It’s midnight to a few minutes on a blustery Friday in Kampala, the capital and commercial hub of Uganda. Ali-shah Jivraj rips through noisy city streets at 80 mph in white
“I decided to buy myself a Porsche. When you’re working hard, you deserve to spoil yourself a little, ”he says with a smirk.
By all means, Ali-shah Jivraj deserves his new toy.
Jivraj, a 27-year-old third-generation Asian-Ugandan entrepreneur, has worked extremely hard to become one of Africa’s most successful young entrepreneurs. He is the founder and CEO of Royal electronics, a $ 15 million (annual revenue) Ugandan company that assembles and distributes household appliances such as televisions, radios, speakers and DVD players. He also owns a real estate company that develops high-end residential apartments in two of Kampala’s most vibrant residential neighborhoods, and he’s setting up a battery manufacturing plant in Burundi, South East Africa. And what’s most fascinating about Jivraj is the fact that he only built his little empire with a little help from his family.
Jivraj was born into one of Uganda’s most legendary business dynasties. His grandfather, Merali Jivraj, was one of the richest and most influential businessmen of the pre-Idi Amin era, with extensive interests in mining and agribusiness in the western Uganda.
But in 1972, the Jivraj family lost almost everything when then Ugandan President Idi Amin expelled all Asians and Ugandans of Asian descent in ethnic cleansing. Amin, an eccentric and megalomaniac dictator, had summoned some of his top military advisers to the State House in Kampala in the early hours of Saturday, August 5, 1972, and told them of a dream in which God had ordered him to expel the Asian Community of Uganda. Amin accused them of monopolizing wealth and goods at the expense of indigenous Africans and of sabotaging the Ugandan economy. He then nationalized all businesses owned by Asian businessmen. With the eviction, the Jivraj family split into different camps and settled in various East African countries and the UK where they had to rebuild from scratch.
The Jivraj family eventually returned to Uganda in the 1980s and slowly rebuilt their fortunes in commerce. Jivraj was born in 1987. Even as a child, young Jivraj had good business acumen. He would save his pocket money and buy small items like cookies, candy and other materials and sell them to his classmates at school for a small margin. During Valentine’s Day in high school, he would get flowers for the Ugandan shilling equivalent of $ 0.2 and sell them to lovers for $ 1 a piece.
“I have always had an interest in business, even then. I think it was right in my blood; I always knew I was going to be a businessman. I’ve always had my eye open – looking for a business opportunity to make a lot of money, ”he says.
An opportunity would soon present itself. Around this time, a relative of the family overseas sent a gift package to the Jivraj family through a friend visiting Uganda.
“My relative in Pakistan had a friend who was visiting Uganda, so my relative sent us a package of sweets and other sweets through him. When he visited, we chatted, so I asked him what he does for a living.
It turned out that Jivraj’s new acquaintance was an electrician specializing in repairing televisions and had traveled to Uganda in search of a job.
“Coincidentally, at that time, we had a television set in the house that was damaged, so I brought it to him. In an hour, he fixed it. But while he was working there, I observed him closely with my mother. He was a guy who knew his ground – he took the TV apart completely, solved the problem and put it back together with such ease and dexterity. It blew me away. The light bulb in my head has turned on. I knew there was an opportunity here.
It was 2006. Jivraj, who had just finished high school, decided to take a year off. He hired the Pakistani acquaintance, raised funds from his family, and brought in containers of unassembled television parts. It decided to operate on an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) business model, in which it sourced CRTs, circuit boards and other parts from Malaysia and China, while that he assembled them in Uganda. The company started to assemble televisions, DVD players and LEDs, under the “Royal” brand, and sold them to customers at a price 50% lower than what was available in the market, and offered a warranty. 3 years to customers. They sold out very quickly.
“We succeeded very quickly because of our prices. We have always been competitive in this department. One of our best selling products is our 24 inch LED TV. Other companies sell their 24 inch LEDs for the equivalent of $ 250, while we sell ours for just over $ 120, and we are still able to make a profit, without compromising on quality.
From televisions, Jivraj expanded Royal’s portfolio to include other electronic items such as DVD players, radios and speakers.
Since then, Royal Electronics has enjoyed great success. Annual revenues exceed $ 15 million and the company has showrooms throughout Uganda with nearly 100 employees. In 2010, the company was ranked 7e in KPMG’s annual ranking of the top 100 midsize companies in Uganda. The company is currently one of the top 1000 taxpayers in Uganda.
Experts could argue that Jivraj’s relatively rapid success could be linked to his access to family money during his early days in the business; but the young businessman refutes this.
“At first we had access to family money, but it was not a gift. It was a loan. We had to repay what we borrowed within a stipulated time frame. Then we had to go to the banks with our books and our precedents in the field to raise funds. Banks have been our financiers for most of our working lives – not our families. A lot of people collect money from their family and mismanage it when running their business, and they are not able to repay it.
Jivraj, a devout Ismaili-Muslim, is very philosophical about his success, attributing much of his accomplishments to more divine providence than hard work.
“I think at the end of the day we only succeed because God allows it. I have found that the most successful person in life is not necessarily the hardest worker. If the greatest achievements in life went to the hardest working person, the donkey would be the king of the jungle, not the lion, ”he says between drinks in a bar in Kololo.
Building on its success in the television assembly sector, Jivraj decided to expand its business activities.
“As our business grew, we had regular cash flow; our debts were going down, so I was in a place where I was looking for the next big thing. So I was thinking a lot, and I had this idea to make batteries. Everyone in Uganda – large and small alike uses batteries for flashlights, radios, remote controls – so many things. Our company had money, but we felt we weren’t ready to build a factory, so we found a supplier in China and launched our own brand, Ugacell batteries, ”Jivraj explains.
Ugacell saw huge success in a short period of time, as Jivraj and his brother sold their own batteries at a price slightly lower than what was available in Uganda at the time.
“In Uganda the key is to provide a great product or service at a lower price than what is available in the market. People want good products, but since many people are not particularly wealthy, you have to be prepared to offer them these products for less than what is available in the market. But you should never compromise on quality. If you can do it, you will prosper.
With the success he has achieved in his television assembly business in Uganda, Jivraj is currently trying to replicate his success in Tanzania. He is in the process of setting up a similar television assembly company in Tanzania which so far has employed 100 people. He also reinvested the profits from his television business in other businesses. It is currently developing two residential apartment complexes in Kampala with a combined value of $ 17 million, in the upscale neighborhoods of Kololo and Bukoto. The real estate developments are financed by his personal savings and the financing of the commercial banks of the country. It has created nearly 100 jobs thanks to its real estate projects.
On philanthropy, Jivraj is vague. He claims to personally finance programs with social impact, but he does not believe in the dissemination of his philanthropic acts in the world. As Ismaili, he worships His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the spiritual leader of the 15 million Ismaili Muslims around the world.
“I watch how he created hundreds of businesses around the world that employ thousands and thousands of people. It’s a real impact. around them. Entrepreneurship in itself is probably the greatest social impact there is, ”he says.
It’s past 4 am when we decide to call it “one night”. On the way back, I ask him a last word. Listen to it:
“It is important to dream! You don’t have to part with a dime to dream! Don’t let anyone tell you that something isn’t possible, do it for yourself, fail and learn, but don’t let anyone else determine its success or failure for you, only you can!
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