Patrick Bitature: How I became one of the richest people in East Africa

I was born into a reasonably well-off family. My parents worked for the EAC, so we had lived in Kenya and Tanzania. We had drivers and many privileges that I took for granted. We owned property, farms, buses, and cars.

When I was 13 my dad was brutally murdered by the Idi Amin regime. My Dad died at the age of 44, just as I began to really know him and admire him as my true hero. I really loved him so much. I was so devastated and shocked..…words cannot describe. It was the most heart wrenching experience.

Not only were we robbed of a father and bread winner. Everything material we had was taken overnight. All the material things we had were all gone in a flash. Taken.

Riches to rags doesn’t begin to describe what we went through. It was moments like these that I felt God had indeed forsaken us. Father Grimes of Namasagali college took me in with my siblings school fees or not for the next few years

The turning point in my life was about a year later, on the day when the family sat down on a mat, not a dining table, to have tea without Sugar for the first time. My mother insisted we just get used to it and drink the tea. Then my youngest brother started crying for Daddy. Then my mother who had 6 children by the age of 30 started crying too. Hysterically. And asking God to come and take us all. Then I felt a big lump in my throat.

That night I was on the Akamba Bus to Nairobi to look for some sugar. I returned the next day with a suitcase full of sugar – 15 kgs. I got the extra from concerned relatives that realised a 14-year old had come all the way to Kenya just for sugar. Traveling that far in those days was unheard of. It was like going to Syria today.

Communication was hardly there. Crossing the border was scary but no one suspected a young kid to be smuggling sugar in a school suitcase. When I got back home there was so much delight and happiness. My mum hugged me. I automatically realized that I was no longer a boy. I had become a man. That one act had re-defined me. The neighbors heard on the grapevine that I had brought sugar and almost begged to buy some. So we sold them half, and got 4 times what it had cost. And I was on the bus back to Kenya for another suitcase of sugar…and so my career began.

Do you know what it is to live without a Door lock on the front of your house, or not to have a bathroom door that actually closed? That is the loss of Dignity. I had to restore our dignity, and family Self Esteem.

Do you really know the Importance of jobs to society?

After 6 years in senior school, and 3 years at Uni, if you then spend the next 3 years looking for a job, knocking at so many doors and walking till the soles of your shoes are gone. With your now tattered CV in your hand. Your self esteem will no doubt diminish.

I encourage many of you to go out there and start up a business that creates jobs.
We need young people who will find a creative idea or a solution to a problem, grab the opportunity, take the risk, and set aside or postpone the comforts of today by setting up a businesses that will provide jobs and profit for tomorrow.

Jobs are what allow people to feel useful and build their self-esteem.

Jobs make people productive members of the community.

Jobs make people feel they are worthy citizens.

It is you the youth of today that go into business with knowledge and skills that have the power to harness the creativity and talents of others to achieve a common good. To put labor, capital and other factors of production to work.

This should make Uganda more competitive and a useful member of the greater East African region.

Let me make it clear to you all: Job creation is a priority for any nation to move forward.

I say to you, get a job if that’s the best option open to you, for not everyone can start a business. Take the job and work as hard as you can. Learn everything these companies can teach you-and build a network of contacts and friends, then leave whilst you still have the energy!

If you dream of creating something great, do not let a 9-to-5 job – even a high-paying one – dull you into a complacent, comfortable life. Let that high-paying job propel you towards building a business for yourself instead.

Looking back, I have succeeded where many have failed mainly because of hard work, persistence, focus on my set of goals, discipline, honesty, taking responsibility for my life and believing that I could change my future.

It was a time of dog eats dog. No, even man eats dog. And I had to find a way to support myself and my family. You are beginning as Uganda’s oil is about to flow.

I started by selling sugar, then shirts then ladies dresses, then shoes, then a Night club, foreign exchange, then mobile phones and airtime.

Ever since, I have tried to provide a service or product that is needed by a customer for a fair return.

And I realised that I got a lot of satisfaction in providing the service or that product period. Making a profit was simply the bonus that followed most of the time.

I set up Simba Tours and Travel, Simba Forex Bureau, Simba Telecom Ug, Simba Telecom in Tz with Vodacom, Simba Telecom in Kenya with Safaricom, invested in property, Hotels, Energy generation, Farming, Micro Finance banking, Media, Insurance and transport.

Today I stand here before you with humility, as the Chairman UIA, Chairman of a listed company -Umeme, with thousands of Ugandan shareholders, an advisor to H.E. the President, Honorary counsel for Australia to Uganda.

But most importantly I employ over 1500 staff today.

It was only when I had gained more experience and built my reputation, that I could borrow money from the banks and get into serious property and bigger business.

That’s the Simba story. From selling 5 kilos of sugar to the neighbors to becoming the biggest mobile money and airtime dealer in Africa

When I had shown success in the smaller businesses, I was able to raise money in the capital markets-through IPOs like we did for New Vision, National Insurance Company and recently for Umeme. And I have managed to develop some complex, capital-intensive businesses like ElectroMaxx the power generating company.

It’s not been easy; it’s been slow, but sure. One day at a time, one brick at a time. You, however, have time on your side. Use it well. And don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes along the way.

From kindergarten through to university, you learn very few skills or attitudes that would ever help you start a business. Skills like sales, networking, creativity and being comfortable with failure or rejection.

In fact you are taught not to make any mistakes. Mistakes are the best teachers if you learn the lesson and don’t repeat them.

No business in the world happens without someone buying something. But most students learn very little about sales in school or university

Moreover, very few businesses get off the ground without a wide, vibrant network of advisers and mentors, potential customers and clients, quality vendors and valuable talent to employ.

You don’t learn how to network crouched over a desk studying for multiple-choice exams. You learn it outside the classroom, talking to fellow human beings face-to-face. I commend MUBS for their different approach to this crucial training, it’s begun to pay dividends..

I must now end by wishing all of you good luck and may you be the future that transforms our beloved motherland Uganda.

Patrick Bitature is a businessman, entrepreneur and investor. He is the Chairman of Simba Group Uganda. One of the Richest men in Uganda and E. africa.

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