Prominent businessman Herbert Nkala says days are gone when young professionals could limit their career choices based on academic qualifications.
Nkala (HN), former chairman and director of up to 10% of companies quoted on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, current chairman of FBC Holdings and OK Zimbabwe, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the online talk show In Conversation With Trevor, a degree was a tertiary qualification which only gave people intellectual capacity to train and reach their dreams.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: I have been looking at your bio and CV and reading around. Let’s go back, you were born in Insiza, raised by an amazing mother, but your dad, a Methodist priest and teacher was a very strict man. What did that upbringing do to Herbert Nkala?
HN: My father ruled with an iron fist, a typical Pentecostal disciplinarian.
You would not dare miss the evening prayer. We did that every single day of our lives.
I learnt discipline from my father. Those who work with me today know that discipline is the bedrock of how we do business.
TN: This discipline of your dad and indeed the love coming from your mother, evidenced when you were 17 when you decided to take the walk of love, walked from Kwekwe to Harare to raise money for Jairos Jiri.
You were aiming to raise $600 at that time. You ended up raising $960. Talk to me, what motivated you? What led you to do that and what effect had it?
HN: I learnt that one of the Jairos Jiri centres in Bulawayo had its roof blown off. The association had no money to repair the roof.
I went to (former Bulawayo mayor) Joshua Malinga to ask how much was needed. I was told $600 was needed.
I discussed with my friends and we decided we would run to Kadoma, we had sponsorship.
On many occasions we wanted to stop a car or a bus, but we told ourselves we would finish this.
TN: But it opened doors for you, Herbert, because of what you did, Jairos Jiri Association offered you a scholarship to go and study overseas, that is amazing.
HN: The scholarship wasn’t from Jairos Jiri Association. It was from the Commonwealth, which used to give Jairos Jiri scholarships for people with disabilities, but they had been given permission to give us.
TN: It appears that Dairibord played a huge role in what you became professionally, am I right, Herbert?
HN: Absolutely right, Trevor. Those of us who were lucky to work for Dairibord can never get it out of our veins.
I arrived back with a science degree. It was very difficult to join industry.
I taught for some time in Gweru until I saw an advert for a production trainee at Dairibord. I was very lucky to be appointed as one of the six or so trainees.
That meant my salary coming down to 50% from what I was getting as a teacher, but it was a sacrifice that I made.
I was looking for a long-term view, not the get-rich-quick syndrome that most of our youngsters have.
TN: When you look back now, David was right. He saw something in you and it changed your career.
HN: It changed my career and it is certainly one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I would like to advise young people watching your programme, Trevor, that if you have done a degree in law, medicine, history, it merely gave you intellectual capacity to train and adopt your dream.
Days are gone where you think that what you have studied is what you have to live with the rest of your life.
TN: Is there anything that a young person listening to you can deliberately tap onto?
HN: It’s always there, always around us. The goodwill from people, the opportunities are always there.
Children are continuously experimenting, making mistakes and getting up to start again.
It has to start from inside you that I am not alone, I will get over this.
We need that naïve commitment to a vision that I’m going to make it.
That’s the determination that we need to achieve.
TN: As a result of this change in your career because of Dave Cain, you end up at National Breweries as the marketing and public affairs director.
But what struck me is your leading the team that developed Zambezi Lager.
That must have been both challenging and exciting. Share with us the highlights of that experience.
HN: I was very lucky to get a job at the Breweries.
My MD had a vision that while we were brewing South African Breweries products (the well-known ones, Castle, Lion, and Carling Black Label), Zimbabwe could develop its own brands of beer and I was given the task to do that.
We developed Zambezi Lager, which was a more mainstream type of beer.
We gave it a typical African name, green bottle and it has been very successful and popular in Zimbabwe’s main tourism resorts.
TN: It must give you tremendous satisfaction, Herbert, seeing the product still living on so long after those eventful years.
HN: Well, in any other country I would be getting US$0,01 for every bottle sold, that’s not happening.
Zimbabwe can create powerful home-grown brands; we have seen them in Tanganda, Mazoe etc.
TN: Then you go into tourism, Herbert, becoming the first CEO of Rainbow Tourism Group.
You joined RTG when they had four hotels, after 16 years they had 15 hotels and you have assisted in raising funds and listing on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.
What were the highlights of that episode of your life?
HN: This was yet another complete shot in the dark, jumping into an unknown territory, without any knowledge of that particular industry.
TN: What advice or what lessons are there for young people watching now because what you did was very unusual, not everybody does that kind of stuff?
What wisdom did you take out of this kind of learning sitting at somebody’s feet?
HN: Once you’ve got the intellectual capability and versatility to learn a new skill, you can greatly accelerate your learning curve experience; reduce the chances of making expensive mistakes by listening and asking questions.
I have a philosophy with the companies I lead right now, that everybody has to go through training at least once a year, from the CEO to the cleaner.
TN: Why is that important?
HN: It is easy to be successful in a place with relatively less competition. My job is to provoke my management into continuous improvement. I create tension in the organisation. I don’t want complacency.
This is why I send managers to organisations doing better than us so that they come back with a gap between what they are known to do and what we aspire to do.
TN: So this works because coming in from the cold into an industry that you knew nothing about and sitting at somebody’s feet and being taught about the industry, you ended up being twice the tourism personality of the year and you headed the tourism industry for four years, clearly something worked.
HN: Yes, my colleagues recognised, they saw something in me; we were able to grow four hotels into 15 hotels.
We were able to list the company on the stock exchange.
We were able to attract the biggest hotel company in the world to be our major shareholder.
TN: Herbert, as we speak now, the hotel industry has been decimated by Covid-19.
Is there a way of the industry coming back, particularly our local industry? What are your thoughts about how the industry gets back, Herbert?
HN: The tourism industry, which is the biggest industry on planet earth, employs up to 10% of all people, contributes about 12% of GDP to the world, and is the biggest employer of people all over the world.
This industry is completely decimated. Most hotel groups have shut down.
I was reading an article yesterday where there is a higher number of hotels under administration, liquidation; the same with airlines. Other than three or four American airlines are on liquidation, that should be your answer.
What do they do differently? That is the solution of our recovery here.
The recovery of our hotel and tourism industry is going to be driven from the domestic market.
TN: Herbert, your career as a director, as a chairman is iconic, you currently chair FBC Holdings, OK Zimbabwe, and you are a director of Tanganda Company, Mutirikwi Sugar Company, and Nuanetsi Range, what has been your experience like for you?
HN: I think you will see how, when we started what we call indigenous banks and indigenous institutions, we have had a massive shake-out lost our colleagues along the way.
That is based on discipline, on doing the right things properly.
We all know what needs to be done. If we have loops and holes in our disciplinary fabric, things very quickly go wrong.
Second, would be appointing the right people into leadership, businesses are run by people.
Good leaders will take an average institution and make it great.
l “In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor. Please get your free YouTube subscription to this channel. The conversations are sponsored by Titan Law.