Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
Kura Chihota, CEO of Ascendant Property Fund (Zimbabwe)
1. What was your first job?
A property valuer in a chartered surveyor’s office in 1991.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I would say [then CEO of Gensec Property Services] Marna van der Walt. I participated in the management buyout of what was Gensec, so I went from being an employee to being a shareholder manager. It turned my perception of things.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Matching long-term opportunity with short-term realities. It’s great to sign a 10-year lease, but if they change the US dollar to the Zimbabwean dollar, how am I going to pay my bills at the end of next week, if that happened? So the business case stacks up, and that is what we want to do in the long term and it’s a fund and it will grow, but at the end of this month, how will I get paid for what I have done?
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I guess it is relationships. People have taken the time to open up and trust, and in real estate that is the only thing that gets you anywhere – who you are, your name, your reputation. A lot of talk is in the game, but if people have trusted you and you have delivered and you give that opportunity, it becomes self-reinforcing.
5. What are the best things about your country, Zimbabwe?
The wide open spaces. At night you see the stars. The pace of life is family orientated. When you have done your work at the office and you go home, what a pleasure. It’s a great place.
6. And the worst?
Where you meet them, the closed mindsets. You know, we can’t be defined by our mistakes and our past. We have got to look forward to releasing our energies and our creativities to create new solutions.
7. Your future career plans?
To double the size of this fund.
8. How do you relax?
I hear my son’s laugh – if that is playing PlayStation or running around, or whatever it is, that is actually what reminds me what it is all about and who it is for.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
Do what you can with what you have, where you are. Don’t tell me that you are constrained by capital or so-and-so has got [what you don’t]. You have what you have, make that work. If that’s a spaza shop at the end of your road and you have five bucks in your pocket, go buy a packet of sweets at two bucks, mark it up, and sell it at two-fifty. Do that a couple of times and grow.
Do what you can. Don’t just say that you want to be like Resilient Property Income Fund… buy a house in Cosmo City [Johannesburg, South Africa] at R250,000 (US$24,500), make it work, get the right kind of tenant, and it will be worth R350,000 ($34,000). Sell it, take that R100,000 ($9,800), do something else and work up a portfolio.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
Just believe. Cecil John Rhodes jumped on a ship and came here because he believed he could create an empire from Cape to Cairo. All he did was believe it. He didn’t bring much, he just found stuff that was here and made it work because he believed it. The sheik who built Dubai – he had a desert, but he believed he could do something else with it, so he did it. It’s that belief that allows you to realise something that is not necessarily immediately apparent. That is what gets you going.
Kura Chihota is the chief executive of Ascendant Property Fund, a new unlisted commercial property fund in Zimbabwe. Chihota has served on the board of companies such as the Fortress Income Fund, the Johannesburg Housing Company and the Leapfrog Property Group.