At age 23, Zambian Mwiya Musokotwane had a dream to build a mega city. One year later, he left his job to pursue it. With the help of his family, he founded Thebe Investment Management. Today, the company is the owner and developer of Nkwashi, a 3,100-acre mega-project in Lusaka, Zambia. Mwiya, now 28, is one of Zambia’s youngest businessmen, currently employing 80 people. “I like watching people grow, and watching plans come alive.”
Thebe Investment Management, the company that the young entrepreneur has built, presents itself as ‘real estate and venture investors’. Musokotwane, one of Forbes’ Africa Under 30 business talents, admits that it was US investor Warren Buffet that inspired him to pursue entrepreneurship.
“What struck me about Warren Buffet was his systematic approach to making investments, initially on the basis of buying undervalued stocks that no one else was paying attention to, and much later acquiring whole businesses on set value based investment criteria. Whilst each investment may have been different, ultimately each piece fit into a broader value investing theme. To use Jim Collin's phraseology, he built a clock as opposed to telling the time; which is to say he built a machine that can repeatedly do what it is good at, as opposed to chasing the flavour of the moment. His commitment to his operating principles was very interesting to me. Additionally, the accumulation of capital whilst starting from a relatively low base was also very intriguing to me.”
What made you quit your job in 2014 and become an entrepreneur?
“I greatly enjoyed my work at the time, but also felt that I could have greater impact developing our business. Four years down the road, I know what I like best about running a business. I like watching people grow, and watching plans come alive.”
How did people (business partners, clients) deal with your young age?
“For customers it wasn't much of an issue, largely because I wasn't very visible; we put the brand first. As far as business partners were concerned ultimately if we could comply to agreements we have with vendors we work with and other such entities, then that is what they cared about most; ultimately business is about making money and to the extent that our suppliers and other counter parties have felt they can profitably engage with us, they have felt comfortable doing so.”
What is your business case?
“We buy land, hold it, and then add value to it [on the basis of its highest and best use] and sell or lease it. In general we look for business opportunities that attempt to solve a broader societal or business problem. The core problem we are solving for at present is how to build communities and services that can enable Africa to better manage its urbanised future.”
What is your best or project so far?
“Nkwashi is top of mind mostly because it is our core project. It is a city development; and so it involves the convergence of several different disciplines; everything from urban planning, civil engineering, credit management and marketing. Separate to this we are also working on developing an investment platform that will enable us to (with time) replicate what we are doing at Nkwashi, elsewhere in Zambia and across the continent. We are also working on some technology investments which are quite interesting, this includes an e-learning platform for schools and universities that we launched in April.”
Does this mean you are not in this just for the money?
“We wish to help enable the continent to get into its next phase of development in a more sustainable manner, primarily by building the infrastructure it needs to achieve that; for example, by developing residential communities, water/electricity/sanitation utilities, and schools.”
Thebe Investment Management – what next steps do you foresee?
“We are in the process of scaling up the platform, and working towards consolidating the gains we have achieved at our core development; and doing similar developments elsewhere in Zambia and the rest of the continent. Working with new partners, we’re also building a pipeline of developments for schools and hotels, which is something we’re excited about.”