Wavah is one of those rare people who can say is a successful businessman, a diplomat, a philanthropist, a civil society activist and a happily married family man and mean it. At age 64, he has lived a life many people just dream of.
Wavah has built a vast business empire in many fields including – transport, manufacturing, tourism, insurance, publishing, electronic media, property development and motor vehicle distribution. Unlike some others, Wavah is a true African entrepreneur, he rose from zero in Ruggaga – one of the least developed villages in Uganda – and worked his way to riches. At only 25 years, Wavah had already established himself as prominent businessman in Uganda and at 29, he managed to negotiate and close a Mercedes- Benz franchise deal with the Germans, in Munich. Like all other successful people, Wavah knew the right people at an early age, something that helped in his success.
In this series of outstanding personalities in Uganda, SB Magazine brings you an exclusive interview with Wavah – a man who has made it against all odds, and wrote a book about it.
INTERVIEW WITH GORDON B.K.WAVAMUNNO
Summit Business Magazine (SB): Please tell us, what does it take to be an entrepreneur?
Wavah: Entrepreneurship is not just about having money to start an organization or business. Entrepreneurship is about many more things if one has to make it work.
You can say it is the practice of starting a new organization or revitalizing an already existing organization. Entrepreneurship is often a difficult undertaking, as a vast majority of new businesses fail. It takes integrity, hard work, self respect and determination. It involves thinking big and doing something about it. Successful entrepreneurs NEVER give up, whatever the setbacks.
SB: Some people run private businesses, while working as full time employees elsewhere. Are those people entrepreneurs?
Wavah: Those people are not entrepreneurs and cannot go far. Their practices defy core qualities that define winning entrepreneurs, which include:
Commitment. This is the key to success. You’ve to commit all your efforts, thoughts, skills etc to your business. Running a private business, while employed elsewhere is not entrepreneurship, it’s unethical and I dislike working with such people, unless they disclose their interests right away. Nevertheless, they may end up losing both.
Patience and persistent. There are few entrepreneurs because only a few people can make a plan and patiently stick to it, whatever the circumstances. Most would- be entrepreneurs give up on the slightest of obstacles. In my business life, I have been to prison, survived armed thugs, my factories burnt down, Spear Motors Ltd was looted several times etc…. but I never looked back. People who fear to leave their full time jobs for businesses are not self aware of their capabilities and easily give up early.
Attitude. To succeed you must have a positive mental attitude. Always look at yourself in the positives- i.e. see opportunities where others see obstacles. Don’t dwell on disappointments, forgive and forget and focus on thinking big and working towards the dream. People who do side business while employed elsewhere have a wrong mental attitude.
Desire. The desire for personal fulfillment and professional success is core. You must step of the employee-monthly-salary certainty, and put your own ideas and beliefs into action.
SB: Most people start their own businesses, only to close shop within the first two to four years of trading. Please tell us how you’ve managed to succeed as an entrepreneur?
Wavah: many people fail in business because they want to do all the work for themselves or give responsibility to their relatives without first training them. That is bad. Identify good people, give them authority and do not interfere in their work. I am privileged to have worked with the Germans in my early career, and I have learnt a good deal from them.
Your business is a good as the people in it, one has to have the ability to recognize elements of younger self in each of the candidates who join you. You have to know whether they have the ability to think like winners, whether they have the stamina to succeed, are they willing to take charge rather than be back benchers. Do they enjoy what they do at work and at the same time balance it with their leisure time. Do they have a proactive vision for the future?
SB: Our readers would need to know more about the lessons you’ve learnt from the Germans, as you’ve just mentioned, and how they’ve shaped you as a successful entrepreneur?
Wavah: I have learnt a lot of things not only from the Germans but from all my business partners, my wife – Morine, children, colleagues, even I am learning a thing or two from you. I just keep my ears and eyes open. Good advice can come from any source, and most of the good ideas come in casual interactions, and are free. I owe my entrepreneurship acumen to my father, who exposed me to trading early in my life. That said entrepreneurship is mainly about taking action, working hard, thinking big, and having stamina for success. Now, let me explain each briefly…
Entrepreneurship is about taking action. If you are thinking about setting up your own business, choose something that you love and have experience in. plan it out. Find out what you know, and ask others the things that you do not. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Because it’s from mistakes that most people learn. Be hold. Set a target date and a series of goals. You have to develop a policy whereby you do not just have to think about it, do it. There are no free lunches out there. You can only achieve your ambition by giving it a try. I always insist on implementation of all agreed action points.
Capability for hard work. There are those who work hard and those who think they work hard. There are those who work very very hard for a long time, but do not recognize the progress they have made, only to quit just before the winning post.
SB: let me intercept you here….. how can one tell whether a person has the capability for working hard?
Wavah: you can tell… you just have to do your own position audit. Evaluate whether: you have got the power to stay when times are hard? When you reflect over your life up to now, has success in what you have achieved so far come easily to you – at school, home or in your social life? When has your endurances been tested, and how did you react? If you are faced with diversity, do you avoid the problem or delay it or even worse do you lose your cool or disturb others? Can you keep focused when everything seems staked against you?
It is good to put your priority right at the start. If you are the sort of person who thinks a hard day starts at 11:00am with a cup of tea and finishes at 3:00pm. With a long lunch, then (depending on whom you had lunch with) you are unlikely to make it as a successful entrepreneur. You are probably either employed by someone else or have a large private income. Investors are unlikely to invest in pipe-dreams these days.
People who have a chance of success in business are those who know what it is like to have their backs against the wall and still come out on top with their integrity intact. These are people with competitive spirit, to whom winning against all odds – is everything they listen to, dream about and plan with care. Such people are not afraid to ask questions, they are harassed in their determination and have no fears about changing with the system. These people are the type who have their hands on, they get to know what is going at the ground level, then chip their way up the ladder, shrewdly, steadily taking one step at a time. They are the ones with determination and are prepared to solve a problem rather than give up.
One thing that has to be realized, there is no such thing as luck in business. It is hard graft and keeping your antennae turned changes in the market place.
SB: That was quite a lesson… any advice to my friend on Kampala Road who is about to close shop due to lack of funds to pay accrued overheads?
Wavah: managing overheads is one of the qualities of good entrepreneurs. It is not how much you earn, but how much you keep that matters. That said, you cannot solve a problem by running from it, just face it. Do not give up no matter how hard you have been trying. If you believe in something, it is worth continuing it – not blindly and not without taking stock of your progress to date. But if you have examined yourself and believe you have an original and marketable idea, keep going and if you find it necessary seek professional advice.
Do not expect overnight success. You can strike luck if you have the right product in the market place at the right time and at the right price, but true success takes years and a lot of trial and error. Do you feel like quitting? Keep on trying – just one more time. Business is never a straight path. It is learning from challenges that keep us going. Business people of these days suffocate their business due to poor planning … they want big offices, incur huge overheads, when a small room would suffice. I opened an office at the international conference centre, only after working out the figures with my accountant, and making sure that I had sufficient income to absorb all the overheads. Why open up an office in a high rise building, if my target clients are CEO’s who don’t have time of visiting me?
SB: You were explaining to us about entrepreneurship skills… we were going on ‘think like a winner’… may you please continue….
Wavah: Yes, you’ve got to think like a winner. Why toil for peanuts when you can be able to stand on your own and be in charge? To do not care what anyone thinks.
There is a sales-training saying that you speak to 20 people who say ‘no’ for everyone who says yes. This explains why sales people are upbeat and positive. They welcome the nos if it means they are closer to the yes. The trick is to cover more ground in order to get the yes and this needs a fast brain, guts and determination.
I am not saying you should stop listening to feedback from your own business advisers and colleagues – especially if you respect the view of those delivering it – but be your own person. Remember no one else is living your vision, no one else has your drive, no one else knows what is going through your mind or what you want – and no one else know what you are made of.
There is need for you to watch your response to failure. Are you taking your setbacks personally or taking failures out on others or drinking, smoking or eating too much as a way of coping, then you need to stock take your life and focus on your goals.
Take stock of the business plan and review what is going on in market place. When you’ve figured out what you have been doing wrong, adjust and try again. Do not take refuge in self-pity. If you start feeling sorry for yourself, your competitors will gain the advantage without doing a thing.
Modesty may be an admirable quality, but not when it comes to business. If you are selling your services or promoting a product, your clients want to be able to believe in what you are offering them.
If you have a problem with self-confidence, hide your fear. Feeling nervous and uncertain in new situations is normal. You will soon adapt.
Have the stamina for success. I have worked hard from the day I took my first job until now. Call it work ethic if you like – instilled from an early age. I know I could be a workaholic but my family would never stand for that, and with the electronic era it means that it is now possible to stay in touch with international markets without having to sit by the telephone at the wee hours of the morning.
To be successful you need to have stamina, you need to be physically and mentally fit, you need to be able to cope with immense levels of pressure without losing your cool and you need to be strictly well disciplined. I believe in leading by example and if I am not self driven and well organized, how can I expect my staff to be?
In my case, Monday to Friday means intensive work. I work flat out from the time I arrive at the office until the time I go home. In fact I suffer a kind of guilt if I have to go back home early. Saturday means taking stock of what has been achieved in a week and this is done with ease. However. I also believe in the importance of family and achieving balance. So from Saturday afternoon to Sunday, this is the time when I rest. It is the time when I have a human equivalent of a 5000 mile service. If I feel relaxed and healthy in mind and body when I start work on Monday morning. I can cope with whatever the week throws at me.
And finally, taking stock… Take a good look at your strengths and weaknesses include putting things off, doing things late, sitting in front of the television instead of getting on with other priorities, you will have to work pretty hard to take control of your time and change those lazy habits in order to succeed
If you are the kind of person who is always on the move, has a project in hand, has energy and a buzz, you are starting out with the right attitude. The question is: are you focusing your energies on your business role?
The flip side of this is achieving balance. There is no point in driving yourself into the ground. If you always have a mountain of paper on your desk, at the end of the day and find others are always delegating to you instead of the other way around you need to re-examine yourself more and focus on planning. Better planning means you can delegate more effectively and make optimum use of your day.
I believe that while leadership requires vision and long-term planning, management is the art of tuning vision, ideas and plans into action and usable things. Entrepreneurship is seeking and seizing opportunities wherever they are.
SB: Thanks once again for sharing your knowledge with our readers. We look forward to meeting you again… This was a one day MBA of sort…
Wavah: There are many more skills and qualities needed to succeed as an entrepreneur. However, the above mentioned are core, and you better take them seriously now**