Gregory Chama is the founder and the CEO of City Drive Rent a Car Ltd, a Zambian company that offers vehicle rental solutions.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
[There] … have been many and, as an entrepreneur, you need to get used to putting out fires all the time. It’s a prerequisite entrepreneurial skill. I drew great lessons from a recent situation.
Our company’s primary service is car rental and we buy a lot of our vehicles on finance lease. Two years … into our finance lease contract, one of our vehicles … was involved in an accident while on hire and [was damaged] beyond repair. Standard practice requires vehicle[s] [to be] … comprehensively insured. [The] insurance company was supposed to pay us, so that we [could] have the car replaced.
However, to our shock, the leasing company told us that a clause in the lease contract made them the only beneficiary in the event of total loss. This meant that we would have to charge the loss on the car to profits and lose out on the asset completely. [But] after several weeks of negotiations, the leasing company agreed to consider having the car replaced and we [are] hoping they will keep their promise. This experience taught me the importance of reading all pages of a contract, regardless of how thick the pages are.
At times, suppliers hide crucial clauses in the contract hoping that you won’t have the time to go through all the pages. Further, it reinforces my belief of fair dealing in business. It’s bad practice to hide clauses that will disadvantage your customer. It’s important to treat your customers fairly and well all the time, they are your greatest asset.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
In late 2016, we launched our platform which enables people to list their cars for hire. The response we got was overwhelming. We had people from various walks of life listing their vehicles with the [expectation] … of making extra income, and this has worked out well for them.
We call them partners and we have had some who started with just one car and bought more cars [using] … the income they were making on the platform. The platform has, therefore, enabled ordinary people to run a small business [and] improve their livelihoods.
As a company, the platform allows us to have access to a large pool of vehicles for meeting demand and has been instrumental in our growth/expansion, putting us among the top three-biggest car rental companies in the country.
The customer is also given … [variety], so it’s a win-win for everyone. This milestone was also a testament of our mission of changing lives and moving society forward. In 2017, we were voted Zambia’s leading car rental company.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
My mantra of moving fast enough to achieve set objectives but slow enough to maintain control can make me impatient, at times, especially when things are not moving fast enough. This can also put a lot of pressure on my team.
When I get to that point, I try by all means to reflect on our progress so far and just remind myself that, at times, good things take time to mature and materialise.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
“The customer is always right.” I believe customers are the greatest asset of every business and it’s important to treat them well and fairly at all times. However, the truth of the matter is that in life there is no one person who knows it all, … not even the customer.
My advice, therefore, is that customers are not always right, but rather companies should always carefully listen to their customers’ feedback/complaints and filter out only useful content that will help the company serve [customers] better. As Strive Masiyiwa would say, “Chew the meat and throw away the bones.”
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
There are two main things. The first is that success is your greatest enemy. Naturally, humans have a tendency of relaxing and thinking that all has been done once they achieve a few goals they set. Meanwhile, there is a lot more they can achieve and do when they take more risks and push things further and harder, after all, humans only use 10% of their brain power. In the early days, I fell into this trap and, if I had known earlier, a lot of things would have been different.
The second thing is that, as a leader, don’t always tell your team what to do but rather show them where to go and leave it to them, trusting that they will navigate their way there. Now, this is a difficult concept to implement and most CEOs fall into the trap of micromanaging their staff possibly because they don’t trust them to do what’s right.
[The] problem with that approach is that when the CEO is not there, the team has no idea what to do. However, great companies are built on this concept/management style and once you get it right by first building a strong team, hiring the right people in the right positions, you will build an enduring company.