You are, but a drop in the ocean

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Gamechanger-3DROP the ego whether you are dirty, poor or worth a billion.

That is the message that Africa’s youngest billionaire Ashish J Thakkar had for those that attended the inaugural “Game Changer” series organised by Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) in Harare last week.

Those that attended the event did so for probably two reasons — firstly, to see what a billionaire looked like and, secondly, having the hope that by being close to one, some of that “magic” to make a billion would perhaps rub off through osmosis!
What struck me and many others was the humility of the 32-year-old business tycoon.

Wearing a pair of faded jeans, designer T-shirt and loafers isn’t one’s idea of a person dripping with money. The only thing that offset the very casual look was a dark jacket with a lapel pin of the Zimbabwean flag and dark rimmed glasses.

Even Trevor Ncube, host and AMH chairman, remarked that he had a dilemma on what to wear knowing Ashish’s choice of garb. Ncube opted to leave out the tie though remarking that his guest wore “better” shoes on this occasion.

Being humble is an understatement when describing the Mara Group’s chief executive officer. Thakkar confessed that his most defining moment was when multi-billionaire Warren Buffett personally came down a lift to meet him and his father.

He says he was blown away that the globe’s richest dude would be so down to earth. Thakkar says he is prepared to wait for four hours outside an office to get served. And if he doesn’t, he would go away, come back and wait another four hours until he gets service!

“Always be down to earth and approachable because no matter how big you become, you are still just a drop in the ocean in the grand scheme of things. The day your arrogance kicks in, it’s all over,” Thakkar said.

We are all gobsmacked! My mind immediately conjures images of local guys who think they have arrived pumping up the volume on who they are so that they get noticed saying things like, “Do you know . . . who I am; who you are messing with?”

Well a few names come to mind but I won’t name and shame them lest we give them undue recognition. Thakkar was only 15 when he became an entrepreneur in Uganda. He and his family had moved there from Rwanda as refugees during the genocide.

They had lost everything and he raised seed capital of $5 000 to start a business sourcing computer parts in Dubai and selling them in Uganda.

He eventually grew a computer shop into a multinational conglomerate, the Mara Group, with interests in real estate, tourism, information and technology, renewable energy, manufacturing and financial services. The group’s operations are spread in 20 countries on four continents, all from scratch.

It is in financial services that Thakkar has made inroads into the Zimbabwean banking sector. Atlas Mara Co-Invest, a joint venture between Ashish Thakkar and Bob Diamond, former Barclays Bank PLC chief executive officer, is buying a controlling shareholding in ABC Holdings in a deal worth $265 million.

This is the biggest transaction in the Zimbabwean financial sector and, according to Diamond, seeks to position BankABC as the leading financial services organisation on the continent. It is not surprising Thakkar’s approach is towards growing on the mother continent. His Mara Group works on four principles, that the group should have a positive social impact, be Pan-African, must be game changing and be above board.

He has established the Mara Foundation to assist upcoming entrepreneurs.  He better understands the situation and the challenges besetting young businesses through his own experience. Thakkar believes that the solution for tackling unemployment is in nurturing entrepreneurs.

“We need to enable, empower and inspire young entrepreneurs,” he says.

Through the Mara Foundation, he has established Mara Mentor which is a platform for allowing entrepreneurs to access information, guidance and mentorship from business mentors. It’s not only about making money.

“Success should never be driven by money, but by what difference you are making,” Thakkar says.

He believes that Africa’s time has arrived.

“I have never seen so much excitement about Africa as I see now. We have the biggest and the best opportunities. We have to think differently; be a little crazy!” he says. The aim of the Mara Group is to have a self-sustainable Africa. The question Thakkar asks is whether we believe in ourselves.

“Stop blaming everybody and everything for your condition, stop making excuses, it’s time for action,” is Thakkar’s message.

On how he conducts business, Thakkar harks to the basic human tenets of truth, love and compassion. He says that in business one should be genuinely authentic, to be real. One’s value set should be the foundation. The Mara Group’s philosophy is to do good and do well. Thakkar says that doing business is about one’s mind set and keeping the faith. If one has a clean heart and is positive, then success will not be far behind.

“If you do good you will do well,” Thakkar adds.

Lenox Mhlanga is a social commentator