Meet the founder and Managing Director of one of Botswana’s biggest and most profitable private companies, Pula Holdings’ Kagiso Mmusi.
How do you build up a wildly successful group of businesses, starting from nothing? How do you manage and motivate nearly 300 staff in seven different companies and industries? How do you grow so many different enterprises at the same time? Kagiso Mmusi has answers that could change your outlook on life, entrepreneurship and success.
WHAT WERE THE EARLY DAYS LIKE?
KM: My working life started when I was 19, and it started at the bottom. I was lucky enough to get a job with the Motor Centre Group, where I spent three years. I gave it everything I had, every day. I volunteered a lot. I did a lot of extra hours and took on extra responsibilities. When the opportunity came up to buy Western Filling Station (it was a lot smaller then), I didn’t have any of the collateral that the banks wanted. But, what I did have was my reputation in the community as an honest, hard worker. I was the collateral. So when I was lucky enough to get the loan that would transform my life forever, I know it had a lot to do with the fact that I had made such an effort to invest in my reputation from the beginning.
A LOT OF YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS IN BOTSWANA DON’T GROW TO THEIR FULL POTENTIAL. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS?
KM: I think the Government of Botswana has done an admirable job of creating a framework of entrepreneurial support and development agencies that give citizens the chance to create wealth. But I also think that the best teachers in life are need and experience. Sometimes, if you protect people too much, you discourage them from making mistakes and from exposing themselves to the real world of business. Without mistakes, you can’t learn, and you can’t move forward as an entrepreneur. None of these organisations existed when I first started to run my own business.
I also think that a lot of young people see business as an instant way to make money, which costs them in the end. To be really, really financially successful in the long term, it’s not about making a profit. It’s about making a difference. It’s about adding value. And it also comes from the bottom of your heart. When you have these ingredients, the cash rolls in as a side-effect.
WHAT WAS IT THAT ALLOWED YOU TO BUILD SUCH A DIVERSE GROUP OF BUSINESSES?
KM: None of this would have been possible had I not been willing to manage our growth carefully, patiently and in a hands-on way. For example, when I was in my twenties, I secured another loan to buy my first truck. Having won a contract to transport goods to xx, I drove it all the way there myself. It wasn’t easy, but I wanted to make sure nothing went wrong. In your early stages in business, you can’t shy away from doing the hard work yourself. It gives you a unique perspective on the value of hard work, and of course makes you appreciate your success more once things get better.
Pula Holdings has a successful track record in transport, logistics, distribution, equipment supplies, advertising, information and communications technology, education, real estate development and energy. We’ve done well in these industries because we’ve kept learning. Before we enter a new line of business, we spend a lot of time exploring possibilities, doing research and, of course, weighing up the risks and opportunities very carefully. We never make a decision blindly, and we always make sure we’re armed with the best information. I think local entrepreneurs could spend more time in the research phase. If the figures don’t add up, you need to think objectively and move on.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE MODERN MANAGEMENT METHODS TO GROWING A BUSINESS IN BOTSWANA IN 2009?
KM: I’ve always stuck to conventional industries, but sought to manage them in a contemporary way. The more we leverage our hard work and our knowledge, the more I see Pula Holdings growing in the future. Our new energy business, on which I’ve been focusing over the last year, is a good example of this. We want to make things better for the end user, so we’ve been tireless in our approach to streamlining the business, making sure we have control over the whole supply chain and being able to guarantee quality at every stage. You have to have a 21st century mindset to make this happen.
This is where I find the most gratification in my work: I see success as being able to overcome challenges and deliver outstanding quality on everything the Pula Holdings brand touches. That’s what gets us up in the morning and sees us through the long days.
YOU’VE GONE FROM A ONE-MAN SHOW TO A CORPORATION EMPLOYING NEARLY 300 PEOPLE. WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU LOOK FOR IN THE PEOPLE YOU HIRE?
KM: You have to bring in people who share your vision for the success of your business. I’m extremely proud of the Pula Holdings team – at every level. Our Executive Committee is my rock: I’m counseled daily by their expert advice and their dedication, energy, innovative approaches – and seemingly endless ability make business fun – have grown the company by leaps and bounds. I’m also proud to add that at this high level, Pula Holdings only employs two non-citizens. It means a lot to me personally that after 22 years of hard work, I can provide meaningful employment and opportunities for nearly 300 people. I’m also happy to know that if anything did happen to me, the business is in the hands of true visionaries who can take Pula Holdings forward and continue to employ and empower Batswana in the years ahead. It’s a legacy. Life is good.
YOU’RE SOMEONE WHO’S HAD TO OVERCOME A LOT OF OBSTACLES TO GET TO WHERE HE IS TODAY. HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
When you start out small, it gives you a lot of perspective I think. One of the greatest gifts that Pula Holdings has given me is a can-do attitude. It could be that people look at me and see only the successes, but I’ve been knocked down so many times along the way. Little defeats can almost be a daily occurrence, can’t they, but what matters is your ability to get up, out of your comfort zone and get better. If you’re not big enough to lose, you’re definitely not big enough to win. So I think that’s been a major part of my success as an entrepreneur.
Another important ingredient is having pride in the contribution your company makes, and being able to derive genuine pride and enjoyment from it. Every day at Pula Holdings, the business is so diverse that something different is always happening, and there are always new obstacles to be overcome. As we’ve grown, so have the challenges, and we lock the doors at night knowing that that tomorrow will bring fresh opportunities to add value and improve. That’s how I like to define my success as a person, our success as a company.
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