It is does not stem from my parents to become a businessman. Let me clarify, not from my parents, but grandparents, yes. My dad’s father opened a shop in Miele washing machines around 1935 and my mom’s father had several businesses as coal retailer, hotel-café-restaurant owner. Both failed, went broke…, also due to the economic crisis in the 30-ies and the second world war. Those experiences made my parents scary about thriving a business themselves and their advice to me was to look for a good job, preferably for the government.
I had those good jobs, I also became an independent consultant, and combined that with several interim management roles. I ended up as the CEO of an NGO with 300 academic consultants of handicapped people. We raised the budget of that organizations in 3 years from 22 to 30 million USD. How? By practising with my management staff what I advised to the many different clients I had over 30 years as a business consultant. And from what I learned for free as program director of a private business school in The Netherlands by attending the classes of the professors I hired for the business administration courses. Does this all also apply in my new home country Zimbabwe?
Yes, but…. the business development in Zimbabwe, southern Africa, that is a somewhat different story. I agree, it is not the best economic climate to be in business. The current president’s adagio is ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ and to be honest: there are numerous chances to open and to thrive a business. Almost everywhere you look, the opportunities push themselves forward. And people are eager to do business and like to be advised how to start and how-to growth their business. That must be done in a current economy that is mainly thriving on informal business. Almost every Zimbabwean is a small-scale trader and tries to earn something extra by selling to neighbours or as a street vendor. This also influences the civil services and the formal businesses. There is often via a complex network of connections of relatives a way through the backdoor to get your stuff for the best price in an informal, private setting. And the reciprocate is always expected. Three different experiences.
My start in developing my first business three years ago in Zimbabwe was not coincidentally, no in contrary, it was very purposefully. The underlying issue was a classical market casus: a shortage of expertise and a demand for professionals in Europe and available resources and underemployment in Zimbabwe. Closing this gap with recruitment and mediation was the answer. The reaching out for the resources, the academic talents who were interested, was all virtually done. The development of the company as a professional network originates from what is called growth -hacking. The current connection to some thousand professionals guarantees that every demand can profitably be fulfilled.
Other businesses arise from meeting the right – or supposed right – people wherever. And taking time for a careful development of the personal relation, not directly business related. And when it comes to business also by proving that ‘I do what I tell’ and ‘I can support you in making your dreams come truth’. Zimbabwe is a country of hopeful promises, businesspeople also offer each other likely a positive perspective. In practice there is always a valid reason or explanation why those promises cannot be kept, and why the outcome must be different. Be happy with what results.
The very first question I learned in the ‘western’ formal business ‘do you have a budget?’, is quite different in this informal economy: ‘can we find or create money together to earn both from what we start and while we do?’ There is a massive shortage of foreign currency and cash in the banks and government to invest in people, infrastructure, and education. That makes business development more than a challenge. Creating something profitable from almost nothing is okay for street vendors but works hardly in the international context of my businesses. The main answer is checking data, networking on the right level, making no upfront costs, and only performance-based rewarding.
This business development with own partners and support on it for other entrepreneurs must bring:
- More and better paid jobs, better living circumstances, happier families, higher welfare.
- Contribution to the social-economic development of the country.
- International promotion of Zimbabwe as a country with business opportunities.
- A reduction of the brain-drain of academic and business talents to the Diaspora and the development of their own entrepreneurship.
- Support on management and leadership development for more effective companies.
- Operational help for small-scale entrepreneurs to make their businesses more profitable.