How This Zimbabwean Engineer Made A Fortune Of Over 1.7 Billion Dollars
Most self-made billionaires in Africa and around the world attach their success to the belief that success can be attained when a human need is recognized and a solution is delivered. In truth, Africa’s progress relies on people who know the importance of collective human development. This concept, long forgotten, is one of the reasons for the continuous social and economic problems within African societies.
This is the success story of Strive Masiyiwa. A business leader who based his success on the betterment of his people, nation, and continent. He faced a lot of challenges from Zimbabwe spanning through Nigeria, and his courage to stand strong in the face of overwhelming adversity to attain success while still giving back to the society is an inspiration to many.
Today, he is not just one of Africa’s wealthiest and most powerful personalities but is the founder of one of Africa’s leading telecoms companies, Econet.
Strive Masiyiwa is famous for his philanthropic efforts and passion for social/economic empowerment. And has become a man whose actions changes lives and creates lasting legacies.
Here’s how he did it.
The Early Years Of Strive Masiyiwa
On the 29th of January, 1961 the Masiyiwas welcomed their baby boy, Strive, to the world. The Masiyiwas were a hardworking family living in South Rhodesia which was later renamed Zimbabwe. At that time, the Ian Smith government was collapsing in the face of anti-colonialism and revolution.
Knowing that political unrest meant economic hardship, the Masiyiwas made the decision to leave their home country. So in 1968, seven years old Strive and his family moved to Kitwe, a popular copper mining town in North-central, Zambia. Shortly after, Mr Masiyiwa, Strive’s Father, got a job working in one of Kitwe’s copper mines. His entrepreneurial mother got involved in transportation, farming, and retail businesses. The business so prospered that Mr Masiyiwa left his mining job and joined the family business.
Education And Military Career
In 1973, the Masiyiwas were able to afford what many African parents wanted for their children; a European education. When he was 12 years old, Strive Masiyiwa left Zambia for an education at a private secondary school in Edinburg, Scotland.
After his graduation in 1978, Strive (17) decided to join the anti-colonial movement in Zimbabwe. When he got there, he met a senior officer who told him told him that what Zimbabwe needed wasn’t more fighters but builders. Taking that advice to heart, he turned around and went back to the U.K.
Strive was then admitted into the University of Wales where he obtained a degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering in 1983.
Done with his tertiary education, Strive Masiyiwa joined the corporate world. For a short while, he worked in the tech industry in Cambridge, England. In 1984, he returned to the post-colonial, newly independent Zimbabwe.
Strive Masiyiwa was ready to begin rebuilding his country.
He was employed as a senior engineer at the state-owned telephone Zimbabwean company, Posts and Telecommunications Corporations (PTC). Strive’s brilliance and excellent work ethic caused his superiors to fast-track his promotion from senior to principal engineer in the corporation in a short period of time.
Despite career progress, there was something lacking. Strive Masiyiwa was disturbed by incessant government formalities hindering the progress of the industry. And in 1988, he quit PTC to start his own company, Retrofit Engineering. It was a move that earned him Zimbabwe’s Youngest Businessman of the Year Award in 1990.
The Retrofit Engineer
Strive Masiyiwa’s entry into the entrepreneurial world was entirely on time. At this time, the construction industry in Zimbabwe was booming. Strive organized a team of about 100 people, launched Retrofit Engineering with about $75 and began offering electrical engineering services on a contract basis.
Five years later, Retrofit Engineering became a top engineering company in the country.
The Econet Empire; Beginning, Trials, And Success.
Strive Masiyiwa’s telecom empire, Econet, started with the idea of a problem that needed an effective solution. He saw that at the time most Africans did not know about mobile telecommunications. Some hadn’t even heard a cell phone ring. In a world that was constantly advancing technologically, this was a huge problem. It was a need that had to be supplied and used to move his country to the new age of technology.
Thus began the journey towards the establishment of the mobile telecom operation service in Zimbabwe.
In 1994, Strive Masiyiwa prepared a business plan and approached the CEO of Standard Chartered Merchant Bank, Dr Nkosana Moyothe. He laid out his ideas to the CEO and requested a loan to fund his novel company. Fortunately, the bank believed in him and gave him the loan he needed. With the capital in place, he went to his former place of employment, PTC. Masiyiwa had prepared a proposal that included a partnership with a mobile telecoms company. According to the proposal, PTC would own 51% shares leaving Masiyiwa with 49% stake.
But he was shut down completely!
His former employers took a look at his business idea and discarded it. As far as they were concerned, PTC was and would always be the leading (if not the only) telecommunications corporation in Zimbabwe. They were firm in the belief that mobile telecommunication was a temporary phase and that people would return to the traditional in no time.
There and then, his application for a business license was denied.
Probably to the dismay of the PTC and Zimbabwean government, Strive Masiyiwa was not a man to be defeated by the word, “No”. Instead, it strengthened his resolve to achieve something that was definitely going to be the start of something great for Zimbabwe.
Strive Masiyiwa began the 5-year legal (bankrupting) battle with the Zimbabwean government. Till this day, people describe it as a David and Goliath combat. And as the Bible story goes, Strive Masiyiwa (David) defeated Goliath (the government). For in 1998, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe awarded Strive Masiyiwa the license to establish and operate a mobile telecom service in Zimbabwe.
His victory ended the government’s monopoly over the telecoms industry and ushered in the era of privately-owned telecoms companies.
Soon after, Strive Masiyiwa established Econet Wireless, Zimbabwe.
In about 12 years, Masiyiwa proved PTC wrong; Econet Wireless is and remains the leading mobile Telecoms Company in Zimbabwe.
The Econet Group:
In March 2000, Masiyiwa left Zimbabwe to South Africa on a self-imposed exile. But this was not a decision he made lightly. Although he won the licensing battle, things were far from settled. The Zimbabwean government had no intention of letting things go without retaliation.
While on exile, he founded the Econet Wireless group. However, the company had no connection to Econet Wireless in Zimbabwe. This was the group that led to the establishment of a global empire.
At present, the Econet Group has holdings and investments in the U.K, China, South America, UAE, New Zealand, Europe, and Africa.
Masiyiwa’s major businesses are Econet Wireless Burundi, Econet Wireless International, Econet Satellite Services, Former Econet Nigeria (Now Airtel), Lesotho Telecom, Transaction Processing Systems, Rwanda Telecom, Solarway, Mascom Wireless Botswana, Econet Wireless Global, and Econet Wireless South Africa.
He is an investor in businesses in Fintech and some power distribution companies. Particularly successful is his London-based asset, Liquid Telecom—a fibre optic/satellite service company. The privately held telecom company is currently Africa’s leading satellite and fibre optic company.
Masiyiwa also extended his interests to the U.S. He has the majority shares in Seldon Technologies, the manufacturers of nanofiber carbon product in Vermont. He is partners with John Stanton, an influential telecom entrepreneur, in a venture named Trilogy International Partners. This business birthed “2 Degrees” a mobile operator in New Zealand.
Econet’s holdings include financial services, renewable energy, enterprise networks, and the media.
Masiyiwa’s second round of personal and business attacks from the government were significant events in his personal and entrepreneurial journey.
In the early months of 2002, Daily News, the only independent newspaper with the largest reader base in Zimbabwe, was heading towards bankruptcy. In a timely manner, Masiyiwa stepped in and invested in the newspaper. Consequently, he became one of the top shareholders in Associate Newspapers of Zimbabwe.
In what was an obvious attack, the paper was shut down by the government on the basis of illegal operations.
Strive Masiyiwa had no choice but to sell his shares and move on. Daily News remained closed until 2011.
The attacks continued.
In 2014, the government sanctioned the arrest of Econet Wireless executives and directors. These people were sent to a maximum security prison in chains like hardened criminals. Fortunately, Strive was in Singapore to secure foreign investments, so the government could not get to him. Going to South Africa was ill-advised at this time as his government’s reach extended there. Whilst his people suffered unjustly, his hard-won company was on the verge of crumbling. There was no leadership, everyone was in a panic and the government was on a manhunt.
A week later, there was a hearing but it did not go in their favour. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, they were sent back to prison. Nevertheless, Masiyiwa and his team did not stop pushing for their release.
Thankfully, they were released about nine days later and (to everyone’s surprise) they all went back to work immediately.
In spite of it all, nothing could stop Masiyiwa and his team’s progress. They continued working hard for themselves, for the people of Zimbabwe and for Africa.
Strive Masiyiwa and Humanity
Time and time again, Masiyiwa has demonstrated his compassion for humanity and his passion for human development. He is devoted to philanthropy as a means of uplifting others. He is well-known for his initiatives that aim towards making life easier, financially. With his personal wealth, he built a remarkable educational support program for African orphans. Now, over 40 thousand children have benefited from the Masiyiwa family foundation.
Alongside Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, Masiyiwa is a member of the Giving Pledge initiative. Furthermore, he and his wife, Tsitsi, created a foundation, Higherlife, for orphaned children in Burundi, South Africa, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe.
Masiyiwa became the co-chairperson of Grow Africa in 2013; an African agricultural investment forum which has helped raise $15 Billion for agricultural projects in Africa. He is also the chairman of another agricultural support program (AGRA) for small-scale farmers in Africa.
Health programs and anti-campaigns against Ebola, Cervical Cancer, and HIV/AIDS prevention have had Masiyiwa’s valuable support. A passionate environmentalist, he teamed up with Sir Richard Branson to set up Carbon War room.
Awards, Recognitions, And Appointments
- Strive Masiyiwa was named as one of the ’10 Most Outstanding Young Leaders of the World’ by the World Junior Chambers of Commerce’ in 1998.
- In the year 2003, a CNN magazine pole listed Masiyiwa as ‘One of the Most Influential Business Leaders in the World’
- In 2012, Strive was invited by US President Barack Obama to attend the 38th G8 summit at Camp David to speak to them about effective strategies for increased food production and poverty eradication in Africa.
- In 2014, Fortune Magazine named Strive Masiyiwa ‘One of the 50 Most Influential Business Leaders in the World.
- In 2015, Strive Masiyiwa was presented with the Freedom Award by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
- Masiyiwa is on the 2015 Forbes Magazine ‘10 Most Powerful Men in Africa’ list.
- Fortune Magazine named Strive Masiyiwa its 33rd World’s Greatest Leaders in the 2017 list.
- Member; Africa’s Progress Panel (APP).
- Member; UN Advisory Panels (two seats).
- Member; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience.
- Member; Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
- Member; the African Union Ebola Fund (2014).
- Member; The Rockefeller Foundation.
- Member; the US Council on Foreign Relations International Advisory Board.
- Member; Morehouse College Board.
Strive Masiyiwa’s success story is the evidence that entrepreneurial success is not all about creating personal wealth. His tale is the proof of the truth that success involves working to make a positive impact on people’s lives. And that if an individual chooses to use his innate resources, he could create a vast wealth from transforming the society.
To become successful, the mentality of self-service has to be discarded. Solving human problems should be forefront in the mind of every aspiring entrepreneur.
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