Many Zambian entrepreneurs do not read. The drive to make money, at times using shortcuts, has short-circuited the potential to grow these businesses in a balanced way. Many local entrepreneurs have robust but hugely unsustainable operations owing to lack of knowledge about business presumptions. Entrepreneurship comes as a natural gift. However, this gift is supplemented through the creation of the right balance between business acumen and business management. The globally renowned entrepreneurs whose businesses are cited as case studies in business books have learned the need to bring on board knowledgeable business managers on their ranks.
Zambian entrepreneurs, though appearing prosperous on face value, encounter a lot of challenges. Most of these will only be resolved if there is considerable academic research just in the same way American businesses utilize the knowledge churned out by the Harvard School. Academicians are authorities not only in the world of hypothesis but in the practical world.
Most of the challenges that entrepreneurs face are unique to given situations. British entrepreneurs may be facing problems of time lags in change management. The Chinese entrepreneurs may have problems with limited market outlets. American entrepreneurs would be going through challenges of working capital.
It is; therefore, wrong to assume that Zambian entrepreneurs would be facing the same problems in every setting. Only academic research would create the required balance in enterprise. Why are most Zambian entrepreneurs not allowing their subordinates to handle cash? Why is it that an average enterprise retains staff for no more than a period of six months?
Answers to the above questions should not be grossed over. The connection between local enterprise and academic research should be the ideal strategy in ensuring Zambian businesses remain relevant to themselves and the economy. There is this overall belief that business articles and books should be written by those actively involved in enterprise. The opposite is the norm. Academicians can assimilate various scenarios involving a cluster of entrepreneurs and develop effective theories and models that answer critical questions. This is what creates the right balance in business.
In my book Business Values for Our Time, I have dedicated considerable time on issues of lead-time and cash-flow and why these two concerns rank top among challenges facing local entrepreneurs. The reason I thought this would be an important subject was that many Zambian entrepreneurs fail to break-through business huddles because of project maturity mistiming. They start their businesses with great promise and will run with the project for considerable time until their assumptions fail. The mismatch between project and loan maturity accounts for the demise of 80 percent of Zambian enterprises. Striking business deals based on guess work and empty assumptions is a real nightmare.
The other biggest problem that also occupies considerable book space is managing growth. Many businesses enjoy huge growth levels (high turnover, more clients and a large number of employees). However, growth for its own sake is useless. In Zambia, managing growth, where profits reflect relative growth, is a problem. All large enterprises that enjoy a health growth curve have a perfect balance between revenue growth and return on assets. It is during the time of growth when entrepreneurs fail to make informed decisions about borrowing and where they should go for affordable finance.
A business that is growing smoothly gets deceived that everything will always look up. I know a business that steadily grew and enjoyed a huge flow of clients for a period. It was evident to everyone the entrepreneur had struck gold. Unfortunately, potential competitors were watching his every move. In December last year, they moved into the location with similar services. The difference was that they had sufficiently planned to dislodge him from his business. They have managed.
My personal dream is to help businesses graduate from small one-person establishments to global corporate entities. I shared information with one of my business colleagues recently and after taking him through business growth principles, he urged me to help him brand his business so that it sells it’s francise. The process of getting there is not an easy one, but we should work towards it. Manda Hill and all the other ‘Gates’ being launched will be largely occupied by foreign brands franchised to Zambians. I want to see a time when a president of another country will jet into Zambia signing agreements that will open business inroads for Zambians to invest abroad. We have had many VVIP visits recently but looks like most of them were focused on creating inroads into Zambia.