Strive Masiyiwa: National Daily Newspaper Africa Business Person of the year
Strive Masiyiwa: Our Africa Business Person of the year
THERE not many in Africa have through words and deeds succeeded in creating in young Africans, a new mindset that is not held down by the typical stereotype of Africa. In fact, very few successful Africans make effort to be the kind of role model the younger generation would aspire to. Unfortunately, this might be as a result of
the dearth of truly ‘self made’ men and women who could beat their chest and say that, ”yes, I am where I am today by dint of hard work and sincerity of purpose” instead of the usual knowing someone who knows someone.
But a thorough search shows that, inspite of the negativity pervading many African stories, there are some, worth telling, and re-telling, and amazingly, thousands of young Africans are getting inspired by such stories, stories that capture perseverance, sacrifice and big dreams in a continent where the environment alone is a disincentive to dream big. Stories they can relate to, because most of it happened in this age and time. No other story is today getting thousands of young Africans on their feet, fired up to take greater challenges than a man whose name captures what all his life have been; that of striving to make a change wherever he finds himself. That man is Strive Masiyiwa, founder, Econet Wireless Group. A businessman who is championing a new brand but unpopular business around the world, a philanthropist of note, an uplifter, a motivator, and above all a promoter of faith based business ideals. And he has been doing a great deal telling it across the continent. As at the last count, his followership on the social network sites is among the largest in the world, especially for someone who is not an artiste, a sports star or works in the entertainment industry.
Recently, Mr Masiyiwa challenged Africans on the need “to Build Our Own Enterprises, For The Global Game”. In that short article, Mr Masiyiwa notes that ‘Every year I get approaches from big international companies who want to buy the whole of Econet from me. Some of these offers are usually very generous in their valuations. From a business principle, there is nothing wrong with such approaches. It happens all the time around the world. But according to Mr Masiyiwa, there is only one reason he would never sell. And that is because Africa do not have enough high profile multinationals built by Africans, to which young Africans can look to and say to themselves, “yes we can.. we Africans are able to build enterprises which can operate in the global environment!” The importance of this as Africa marches towards its quest to overcome poverty and ignorance, and take a stake in the global affairs, cannot be over emphasized.
Masiyiwa in his usual detailed style of telling the story of why Africa must rise up and be counted by establishing world class trademarks recently asked “Can you imagine Japan without its own Toyotas, or America without Coca Cola? What makes you think Africans do not also want to look up and see large African enterprises? Companies like Econet are there as a beacon to a new generation of African enterprise builders who have dreams to build global companies that will also create wealth for their continent”.
In making this great impact though, Mr Masiyiwa strongly believes there is the need to chart the course ethically without allowing the negative greed prevailing and propelling businesses across the world today to have a bad influence on Africa. In a recent article titled ”We Can Prosper By a Different Set of Rules”, he highlightd how a business associate of his called one day very excited that his close relative had just been elected President of their country. According to Masiyiwa, ” as I listened to this London based professional banker, I realised a familiar story:He was already lining up “deals” …back home, for himself.Sadly this is what having a relative or friend in office or even as a clans man in office means to a lot of people on this beautiful continent of ours, Africa”.
This he notes is the major problem Africa is facing because ”many believe that it is not possible to build successful business in Africa, unless you have powerful political “connections” or are prepared to share with those who award contracts and tenders. This belief is still so prevalent, that many who do it and “appear” to prosper by it do not even realise it is wrong.”
To unlock the full potential of Africa, he says, we have to change the way many people think business should be done. ”On becoming a Christian in 1994, this is something that really bothered me, so I began to pray and fast about it. As The Lord ministered to my heart, I determined that with faith in God, it is possible to prosper by a different set of rules.” According to him, we can build and operate successful businesses in Africa without having to rely on political power and influence. The starting point is to first believe that it is possible, and to commit ourselves to follow this path no matter how difficult it may be.
God is faithful, he always says to whosoever care to listen, and if you trust Him He will give you extraordinary wisdom and insight to overcome the most impossible situations that arise. Mr Masiyiwa has been propagating this ‘unpopular’ business model across the world and strongly hopes it will be the game changer in the world of business. He believes that Africans should not lose hope and they should be positive about the continent and project the continent in good light.
In his ‘Game Changer’ series which has become a great hit among his followers on Facebook in recent times, he tells of how seeing challenges differently can be all that is required to unlock our potentials. He told a very interesting but amusing story of how their partners in Nigeria wanted Econet Wireless as the technical partner to find a top CEO from Europe. ”So I asked a Head Hunter to advertise the position in Europe and because of the salary we were prepared to pay, we got applicants from the top operators in Europe. I asked that the top applicants come to Nigeria for interviews”.
During the interview, Mr Masiyiwa asked one of the top applicants who ran a network in Norway and has never been to Nigeria before about his distribution strategy, and the prospective candidate told him that the “problem here is there are no high street shops like in Europe. I need access to large supermarkets, like in Europe.” To which Mr Masiyiwa replied that Nigeria had the largest supermarkets in the world. “Where are they he asked? I have been walking all over, and I have not seen any; can you show me?” To this, Mr Masiyiwa invited him to the window, of the 10th floor building, where the interview was taking place and pointed out to him.”There…See! The largest supermarket, in the world!”. As he strained to see what was being pointed out, he was shown a street in Lagos full of lively vendors selling everything one could imagine. From a young man slaying a goat, to every other thing, that makes a supermarket, what has the roof got to do with it, he asked the candidate?”
Mr Masiyiwa concluded by noting that he hired an African CEO, and within weeks, Nigeria, saw its first cell phone, airtime vendors…with BUDDIE PREPAID…The rest is history, as they say. “The business we launched and to which we remain proud shareholders, now has nearly 25 million customers.” And it is interesting to note that the same market the Norwegian could not see is today the fastest growing telephone market in the world with over 110 million subscribers as at end of 2012.
Strive Masiyiwa is what Africa needs presently, a mind that can think, confident and can take good risk. But above all, a personality that is not only trustworthy but is also trusting. He is the face of the new Africa the world has come to recognize, and that is why the world is taking Africa serious. Apart from being founder and chairman, of global telecommunications group, Econet Wireless. He currently serves on a number of international boards including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations(CFR), the Africa Progress Panel, AGRA, the UN Sec General’s Advisory Boards for Sustainable Energy, and for Education. He is a juror of the Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Prize. He is also one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson of the global think tank, known as the Carbon War Room. In 2012, when President Obama, hosted the G-8 Summit at Camp David, an invitation was extended to Mr Masiyiwa to address the G-8 leaders on how to increase food production, and end hunger in parts of Africa.
His life story
Born in 1961 in Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia but fled with his family when he was seven years of age to neighbouring Zambia as Ian Smith’s embattled government began to crumble. The family settled in Kitwe, a city in north central Zambia known for its copper mines. Masiyiwa’s mother was an entrepreneur with interests in retail sales, small-scale farming, and transportation. His father worked at first in one of the nearby mines but later joined the family business. By the time Masiyiwa was 12 years old; his parents could afford to provide him with a coveted European education. They sent him to private school in Edinburgh, Scotland. He graduated in 1978. After graduation, he traveled back to Zimbabwe, intending to join the anti-government guerilla forces there. But one of the senior officers told him “Look, we’re about to win anyway, and what we really need is people like you to help rebuild the country” Masiyiwa took the man’s advice and returned to school in Britain, earning a degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Wales in 1983. He worked briefly in the computer industry in Cambridge, England, but soon returned to Zimbabwe in 1984, hoping to aid the country’s recovery after the war of independence it had won in 1980.
Masiyiwa joined the Zimbabwe Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (ZPTC), the state-owned telephone company, as a senior engineer. ZPTC quickly promoted him to the position of principal engineer. Masiyiwa became frustrated with the government bureaucracy, however, and left ZPTC in 1988 to start an electrical contracting firm named Retrofit Engineering. He was chosen as Zimbabwe’s youngest-ever Businessman of the Year in 1990.
The Econet Story
Aware of the great potential for wireless telephones in sub-Saharan Africa because the region had only two fixed-line telephones for every hundred people in the 1990s, Mr Masiyiwa saw that wireless networks would be quicker and less expensive to build than land-based networks that required stringing miles of telephone lines across rough terrain. Wireless telephone service would also be less vulnerable than traditional landlines to the theft of copper wire for resale. Masiyiwa first approached ZPTC about forming a mobile telephone network in Zimbabwe. The company wasn’t interested, however, saying that cell phones had no future in the country.
Masiyiwa then decided to create a cell phone network on his own. He sold Retrofit Engineering in 1994 and started to finance Econet Wireless through his family company, TS Masiyiwa Holdings (TSMH). He met with fierce opposition, first from ZPTC, which told him it held a monopoly in telecommunications, and second from the Zimbabwean government, which swamped him with red tape and demands for bribes. As a devout Christian, Masiyiwa was opposed to paying bribes and kickbacks to government officials. He decided to pursue his case through the courts. After a landmark four-year legal battle that went all the way to the nation’s Supreme Court, Econet finally won a license to provide cell phone service in Zimbabwe. The court declared that the government monopoly on telecommunications had violated the constitution’s guarantee of free speech. Econet’s first cell phone subscriber was connected to the new network in 1998.
While Masiyiwa waited to gain the government’s approval for operations in Zimbabwe, he was able to start a cell phone network in neighboring Botswana. Econet Wireless Holdings then established a presence in over 15 countries, including other African nations, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The company also diversified into satellite communications, fixed-line telephone services, and Internet service. In 2000, he relocated the Econet headquarters to the Republic of South Africa because according to him South Africa was the best place from which to launch a multinational corporation because it had the continent’s most vibrant economy.
A dodged fighter
Masiyiwa was said to have antagonized the Zimbabwe government when TSMH bailed out the financially strapped opposition newspaper, the Daily News. Masiyiwa eventually became a major shareholder in the newspaper’s parent company, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, as well as the company’s chairman. The government responded by shutting down the newspaper in the fall of 2003. The paper continued to publish sporadically, though, through early 2004, and maintained an online version from South Africa. Masiyiwa sued for permission to restart the presses in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government countered by starting criminal proceedings against four Daily News directors in June 2004 on charges of illegally publishing the paper without a license. Government officials also threatened to revoke Econet’s license to operate in Zimbabwe at that time.
Also the board of directors of Econet Wireless Nigeria (EWN), a company in which Masiyiwa held a stake, ousted him in a boardroom coup in 2003 .The board turned instead to Vodacom, a large South African telecommunications firm, which agreed to provide capital in return for management rights, a deal which later turned sour. Masiyiwa went to court to challenge the take over and the most recent ruling on that issue is in his favour.
A Big Dreamer with a large heart
Today, Econet Wireless is a diversified telecommunications group with operations and investments in Africa, Europe, South America and the East Asia Pacific Rim, offering products and services in the core areas of mobile and fixed telephony services, internet and satellite. The company’s activities include mobile cellular telephony, fixed networks, enterprise networks, fibre optic cables, and satellite services. It also provides payment solutions to banks across Africa. Also, through Econet’s subsidiaries, the Group funds one of the largest orphan care programs in Africa, run by Capernaum Trust. Established in 1999, initially as the social investment arm of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the Trust is currently responsible for over 40,000 orphans. Beyond telecoms, Strive Masiyiwa’s business activities include operations and investments in some of Africa’s leading businesses in financial services, insurance, renewable energy, bottling for Coca-Cola, hotel and safari lodges. The Econet Group is also exploring several opportunities in targeted African other international emerging markets.
Masiyiwa was a member of the coordinating committee which set up the Social Dimensions Fund (SDF), an initiative to alleviate the impact of poverty arising during the implementation of economic reforms in Zimbabwe. He was also a founding member of the African Latin American Institute at Punta Del Este in Uruguay in 1994. The institute promotes cultural, educational and business linkages between Southern Africa and the Mercusior region of Latin America.
Masiyiwa has served on numerous boards and trusts both in Zimbabwe and internationally. In 1995, Masiyiwa was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the board of the Southern African Enterprise Development Fund (SAEDF) which is chaired by Ambassador Andrew Young. He is also a member of Thebe Investment Corporation of South Africa, an empowerment company that was set up by the Mbabatho Trust of the ANC.
In 1990, Masiyiwa was the youngest ever recipient of Zimbabwe’s coveted Businessman of the Year Award; in 1998 he was named his country’s Manager of the Year as well as Entrepreneur of the Year. He was named by Junior Chamber International (JCI) as one of the “Ten Most Outstanding Young Persons of the World” for 1999. In 2002 he was named to Time Magazine’s Global Business Influentials List.
Masiyiwa is also a member of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), a group of ten distinguished individuals who advocate at the highest levels for equitable and sustainable development in Africa. Every year, the Panel releases a report, the Africa Progress Report that outlines an issue of immediate importance to the continent and suggests a set of associated policies. In 2012, the Africa Progress Report highlighted issues of Jobs, Justice, and Equity. The 2013 report will outline issues relating to oil, gas, and mining in Africa..
Masiyiwa became a role model for other young African entrepreneurs through his vision and persistence. He won numerous national and international honors, including a place on Time magazine’s list of the world’s most promising young executives in 2002. Masiyiwa attributed his success in part to the ethical integrity he developed through the devotional practice of reading the Bible for an hour every morning. He served on the boards of such international development agencies as the Southern African Enterprise Development Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation. He and his wife Tsitsi also founded and funded a charitable trust that had provided scholarships for more than five thousand AIDS orphans as of 2003. This and many more is why Mr Strive Masiyiwa is our Africa Business Person of the Year.
Source: National Daily
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 15:39