Mwiya Musokotwane is the CEO of Zambia-based investment firm Thebe Investment Management. The company’s key initiative is Nkwashi, a planned 3,100-acre satellite town 36km east of the capital Lusaka.
What entrepreneurial achievement are you most proud of?
The one thing I am most proud of is building a great team that is able to manage any challenge that they face; always be entrepreneurial in their outlook; always relish new experiences and challenges; and that are very dynamic and relentless. What is probably true of most great and enduring companies is that they have a great team around them – people who are able to really forge ahead and build a great corporate culture, people who buy into the company’s values, people who buy into the company’s vision, and, where need be, as a team can reinterpret that vision as time progresses and bring new life to it in each generation or in each cycle of the business environment.
And for me that’s my greatest achievement and I feel, especially being a millennial, that the other millennials I have around me are really class A. In a context like Zambia, that is very hard, because any person who operates in Zambia will tell you that the biggest challenge they face, outside of access to capital, is finding the right people.
Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I’m an introverted person – very logical in basically everything I do, and at the same time very perceiving. And so these characteristics are both a strength and a weakness for me in that I find it very easy to rationalise ideas and quickly figure out whether something is going to work or something is going to fail. But at the same time my process is extremely iterative in that I think very externally. I will bump ideas around a lot of people before I settle on a particular path forward. My greatest weakness is that as a consequence of that, if someone isn’t quite used to me or my style of leadership, it is very easy for them to feel a lack of direction until I finally come up with that very concise and crystalline way forward.
What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
There is this fallacy, which is, “Follow your passions, and you won’t go wrong”. I think that is the wrong advice. Rather I would say, “Build your passions”. It is possible to be passionate about almost anything you decide to be passionate about – it is really about making that decision and then committing yourself to it and then building an interest by reading and interacting with people who know a lot about it.
And part of this is going to be iterative – just because you’ve chosen it, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be your final choice. You’re probably going to go through several iterations until you get to that one thing that strikes a tone with you, for which there is that spark, which no one can really define. You must then thereafter, build it. And so for me I think the building part is more essential because that requires a lot of discipline of thought and execution to actually work hard at that thing.
You have to be very honest about yourself as you proceed. Just because you are passionate about something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the skill set to actually achieve it. I might be passionate about art, but if I cannot practice it, perhaps I shouldn’t become an artist. Maybe I should be an art dealer if I have good transactional skills in selling stuff. So I can still be in the same vertical, the world of art, but I am just tackling it from a different perspective. So for me more useful advice would be to build your passions and ensure you have people around you who can help guide you through that process.
Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
I think our culture, and I’m speaking globally now, lionises entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. The consequence of that is that in glorifying success we often don’t talk about all the difficult aspects of being an entrepreneur – like the stress and the emotional roller coaster that it really is. Because there will be nights where you just can’t sleep because your mind is fixated on a problem and you just literally have to solve it. There will be times where you might feel a sense of depression because you feel like nothing is going the way it should. There will be times when you feel a sense of ecstasy because things are going right and your strategy is working, and everything is just coming together. The highs are high and the lows are low, like Elon Musk said. And it is like “Chewing glass and staring at the abyss”, like he said also.
Sometimes you have to make decisions that completely go against your personality. Sometimes I’ve had to be extremely harsh in instances that required it, and sometimes I have to be very accommodating. And for someone who isn’t particularly the most emotional person, that’s hard because you have to go to either extreme of the emotional spectrum. It is a part of the job because at the end of the day companies are just organised social structures. Human beings have got all sorts of great things about them and difficult things about them, and you have to learn to manage all of that. No one really prepares you for that – in business school, in interviews that you may read in magazines or elsewhere. And I think it was, for me, the one thing I was ill prepared for.