I once visited an elderly gentleman who ran one of the most successful supermarkets in my home town. He was a legend of his time, and everyone knew him to be “very rich.” Knowing that I was keen to learn about business, he invited me to his office to watch him at work; this was a rare privilege and I took it with both hands. He allowed me to ask questions which he answered slowly and carefully.
I still remember some of the things: “You must work very hard.” This was almost every third sentence.
He told me he started his day at 4 in the morning: “I’m here to open the shop every day, seven days a week.”
“What time do you leave?”
“11 pm, after I have counted the money and done my reconciliations. I do it myself. I don’t trust anyone.”
“What about holidays?” I asked.
“I don’t do holidays. That is for employed people,” he said with an emphatic wave of his hand.
I listened, then I asked: “Why have you never expanded?”
“You can only be in one place at a time,” he answered with finality.
“I tried it once and they stole from me.”
I said to him: “You know there is a man I have been reading about from America. He has thousands of stores like yours, and he is one of the richest men in the world. He has so many stores, that he cannot visit all of them. And he also goes on holiday.”
“Does he have a lot of children to help him?”
“Actually, no. He works with total strangers.”
Finally, he sighed and said to me:
“I wish I had gone to school and learnt these modern management techniques that you talk about. We have to learn these things otherwise we will just end up running small things. I never went to school, but I yearn to learn these things, only now I’m too old and set in my ways.”
I was deeply saddened because I realised that with his entrepreneurial zeal, armed with the modern tools of management and the right exposure, he could easily have built a pan-African business.
When the old man died, his sons took over the business and ran it to the ground in no time. All gone.
There are a lot of people like him. They work very hard, and many long hours. No one taught them that there are many modern management tools that can make them more productive and profitable. They can also have a better quality life.
You still have to work hard, but not that hard. Just be smart, and learn the tools of modern management.
Even now after 29 years in business, I still spend a lot of time reading business management books and articles. I try to learn new techniques that can make me sharper and more productive. It is a continuous process, which should never stop.
The other day, I said “I’m a numbers guy,” and some people even asked, “What are numbers?”
__ It’s a business management technique whereby you do not start a business without first developing a business plan with well researched marketing and financial projections. When you start the business, you must develop budgets, and adhere strictly to them. You collect statistics continuously on what is going on in every aspect of your business and use the data to drive your decision making.
This piece was written by Strive Masiyiwa on his Official facebook page. Strive is the founder and executive chairman of Econet