we just don't want to know that they exist.
So do think about it alright, even as you go on to become professionals and dental surgeons and all. That you can reach out to these people who are in need. Whatever you do can make a large difference to them. I'm now at the receiving end so I know how it feels, someone who genuinely care for you, encourage and all. It makes a lot of difference to me. That’s what happens after treatment. I had a treatment recently, but I’ll leave this for another day. A lot of things happened along the way, that's why I am still able to talk to you today.
I'll just end of with this quote here, it's from this book called Tuesdays with Morris, and some of you may have read it. Everyone knows that they are going to die; every one of us knows that. The truth is, none of us believe it because if we did, we will do things differently. When I faced death, when I had to, I stripped myself off all stuff totally and I focused only on what is essential. The irony is that a lot of times, only when we learn how to die then we learn how to live. I know it sounds very morbid for this morning but it's the truth, this is what I’m going through.
Don’t let society tell you how to live. Don’t let the media tell you what you're supposed to do. Those things happened to me. And I led this life thinking that these are going to bring me happiness. I hope that you will think about it and decide for yourself how you want to live your own life. Not according to what other people tell you to do, and you have to decide whether you want to serve yourself, whether you are going to make a difference in somebody else's life. Because true happiness doesn't come from serving yourself. I thought it was but it didn't turn out that way.
Also most importantly, I think true joy comes from knowing God. Not knowing about God – I mean, you can read the bible and know about God – but knowing God personally; getting a relationship with God. I think that’s the most important. That’s what I’ve learnt.
So if I were to sum it up, I’d say that the earlier we sort out the priorities in our lives, the better it is. Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way. I had to come back to God to thank Him for this opportunity because I’ve had 3 major accidents in my past – car accidents. You know, these sports car accidents – I was always speeding , but somehow I always came out alive, even with the car almost being overturned. And I wouldn’t have had a chance. Who knows, I don’t know where else I’d be going to! Even though I was baptised it was just a show, but the fact that this has happened, it gave me a chance to come back to God.
Few things I’d learnt though:
1. Trust in the Lord your God with all your heart – this is so important.
2. Is to love and serve others, not just ourselves.
There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy. I think it’s absolutely alright, cos God has blessed. So many people are blessed with good wealth, but the trouble is I think a lot of us can’t handle it. The more we have, the more we want. I’ve gone through it, the deeper the hole we dig, the more we get sucked into it, so much so that we worship wealth and lose focus. Instead of worshipping God, we worship wealth. It’s just a human instinct. It’s just so difficult to get out of it.
We are all professionals, and when we go into private practise, we start to build up our wealth – inevitably. So my thought are, when you start to build up wealth and when the opportunity comes, do remember that all these things don’t belong to us. We don’t really own it nor have rights to this wealth. It’s actually God’s gift to us. Remember that it’s more important to further His Kingdom rather than to further ourselves.
Anyway I think that I’ve gone through it, and I know that wealth without God is empty. It is more important that you fill up the wealth, as you build it up subsequently, as professionals and all, you need to fill it up with the wealth of God.
Mahanyele has come into her own in a male-dominated industry. She graduated from De Montfort University in England with an MBA and holds a BA in economics from Rutgers University, USA. After completing a Harvard leadership course, she joined investment firm Fieldstone in New York at a junior level, but left as one of its Vice-Presidents. She then returned to SA to join the then Development Bank.
With such an impressive profile, Mahanyele was head-hunted by business mogul Cyril Ramaphosa to become the MD of the Shanduka Group in 2004. The organisation owns the controlling stake in McDonalds SA and is also in partnership with Coca-Cola. After serving as the group’s MD for a number of years, Mahanyele was appointed its CEO.
When she’s not in the office, she works as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader on initiatives such as Dignity Day (celebrated in October) and also mentors young people. Her passion for the investment industry has made her one of the most respected figures in the corporate world.
The married mother of four who owns a £64M (N16,049,664,000) flat in One Hyde Park, London, started her career in the mid 1970s as a secretary at the now-defunct International Merchant Bank of Nigeria, one of the West African nation’s earliest investment banks. In the 1980s, after studying fashion design in England, she founded Supreme Stitches, a Nigerian fashion label that catered to upscale clientele and six years later, she emerged the best designer in the country in 1986.
Alakija struck gold in 1993 when then Nigerian President, Ibrahim Babangida awarded her company, Famfa Oil, an oil prospecting license which went on to become OML 127, one of Nigeria’s most prolific oil blocks that reportedly rakes in N157 million a day. But it wasn’t all a rosy affair as she’d a running battle with the Nigerian government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which unconstitutionally acquired a 50% interest in the block without duly compensating Alakija or her company. Famfa Oil went to court to challenge the acquisition, and in May this year, the Nigerian Supreme Court reinstated the 50% stake to Famfa Oil.
Alakija through her charity, the Rose of Sharon Foundation, supports widows throughout Nigeria.
HOW SHE HAS COPED WITH MARRIAGE AND AFFLUENCE
Mrs. Alakija stated that she and her husband have learned to share responsibilities throughout their marriage.
“Money has nothing to do with love. Love comes from within. Money is something you acquire along the line. Only love keeps people together. From the time that we started courting, it has been like that, and we thank God that to His glory, we’ve known one another for 40 years. I pray also that God continues to unite us. I believe that if love is the foundation of a union, God will prove Himself faithful.
Every married person has a duty to ensure that they make their marriage work because nobody dragged them into it. Even looking after the children in that marriage calls for both parents to impact into them the skills, love, knowledge and talent required to enable them live fulfilled lives. When we shirk our responsibilities, we’re being careless.”