How I Navigated African Business Terrain - THE YCEO

Header Ads

How I Navigated African Business Terrain



Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Chairman, Econet Global, Zimbabwe


He has gained international recognition for his business expertise and philanthropy, and is considered one of Africa's most generous humanitarians. Masiyiwa has provided scholarships to over 250,000 young Africans over the past 20 years through his family foundation. He supports more than 40,000 orphans with educational initiatives and sponsors students at universities in America, The United Kingdom, and China.Over the last few years, Masiyiwa has devoted his time to mentoring the next generation of African entrepreneurs on Facebook.Facebook has identified his platform as having the most engaged following of any business leader in the world.


Strive Masiyiwa was born in Zimbabwe on 29 January 1961. He attended primary school in Zambia before completing his secondary education in Scotland. When he was seven, his family fled the country after Ian Smith's government declared independence from Britain.The family settled in Kitwe, a city in north central Zambia known for its copper mines. Masiyiwa's mother was an entrepreneur. 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. When he graduated in 1978, he travelled back to Zimbabwe, intending to join the anti-government guerrilla forces there. However, he returned to school in Britain, and earned a degree in Electrical Engineering from 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 returned to his native Zimbabwe in 1984 after a 17-year absence. After working briefly as a telecoms engineer for the state-owned telephone company, he quit his job and set up his own company with the equivalent of US$75. In five years, he had emerged as one of the country's leading industrialists, having built a large electrical engineering business. The emergence of mobile cellular telephony led him to diversify into telecoms, but he soon ran into major problems when the Zimbabwean government of Robert Mugabe refused to give him a license to operate his business, known as Econet Wireless.


Masiyiwa appealed to the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe, on the basis that the refusal constituted a violation of "freedom of expression". The Zimbabwean court, then one of the most respected on the continent, ruled in his favour after a five-year legal battle, which took him to the brink of bankruptcy. The ruling, which led to the removal of the state monopoly in telecommunications, is regarded as one of the key milestones in opening the African telecommunications sector to private capital. The company's first cellphone subscriber was connected to the new network in 1998.


Masiyiwa listed Econet Wireless Zimbabwe in July 1998 on the local stock exchange as a gesture of thanks to reward the thousands of ordinary people who supported him during his long legal battles against the Zimbabwean government.Today, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has gone on to become a major business that dominates the Zimbabwe economy. It is currently the second-largest company in Zimbabwe by market capitalisation.


In March 2000, fleeing persecution from the local authorities, Masiyiwa left Zimbabwe, never to return to the country, and moved first to South Africa, where he founded The Econet Wireless Group, a new and completely separate organisation to the listed Zimbabwean entity.


His main interest remained in telecoms. Some of the key businesses that he established with partners included Econet Wireless International, Econet Wireless Global, Mascom Wireless Botswana, Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel Nigeria), Econet Satellite Services, Lesotho Telecom, Econet Wireless Burundi, Rwanda Telecom, Econet Wireless South Africa, Solarway, and Transaction Processing Systems (TPS). He also has interests in mobile operations in New Zealand, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic. The company he created is known to have operations and investments, in more than 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, US, Latin America, and New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, and China.


After more than ten years in South Africa, Masiyiwa moved to London; however, he still retains significant business interests in South Africa. 


Econet Global (Econet) is a privately held telecommunications, technology and renewable energy company with business operations and investments in more than 20 countries in Africa, Latin America, The United Kingdom, Europe, China, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and New Zealand. The only listed entity is its Zimbabwean subsidiary. The Zimbabwean business is often mistaken as the holding company, because it is listed.


Strive Masiyiwa owns over 50% of publicly traded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe.


Masiyiwa also has interests in the United States of America (USA). He has partnered with one of America's leading telecoms entrepreneurs, John Stanton, in a venture called Trilogy International Partners, which built New Zealand's third mobile network operator known as "2 Degrees". Masiyiwa's investment in Seattle based Trilogy International, have also helped him secure interests as an investor in Viva's Bolivia and Dominican Republic businesses. Masiyiwa also has a controlling interest in a company based in Vermont USA, that manufacturers nano fibre carbon products, called Seldon Technologies.


One of Masiyiwa's most successful ventures is the London-based privately held Liquid Telecom Group, Africa's largest satellite and fibre optic business spanning over 14 countries.


Other activities of Econet include enterprise networks, financial services and renewable energy.


Key Lessons For Entrepreneurs


1. Avoid taking dividends early on if you are building for the long term. Strive doesn't take more than 25% equity in businesses he invests in. He also doesn't pay himself dividends for the first four straight years, no matter how profitable the business is. Every entrepreneur should develop the discipline of having salary. That means you avoid taking dividend from your company for the first four years.


2. Separate business from relationships. If you are dreaming of building a business that grows very big, it is important to allow the business get a life of it's own different from you and your influence.


3. Have faith in God. As a devout christian, Masiyiwa's values are of great importance to him. Instead of cutting corners and getting involved in corrupt practices, Masiyiwa prefers to wait it out in an audacity of faith. While struggling to establish Econet in both Zimbabwe and Nigeria, Masiyiwa was opposed to paying bribes to government officials and instead pursue his cases through the courts, which he eventually always won.


4. Start with what you have from where you are. Strive started his first business with $75.


5. Know your numbers. Strive knows his numbers hence he was able to raise money for his businesses. Raising money is the most important skill for an entrepreneur.


6. Give back. What you give comes back to you tenfold. Masiyiwa is a big philanthropist.

No comments

Powered by Blogger.