Savenda Group
- BUSINESS, ZAMBIA

SAVENDA Group CEO Clever Mpoha Touts Innovation, Diversification in Business Success

When Clever Mpoha chose to launch a new company in 1997, his home nation of Zambia was struggling with an array of challenges.

Falling commodity prices, faltering electricity generation and the steady depreciation of Zambian currency (the kwacha) were depressing the infusion of foreign currency that tended to bolster the local economy.

Even though he was starting with the equivalent of just $1,000 USD, Mpoha made the bold decision to launch SAVENDA Management Services LTD in this dicey milieu. The economic situation might have stacked the deck against the success of any new enterprise.

However, Mpoha came at his challenge with the frank recognition and sober acknowledgement that his new company would face stiff headwinds. He remained determined to build a sustainable platform that would generate future revenues for his fellow citizens.

Certainly, Mpoha was keen on making a prosperous business — but his vision for uplifting Zambian businesses and people was consistent with his ambitions for achieving personal prosperity.

Mpoha said that, “since, day one,” his goal was to “serve the people” and deliver practical solutions that went straight to the heart of African economic problems.

This business philosophy is reflected in the name of his company. SAVENDA stands for, “Save Nations, Develop Africa.” This core value still informs the essential corporate culture of SAVENDA Group today, more than 20 years later. Today it’s a thriving and multifaceted logistics and supply management enterprise that is generating $300 million in annual revenue.

The first transaction of SAVENDA was small but deeply informative for Mpoha. The thousand dollars he and his wife had cobbled together was used to buy and resell mobile phones. They deemed the product “attractive” because it represented an anti-magnetic wave device. Mpoha had anticipated the importance for African nations to skip the landline stage of development so that citizens could springboard directly to the digital age.

Mpoha made a profit on the phone sales. However, he recognized that the money he made needed to be immediately re-invested. Already thinking in a multi-layered fashion, that meant moving beyond just buying more phones for resale. Mpoha wanted to diversify rapidly.

Drawing from insights he had developed working for Barloworld, a large industrial supply firm, Mpoha’s instincts (based on practical knowledge) led him to consider the broad area of the private and public supply of goods and services.

At the time, both government and private enterprise entities were outraged in finding themselves mired in a widespread and increasingly untenable situation. Most suppliers of products and services were not delivering products of high quality and even fewer of them were delivering on time.

Clever Mpoha saw an opportunity in this situation. He knew that an entrepreneur who could provide solutions to difficult problems was an entrepreneur in a position to make a lot of money.

He began making bids on tenders available from both government and private operators. The results were swift. With hard work, the start-up SAVENDA company was landing contracts due to a stable reputation.

Mpoha called his entry into the mining sector his first significant diversification. In the late 1990s, the mining industry was booming in Zambia — but with their growth came significant growing pains, such as the challenge of efficient supply management.

To address this need, Mpoha sought out relationships with parties from other nations. The process was not always smooth, not always straightforward or without dozens of small obstacles to overcome.

However, solving these issues is what a supply and logistics company gets paid to do. If one can do it well, clients will pay well. Mpoha understood that. He was determined that SAVENDA Group would be a company that solved tough problems.

Through relentless hard work, he made it happen.

As Mpoha was delving into supply chain issues and finding innovative ways to unclog the numerous snags that crop up in complex processes, he learned that it bolstered his own effort to go after both high-paying and low-paying contracts. The latter is another element that’s fundamental to Mpoha -– the concept of diversification.

In his recent autobiography, Mpoha names diversification as a critical element of risk management. On the outside, it’s not a difficult concept to comprehend, he said. Just think of that old adage: “Don’t place all your eggs in one basket. Portfolio and business diversification are very important in risk management.”

He said further:

“Our investments are not just limited to business but include bonds, real estate, land and hard cash. I believe that, as a businessperson, you need to avoid surprises at all costs.”

While Clever Mpoha kept a laser-like focus on what he felt he needed to do to nurture SAVENDA Group in those early days of getting established, he readily acknowledges that demands within the country contributed to his success.

About Sam Tilston

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