I HAVE said a million times in this column that the Zambian version of business success at times leaves much to be desired. I do not know whether it is something cultural or just a mindset issue, but we tend to glorify those that do not necessarily deserve to be glorified.
There are people in our society that are revered as accomplished businessmen yet their wealth has no audit trail.
What’s more, it’s plain as day that the so-called wealth was built from dishonest and dishonourable conduct; the mere fact that the individual that owns it was not exposed and denounced in public shame as has been the case with others does not make that person special.
A tenderpreneur is not necessarily a crook or a dishonest person. A tenderpreneur might be a conniving individual that works with his friends of influence to win undeserving tenders and boast of being a successful businessman, but this in itself does not mean that he is a crook. Given the opportunity, many of us would use our well-placed connections to jumpstart our businesses.
Note that I said jumpstart our businesses. A tenderpreneur is no entrepreneur either. An entrepreneur is not just someone who runs a business, more than that, an entrepreneur creates, innovates and or adds value.
It takes skill, knowledge, vision and capital to be a successful entrepreneur. It takes powerful friends to be a successful tenderpreneur.
This is why you may have noticed a certain trend in Zambia: With every government comes a crop of specific “successful” business people. The moment government changes, you don’t see those people around anymore.
Those that are clever invest their money wisely and move on. And those that are not go back to being broke within a few years. You even see them shamelessly scrounging for crumbs like a street beggar from the new administration. It’s sad and pathetic.
Entrepreneurs are forever, the only thing that can stop them aside from the power of the Almighty is an unforeseen economic disaster. Even then, value does not lie in what they own or owned, but what they know they can create, meaning they can always make a comeback.
This business of running around with your company certificate in your briefcase chasing politicians around so that you can be a “made man” is simply weak. Serious people strive to provide a good or service that meets customer demands and they seek to expand that activity until their business is scaled to mega proportions.
Serious people do not chase politicians around anyhow looking to connive and rob Mother Zambia in some shortsighted and cheap supply deal.
But, let me not be too harsh on tenderpreneurs, at the end of the day, the game they play can be a useful tool for jumpstarting one’s career as an entrepreneur.
It’s no secret that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. It is also true that someone once said, “You have your way, I have my way, as for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Not everything about tenderpreneurship is bad.
For starters in a country where much of the commerce is dominated by foreign-owned entities, the tenderpreneurship at least in no small measure goes to Zambians. It’s mostly done by ourselves.
Secondly, one of the biggest hindrances to doing business that most people with brilliant ideas face is the lack of capital. Tenderpreneurship is an activity that can lead to raising much needed capital.
So the challenge to tenderpreneurs is as follows, Firstly, utilise your unique opportunity to know people in high places to raise much needed capital for a proper business project.
Secondly, envision your business surviving beyond the administration that offers you patronage.
Thirdly, build a business stream of income outside the contracts provided by the people you know.
Also, follow the important rules of building a well-run business such as branding and separate entity principle. Also invest in creativity, innovation and or value addition.
If you can do these things, you will have successfully moved from tenderpreneur to entrepreneur. You will have also moved from being ordinarily labelled as a liability to the Zambian economy to an asset.
In saying this, I am not encouraging young Zambians out there to be tenderpreneurs. I am simply stating the reality of how things work in our country and that it can give you a much needed to platform to get somewhere in business. Not only can it be good for the individual who moves from tenderpreneur to entrepreneur, but it is also good for the economy.
Proper entrepreneurship creates jobs, pays taxes to the treasury and brings about motivation for others to follow. So let us not only see the negative in certain business practices or tendencies in our environment, but let’s try to build those tendencies to best practice.
Although it is not the same thing, moving tenderpreneurs to entrepreneurs can be paralleled with moving informal sector business people (of which our country has so many) to formal sector players.
Tenderpreneurs and informal sector players are two categories that understand certain things and you might say are half-way there, they simply lack that knowledge gap that can take them to the next level.
We must seek best practice otherwise certain dreams for the control of our economy will remain pipe dreams. I had a lecturer in college who would say, “The problem with you African businessmen is that your business cannot outlast you. And when you die, they bury you with your ntemba!” He took us in a course called Business Analysis.
At the time, I did not quite understand, but today I understand full well. In that simple statement lies a very value piece of knowledge that goes: If you can get the concept that a well-run business must live forever, then you will look at building your business a certain way.
That is the challenge to tenderpreneurs. For just like informal sector players, if they do not change their business ways, they will surely be buried with their “ntemba.” It will not be here for good like Standard Chartered Bank.
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