It’s easy to momentarily forget about the company closures, job losses and business failures that have become all too common in Zimbabwe in the past few years when you look at the entrepreneurial success of Zimbabwean pastor, Shingi Munyeza.
Gifted with a passion for the services industry, Munyeza has shuttled from being the biggest investor in African Sun – the largest hospitality group in the country – to a new franchised restaurant venture that is thriving.
His choice to sell his stake in African Sun may appear to lack logic, especially considering that he was chief executive officer of the hotels venture for 13 years.
“There are three reasons why I exited African Sun, namely to allow for a new anchor shareholder who had deeper pockets to both invest in the company and expand the business – I did not have such deep pockets – and to allow a new management team to bring fresh ideas,” says Munyeza.
But it is the third reason that really compelled him to exit the business that runs hotels including Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and the iconic Elephant Hills Resort in Victoria Falls.
“I wanted to pursue other entrepreneurial opportunities without the limitations of a corporate office, hence why I started the current ventures and more to come.”
The idea to move into the franchised restaurant industry sprouted in Munyeza’s mind in 2008 “after seeing a niche market in this sector of hospitality” when he was still CEO of African Sun. This led to the creation in 2013 of franchised restaurant units under regional and international brands such as Mugg & Bean and News Cafe.
“I funded the initial stores from personal equity and then brought in two regional banks to co-fund this through debt instruments. In total, we now have nine outlets and are working on another three over the next 12 months,” says Munyeza.
This area represents a niche market for Munyeza and he says this is for the high-end market that has been exposed to these brands in other countries, such as South Africa. The approach is to have “regional and global standards and to ensure that these are maintained at all costs”.
Munyeza appears to have done his homework and many reckon that his efforts have been aided by his vast experience in the industry.
“My worst day was my best day since I started these ventures in food franchises. It was on November 3, 2013, when we opened our first franchised store, Mugg & Bean. We had such an overwhelming response from the market that we ended up closing the shop because we could not cope.”
“The worst part was we failed to deliver to customer expectation because we underestimated the demand from the market on both our service and product. It was the best day because without any above-the-line advertising the shop was continuously busy from morning ‘til we had to close at 4PM, when we should have closed at 10PM,” he says.
But being a Christian businessman, whose ventures count alcohol among the products offered, has led to critics saying his business goes against Christian principles. He, however, shrugs off the criticism, saying the business is for the greater good of the community as it employs people and offers services that are required by society.
Since he is a man of the cloth, he must know the passage in the Bible where Jesus admonishes a rich young ruler, telling his disciples: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
“It is very possible for a rich man to enter heaven. The point is always the love of money which hinders people to heaven. Money must always resource the purpose that God gave you and in itself must never be the purpose that God gave you,” says Munyeza.
He gives examples of some of the richest men in the bible, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, as well as some the disciples during Jesus’ time. He believes that he has been predestined to be both an entrepreneur and an evangelist.
But he has not been spared the struggles of any other entrepreneur and this includes the economic hardships in Zimbabwe. But, he believes that entrepreneurs are born to emerge out of difficult situations and he explains that he has failed more than he has been successful in his entrepreneurial life.
“I have failed seven times out of the 10 times I have tried to get into ventures. I’ve always had the faith and hope to get up and try again,” says Munyeza.
At the start of each day, Munyeza reads from the Bible and prays before reviewing the previous day’s sales reports. He then moves on to digest and watch news headlines before sitting in meetings. “From there on it becomes a fight in the jungle,” he says.
It’s a fight he seems to be winning.