By Moses K Gahigi
I sit down with Faustin Mbundu at a popular coffee shop in Nyarutarama, a Kigali suburb. Interestingly, the spot he picked for our conversation overlooks Greenhills secondary school, a well-known school in which he is a shareholder and on whose board he serves as the Chairman. He had just attended a meeting there before meeting me.
Our conversation kicks off with a light chat. Even before we dig into his business journey, something quickly strikes me about this amiable businessman
“I keep all my contacts, I create a back up for them on my computer in case I change phones,” he says as I nod, while making a mental note that this is a unique practice that Mbundu skilfully exploits and one that has made this man the consummate businessman he is today.
The 54-year-old was introduced to business by his father, Mr. Donat Kananura, at an early age during his secondary school in the early 1980’s at Uganda’s St. Mary’s College Kisubi, a school that has a rich history of academic excellence. Due to the political instability in Uganda at the time, Mbundu’s father was uncertain of whether he would be alive the following day
His father went into exile and could no longer live in Kampala, so he started teaching him the ropes trade and transportation business. However, Mr. Mbundu says that he actively started doing business at the age of 20 while at Makerere University where he was pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in commerce.
As a rite of passage, the Viking fathers initiated their sons into the world of battle at the age of 12, as preparation for an enduring assignment to protect their families, for Mr. Donat Kananura the rite of passage was to introduce his son into the world of transportation, import and export of consumer goods transportation business.
Although the times have changed and he has included modern day business ventures such as business advisory and financial services, not much has changed in Mbundu’s business career, He has not drifted away from the fundamentals his old man taught him. He is still involved in the same businesses.
Other diversified businesses he is involved in range from agriculture, real estate, consultancy all under MFK Group, which also has other interests from gaming, coffee export, fertilizer manufacturing, animal feeds, schools, a brokerage firm called MBEA, fruit export among others.
His company Garden Fresh that exports French Beans to London, Paris and Amsterdam recently secured the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) compliance certification, the first horticulture producer to get it in the country.
“One of the most important values I learnt from my father is honesty in business, keeping your word, building relationships and networking,” he notes.
He says employing people who are well skilled in certain areas and learning to partner with others has served him well in his business journey, which he says helped him get the pool of capital needed to venture into multiple businesses.
With a demeanour and voice of a natural negotiator, Mbundu sounds like the persona talked about in those business books, where writers explain the art and science of seeing opportunity where there is a problem.
When asked how difficult or easy it is to start and operate a business now than it was 30 years ago when he started, he quickly says it is easier.
“It is easier now because of information that is easily accessible, there is also a lot of money that is available to fund business, the markets are also bigger and more viable”.
Just as he answers my next question, a call comes through which he dutifully ignores, he keeps all the attention on me, as he sounds a rhetoric question which he uses as a reflective tool to my question.
“I start my business day by clearing all the backlog of the previous day, if I had a manager that wanted to talk to me, then I have to find out which other opportunities are there for me to look at”
“What makes me happy is a busy day that is not stressful, a busy day that has solved issues” he says while he continues to ignore the incoming calls.
Just like many businessmen Mbundu says he enjoys what he does and this keeps him motivated to pursue more business opportunities. I dare to ask him that dreaded question every businessman would rather not imagine. Losing everything.
He says if he were to lose everything he has and has to start over, he would venture into business advisory because it does not call for a lot of capital but the network you have.
His views on the likely impact of the recently signed Africa Continental Free Trade Area maybe familiar enough to policy-makers, as he observes that Rwanda needs to have competitive goods ready to take to more liberalized markets. He adds that Rwanda also stands a chance of exporting services to the opened markets.
“The best way to take advantage of the free trade area is to first of all take advantage of the East African region, how are we processing our goods and exporting them with these countries” he noted.
“Travel and see what other markets in Africa have to offer, take advantage of the fact that RwandAir flies to many capitals now,” he advised.
Although he confesses that he no longer reads that much, many years ago, he was an avid reader of books about famous business personalities like Rupert Murdock, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and the Rockefellers whose stories have in one way or the other shaped the businessman he is today.
He shares a story of how at one point Murdock was in stiff competition with Robert Maxwell in the publishing industry, where unbeknownst to the former Maxwell was encroaching on a pension fund of his employees to expand-while his company looked like it had endless capital, which drove Murdock to accumulating much debt trying to compete with Maxwell which ended up chocking him.
“From this I learned that don’t look at someone else’s growth because you do not know his risks and other realities of his growth, however grow at your own pace and hedge your risks as adequately and optimally as possible”