Shepherd Bushiri Investment, SBI, is arguably one of the Southern Africa’s most diversified and fast-growing conglomerates. With tentacles in over 8 sectors, the group was shaped from a modest agribusiness company-involved in agriculture at the far-end of rural Malawi, Mzuzu. As they say, there are no accidental paths to success; the company’s fast-paced growth can be largely attributed to the founder and CEO Prophet Sheppard Bushiri. Fondly known as Major 1, the resilient entrepreneur surely had his success long foretold. At the age of 13, Young Bushiri had resolved not to play at the fringes, but to work hard and put his name on the global map – this is exactly what he is doing with his various businesses.
In an exclusive Interview with African Leadership Magazine, Mr. Bushiri talks about his businesses; his formative years in business, amongst other issues.
You are obviously a young man, who is on a mission in business. How did it all start?
I began farming as a business in Malawi in 2009, I grew the business until I was able to buy a land in a strategic area of Tanzania that was known for its gold deposits. I bought the land, just a small piece of it because I wanted to go into mining. I was then appointed the president of AFRIK — an entity that provided loans to developing countries. AFRIK is an offshoot of National Standard Finance, infrastructure and sovereign finance organization that provided loans to African governments, which paid me commissions from transactions. From those commissions, I built my businesses.
By March of that year 2009, I begin looking for investors close to the land I had bought because next to it was a mine that was owned by the American government, and there were other mines close by, so I was so sure that it had gold. So I came to South Africa to look for investors. After surveys, we found out that indeed the land had gold. Although it was not much, what I had was enough. From there my business grew. The first company I built was in Dubai, providing consulting services and it is still doing very well.
I then moved to South Africa from there. Firstly, I purchased private jets for presidential travels. We are also into energy drink production, and also have a mine in Zambia —- the Emerald mine — of course, you know emerald is more expensive than gold. We are also into the hospitality sector where we operate hotels in Nairobi, Dubai, and other new acquisitions. We also have another business where we help industries to sell cars. I also run a mobile network company in South Africa, and it’s doing very well. We have over 5000 employees in all our business subsidiaries.
Some have argued that combining business and ministry is a distraction. As a preacher, how are you able to combine business and ministry?
I don’t work too hard in that sense, I have put in place systems, but that was what God helped me do. As an entrepreneur, you don’t work as hard as a business person because you think. I don’t work, systems do the work nicely.
When did your big break come?
The first day I had the idea to change my community and the world, that day was my big break. Being an entrepreneur, it is not about money. The idea and knowledge of what to do was my big break. I only had about US$3000, but I wanted to be a billionaire. The best thing in my business journey was the first day I had an idea, was the day I sat down to plan. My plan was to buy land, put electricity and water there automatically, the value will increase, and I will register with the city council and sell at a higher price.
Please tell us more about your businesses?
The SBI group has about 8 distinct businesses. We have the SB Consulting with its headquarters in Dubai, which is set up to advise investors seeking to invest in Africa. The SB Mining, which has an ongoing emerald mining operation in Zambia. We have the SB Hotels, which is the hospitality and tourism arm of the group and doing business in South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, and the United States. We currently operate the only five-star Hotel in Malawi. We have the Favour energy Drink, which is probably the only energy drink of African origin. We also have the SB Mobile, a mobile telecommunications company, currently operating in South Africa. It might also interest you to note that we operate a private jet chatter, exclusively for high-end users, with the hope of a much more commercial venture in future. We also have the Shepherd Bushiri University in South Africa. Some other businesses are still in the gestation stage and would be unveiled in due course.
What values have you built your business empire on?
The fear of God. I fear God so much. A person who fears God is not corrupt, he is honest. I am a person of boldness. My biggest principle has been taking the risk and managing the risk. Africa’s problem is not taking risks. It is about managing the risk. I have a strong team that is like a wall. And I tell them to hold on strongly — they are a very intelligent team.
Another factor is Capital Management which is the key thing. Many Africans don’t think about how to improve the business.
There is nothing called small capital, nothing started big. Everything started small. There is nothing called small money. Wealth management is very important. For us, the definition of wealth creation is about managing what we have. We invest in small things which can return money faster. Our system of wealth creation is to create wealth from anything that is on demand. We have a FOREX trading team of experts and we have made quite a lot of money there. These are the things that are very essential. They make us turn little money into big.
How can others who combine ministry and business go about this for optimum productivity?
As a prophet, I have undergone several attacks from the media, and people who oppose me as well as some government leaders, and only an investment or business approach, has made it possible to survive. This is because Africa is a huge investment theatre and many investors are coming in. Even in some remote areas, you can still do good business, but everyone concentrates on the towns. Anything you start in Africa has a business value, but we all are thinking of only buying and selling. Money is not in the town, money is in the villages, these are the people that must get things, the rich people in urban areas are already saturated. Most people having problems in Africa are only servicing an inflated society.
The fact that I am a prophet, most people are amazed at how focused I am on business. But I am like every other human being, If the ministry has needs, I have to help out, create jobs for the unemployed, and also help those who have nothing.
Africa has the potential to do continuously good business, but the key lies in the know-how and focus. So despite the corruption and other challenges in Africa, businesses can thrive if we adopt the right attitude.
Was any of your business an attempt at following the trends?
Actually, my businesses are classified into long-term businesses and exit businesses. That is there are businesses that I do for the long term, and there are others that I exit before the market gets exhausted.
We exit businesses because you don’t test the waters with your two feet, you spread the risks. Africa has a bright economic future. The economy of Africa rests on Tourism and Resources. When I look at where the world is going, if you do Tourism you are right, you cannot go wrong. Every economy is backed by its resource. There are things we know that if I put my money in, I won’t lose. I invest in things that won’t lose value. We project what will happen in the years to come. While diversifying, we structure it in a way that the investments will keep the money coming in. It is not about making money, it is about keeping money in things that appreciate in value and contribute to the community.
We are also currently working on a partnership with Liverpool FC to have our ENERGY drink as the official drink of the club.
How do you relax after a long haul of activities?
My body is now used to not sleeping long at nights. I normally sleep about three hours in the day. I personally go through everything to know what is happening in each department. You must have firsthand information. Most successful people do not rely on a manager’s report.
What legacy do you want to leave behind? What would you want to be remembered for?
I bring out love to the community. I don’t enjoy my worth at the expense of my work. A month ago, I bought over 20 cars for people who work for me and the church. Love for me is very vital. You can’t do charity and a lot of work without love. Particularly, I want to be remembered for love.
What inspires your giving, beyond the fact that you just want to give?
I am a faithful person, there is no other person that I look up to like Jesus Christ. As for me, I remember that Christ says give. And that inspires me to do something. Some time ago in Malawi, I called all the beggars on the street and gave just as Jesus gives.
For a man of your age and experience, what word do you have young entrepreneurs?
The biggest challenge is people pulling each other down. All the application that Africans create doesn’t become big. The giving up spirit is also another challenge. I began active business at 25, but the acumen had been there from the age of 13. I made my first US$3 million at the age of 25 and began to build from there. I have never come across as someone trying to give up. My strongest character is determined regardless of what difficulty I go through. That’s my message to Africa’s young entrepreneurs.