New entrepreneurs who aspire to build a successful business often dream about the joy, ease and happiness their lives will attain after they successfully accomplish their goal.
They believe that having a lot of money, employees that look up to them and the respect of the business community will result in a perfect state of happiness. That’s what noted Zambian business mogul Clever Mpoha thought as well before he launched his own company.
But consider what Mpoha wrote in his recently published autobiography:
“Before I was enlightened, I used to think that when you became successful everyone would be happy for you. I believed that becoming successful brings only good things and nothing negative.
“Alas, I was wrong.”
It was in 1997 that Clever Mpoha became determined to launch a new enterprise. He was eager to “be his own man” and control his own destiny. Even though he had a good job in the financial department of a major industrial supply firm, it irked him that “someone else could decide” how much he earned every month.
Thus, he took the plunge and established a fledgling operation with just $1,000 and a plan to trade in Korean-made cell phones. He was able to make that sideline work. He produced a profit. Mpoha diligently reinvested his first small gains right back into creating more opportunities for his new company.
He soon chose the ambitious name of SAVENDA for his new business. That stands for nothing less than: “SAVE Nations, Develop Africa.” It was a choice that belied the much greater ambitions of a yet untested young entrepreneur.
The success of the cell phone business led Mpoha to start looking into supply and distribution issues. Before long, he was contracting with local mining companies to help them solve their many logistics problems.
Under the relentless drive and savvy business mind of Clever Mpoha, SAVENDA began to grow and diversify. Now, more than 20 years later, SAVENDA Group is one of Zambia’s premier supply management and logistics firms with annual revenue in excess of $300 million. It has achieved a Pan-African presence and partners with other firms from Asia and Europe to the Americas.
But did success result in the blissful state of existence so dreamed of by many new entrepreneurs? Well — not exactly.
Mpoha put it this way:
“Success can bring its own challenges … success in business can create enemies and back-stabbing. The competition can become unhealthy and unfriendly. Your own workers can become your biggest nightmares … you need to come up with ways to address these challenges as they come along. You can’t sit and wait for these challenges to consume you and your business.”
Certainly, Clever Mpoha readily acknowledges that business success does bring joys as well. That includes the thrill of accomplishment, the sense that you are building something special for the future, the pride in the fact that you are contributing to the uplifting of your fellow Africans and the African continent.
Mpoha grants also that having sufficient money to meet all your needs is a position everyone should strive to achieve. Being rich is better than being poor.
The larger point, however, is that entrepreneurs must frankly accept the good with the bad in building a business from nothing into a multimillion-dollar success.
To take just one example, Mpoha said a growing company will inevitably confront the complicated process of hiring and managing large numbers of employees. The problems associated with this can seem endless. Mpoha writes:
“Having more employees creates numerous challenges, including a bigger payroll to meet, higher administrative costs, higher costs for training, increased pension contributions and complex management requirements.”
Solving problems associated with employees requires the creation of carefully crafted strategies. In this regard, Mpoha cites three specific areas of strategy. They include:
1. Productivity Analysis
This involves a well-conceived methodology for determining whether it is necessary to hire a person every time a hiring decision is made. Will hiring X employees result in increased efficiency and productivity? What will be the output of an employee as compared to how much is invested in his or her pay? Will new hires help the company make more money?
Mpoha said a business must be able to pin down specific answers to questions like these when taking on every new employee.
Early on, Mpoha said his firm often filled productivity needs by hiring temporary employees. That’s costly, however. It also becomes far more complicated than one might think. For example, sometimes the number of temps starts to pile up. It also can become difficult to let go after their term of employment is up.
Along the way, SAVENDA management realized that automation was a way to substantially increase productivity without needing to hire more personnel or take on temporary workers. Mpoha said the adoption of software and management systems has often proven to be an attractive alternative to swelling labor payroll costs.
3. Groom New Leaders
Clever Mpoha said that a CEO who thinks he can make all the decisions, has all the correct answers and who attempt to micro-manage his organization is either a bad CEO or one headed for fast burnout.
The most successful CEOs learn the art of selecting excellent people who possess great leadership skills. The key is to delegate responsibilities to people placed in leadership roles, adopt a hands-off approach as much as possible and then trust them to manage their own departments with skills that produce results.
Labor management is just one of more than a dozen challenges entrepreneurs face as they grow their businesses. Mpoha provides many more situational insights in his new autobiography, The Business Mind of Clever Mpoha.