MASERU — Lesotho’s celebrated business tycoon, Sam Matekane, has shared the secrets of his success and urged budding entrepreneurs to work hard as there are no short cuts to progress.
Matekane told a business seminar last week that his wealth had not dropped from the sky but was a result of many years of perseverance and hard work.
He narrated the story of his humble beginnings in 1986 when he launched himself in business as a sole proprietor operating a brick manufacturing business in Lesotho.
“The first lesson I learnt then was that it is essential to separate my business from me as a person . . .,” said Matekane.
“Even though I did not have money, I learnt to have my funds as a person which were separate from the funds for the business,” added the tycoon, whose sprawling empire now includes a road construction business, property developments, mines in various African countries, an aviation arm, among other lucrative endeavours.
He said the uncontrollable lust for the finer things in life among young business people explained the high failure rate of new business.
“It’s still a challenge for businesses to separate funds of the owner and funds for the business. On being paid out after getting the first tender, the first thing some young entrepreneur thinks about is buying a luxurious car while forgetting about the future of the business . . .,” said Matekane.
“If you fail to separate the business funds from yours, the business will collapse. This is not to say you should not enjoy the fruits of your business . . . . The right thing to do is to pay yourself a salary. When the salary is exhausted, know that you haven’t got any money anymore and avoid dipping your fingers in the business finances. Wait until your next pay cheque.”
When his brick manufacturing business started growing, Matekane said he transformed it from a sole proprietorship into a company and expanded it into plant hire after buying his first truck.
“I was the driver of the truck, the loader, the mechanic, the manager, the secretary since I answered calls from prospective customers . . .,” he said.
As the business grew, he said he then learnt of the crucial need to have appropriate support structures to succeed.
One of the biggest pitfalls of local business owners, Matekane said, was the reluctance to let go of the reins of control and delegate tasks to employees.
“We always want to be in control and oversee everything and fail to seek help and expertise.
“You need to hire and deploy good experienced staff and managers and give them the resources to succeed and you will get good quality output . . . I do not believe in failure.”
He attacked upcoming entrepreneurs for rushing to get profits without putting in the necessary effort and for tardiness and lack of professionalism.
“Set achievable goals but strive to challenge yourself as well,” he advised.
Matekane said when he started in 1986, he did not know how to prepare a business plan and had no formal business training but a vision. Getting financial help from the banks was almost unimaginable then. Nowadays banks will fund you if you have a good plan and clearly demarcated vision, he said.
“When you have a vision, nothing can stop you,” he said.
From plant hire, Matekane narrated how he had then ventured into road construction, mining, property development and now aviation. He said financial discipline had helped him achieve success as he never squandered money to grow his business by investing in unnecessary things.
“As the business grows, its demands grow . . . You cannot start today and be wealthy the next day. It takes patience and hard work . . . ,” he said.
After expanding into road construction, Matekane said he had to learn fast about that sector as he was not an engineer.
“Acquiring skills and knowledge is an important part of running a business, I knew that I should know what an engineer does, his budgets, among other things, so that I know what to expect from him and he knows what to expect from me as the employer . . . ,” said Matekane.
He said putting ideas into action was a problem for many businesses. “We need to set targets of when action would be taken and by whom. We also need to set achievable goals . . .,” he said.
From road construction, he said he had diversified into mining and now ran gold and iron ore operations in Mozambique, South Africa and Liberia.
He had since ventured into aviation and now controlled helicopters and three planes, two of which were being leased to South African Express Airways. The decision to lease them was because his company was still waiting for the necessary regulatory approvals to fly them on specific routes from Lesotho to Durban, Cape Town, among other potential routes.
“All the planes carry the Lesotho flag. I want to see my aviation sector growing to facilitate travel into the mountains,” said Matekane.
His group had also diversified into commercial and residential property and had several projects completed and others under construction.
He cautioned against the over-dependency on tenders by some business people.
“Depending on tenders is not a good thing. Try to diversify and always think about what happens if you don’t get the tenders,” he said.
Lesotho was in desperate need for good entrepreneurs to alleviate its high shortage of jobs (one third of Basotho don’t have jobs).
“It’s up to us to create jobs by building viable businesses. We need to instil a sense of discipline into our youths. The young must stop thinking of becoming job seekers but job creators . . . ,” he said.
“Start small but dream big”, Matekane advised.
From his humble beginnings as a sole proprietor, Matekane’s multi-billion Maloti empire now employs at least 1200 people including 100 foreign experts.