Mulindwa Isaac: Yes it does. I am like my father, who is a successful businessman. I have grown up in a busy working environment. We are ten children; all of us are successful and independent. Our father told us one thing:” I will educate you in the best universities your brain can take you. But more important, I will expose you to developed countries to see possibilities. This will open up your minds.” True to his word, most of us have traveled extensively and have been trained to work hard
I have a first degree in Business Administration (Finance and Accounting) from UK, and a general Contractors License certification from the US. This provides me with technical proficiency to augment my understanding of business.
SB: We understand you have some business interests in Miami and London. Which are those businesses and how did you manage to establish them?
MI: I started a construction company in 1992, in Miami US. This idea was after Hurricane Andrew that destroyed and affected over 200 square miles of land in the US.
Starting my own business in the state was easy since I had a business background. I registered a company to do clean up construction of the aftermath debris left by the Hurricane, because by then I did not have a US Construction license. I would lobby, get the job and then subcontract other companies to do the constraction. Then I expanded into interior finishing of the houses rebuilt and those renovated. For some jobs, I would get down and do them myself. It was challenging, but inevitable, especially at the beginning.
To expand, I had to go back to university in order to become a General Contractor and be licensed to construct in the US. Once I obtained the license, my company could then build custom homes. This was not profitable, so I got trusted partners who refinanced the business, and ventured into building of multihomes similar to what National social security fund (NSSF) and national Housing & Construction Company (NHCC) do, which is much more profitable in the US. Currently, on average we build over 5000 units annually, which is a mixture of Appartments and single-family homes.
To succeed in business, you have to start small and have a clear vision. I started as a cleaner of debris left by Hurricane Andrew, and then expanded into renovating homes. Now we construct the homes and Apartments.
I am a director in the company registered in London, which deals in general import and export business. We trade in cars, factory equipment, etc. we source and supply worldwide, depending on what the client wants.
SB: Do you see the current global financial slump affecting your business here and /or abroad? Explain how?
MI: We now operate in a global village and as they say: when the UK or US sneezes, we catch a cold. The US crisis has already affected our businesses, the US dollar is already ‘shooting up’ and the Uganda shilling is going the wrong way, and people’s spending power is no longer the same. Even if I am not impacted directly, my clients are which means that they cannot spend enough money on my businesses.
The Uganda shilling is not falling because the economy is doing badly; it is falling because the international financial crisis has caused investors who had put money in Uganda (offshore investors) to pull it out in US dollar and not in Uganda shillings. The situation is going to worsen if the stock exchange markets do not stabilize in the US and UK. A person who has already lost money in New York Stock Exchange and has money in Uganda will sell the shares in Uganda To go and buy shares of companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, whose price have fallen. It is part of the investment game.
SB: You’ve successfully run the PAM Awards. How did it start, what are its objectives and how have you managed to sustain it?
MI: initially, most people had a wrong perception about the Entertainment industry, that it was something for the illiterate or spoil kids. Before the PAM Awards. Few parents wanted their children to study Music, Dance and Drama at University, because it was considered a course for failures.
Few people thought of Entertainment as an industry employing well-educated people, with positive impact on the economy generally. After seeing it work in Europe and America, I wanted to prove that Entertainment was not just about having fan. We started PAM Awards in order to establish Entertainment as an industry, set standards, ethics etc. and make it work like any other industry. We also needed to act as catalyst by bringing all media 9 Radio, TV, Print, etc.) And Musicians, Artists, etc. together since all these parties operated independently despite being in the same industry. Specifically, our objective was to:
- Grow the entertainment sector
- Get Ugandans to love the Ugandan music
- Have Artists recognize and respected as people with decent jobs.
We are honest with the stakeholders (musicians, sponsors, media the public) Bribery cannot get any one an Award , as this would make everything meaningless. This is why Pam Awards is one of the most successful stories in Uganda.
SB: we understand you had intended to expand PAM Awards throughout Africa. How far are you on this?
MI: Our long term strategy is to cover the whole of Africa and offer an Award respected like the Oscars or Grammys. When you notice, every time the world stops to look at Africa, it is because of a disaster-war, famine, HIV, etc. we want to build a strong award such that one day ,the word stops and pays attention to the African continent for something good . We plan to do this by replicating what we have done in Uganda in each of the other countries. This will also grow their entertainment industries. We don’t want to sit here and give
“To succeed in business, you have to start small and have a clear version of debris…” an award in Kenya , Rwanda, etc. as it may not work , since it is like imposing the Award on the country, instead of the country owning the Award. Once this is achieved, a single Award bringing together all African Artists can then be offered.
SB: why is it that most of your investments are in the Entertainment industry? What is the secrete there?
MI: I have a well-diversified portfolio only that my investments in Entertainment attract media coverage. I’ve investments in the financial, construction, farming and trading, etc. sectors.
Also, it is easier and cheaper to get in compared to starting say a bank, because you don’t need a lot of money to start and regulation is not very stringent. Unlike some others, a small room for a club or studio can do for a start, and grow slowly.
SB: which is a better business environment: Kampala, Miami or London? Why did you decide to station here in Kampala instead of the US?
MI: Whether Miami, London or Kampala every place has its own advantages and disadvantages, what is true for sure; home is always the best.
It is not all about making money, but giving back to the community, being around fellow countrymen and women, family and friends and being appreciated. in those countries , unless you are talking in terms of billions of US dollars, you do not appear anywhere on the scale of giving back to the society. I am definitely worth more than I would be say to America or Uk in terms of what I can offer. if I wanted to continue making money, I would still be in the US , but it is not all about money.
SB: most people are constrained by finance. Tell us how you’ve managed to set up powerful companies? What advice would you give to the SB readers as far as raising start-up capital from scratch is concerned?
MI: For a startup company anywhere, trust is everything. Once you’re trustworthy, you need trustable partners because it is impossible to do business with people who
“TO succeed, be ethical and trustworthy. People have to trust you and once they do that, they will give your business…”
Are not honest. Nobody can start a business alone from scratch unless you have other businesses to finance the new ones or use family money. Myself, I have four co-partners with whom I do business. By coming together, we had a common vision, we looked at how much we needed and raised it
SB. Which challenges did you encounter within the first three years of starting your own businesses? How did you overcome them?
MI: The challenges include getting the right and dependable people to do the job, identifying good partners and raising capital.
Get trustworthy people and partner with them. Do not do something you cannot do yourself. If you cannot pay someone to do it , then do it yourself until you are able to pay others to do it. I did a lot of work as well when I was staring my construction company; even now I do it just to get it right.
SB: How would you advise upcoming small business owners and entrepreneurs as far as business sustainability is concerned?
MI: Ethics, trustworthy, do not promise what you cannot deliver all the time and they will give your business or they will be willing to work with you. Take calculated risk and never risk more than you can afford.
SB: How would you define a successful person?
MI: A successful person is one who can maintain the standard of his/her life style whether working or not. Whoever can live the longest period with their lifestyle without working is the most successful. There are those people who may stop working and six months down the road start selling their properties in order to maintain their life style, those are not successful people.
SB: Tell us about your experience with banks as far as loan financing is concerned? Would you advice an upcoming entrepreneur to use loan financing and why?
MI: you cannot expand without borrowing either from bank, friends or relatives but do not borrow more than what you cannot afford to lose. Do not guarantee your home for loan to do business because if the business does not work out, the lender will take your home and if you don’t have where to live, then you are out of business completely, and you have to struggle again to get new home. You have to struggle again to get a new home. You need to risk when you know that if you lost that money, you would get it elsewhere. But of course before you borrow you need to make sure your calculations and financials are right.
SB: If you had 1 billion Uganda shillings, which top 10 businesses in East Africa would you invest in and why?
MI: I wouldn’t consider businesses, but sectors. I would invest it in the fastest growing ones, which are ICT (mainly business process outsourcing, like what the Chinese and Indian companies are doing), telecoms (data and VAS segment), insurance, banks, energy and entertainment, among others
Real estate is good business here. I am not talking of building one or two houses, but a proper housing estate of 400 sub-prime homes and above in one area with supermarkets and all other amenities. The Housing survey done in 2006 housing units. Every year, this number grows by more 70,000 housing units, this is a big opportunity given what we build every year is less than 2000 units.
The problem with this sector is that it requires a lot of money. Like my partners in US, whenever I tell them let us go to unmet housing market in the US, so why come to Uganda.