From $75 to $3 billion: How a Zimbabwean engineer built a global empire

Born 29th January 1961, the London-based Zimbabwean businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and executive chairman of diversified international telecommunications group Econet Wireless and Zimbabwe’s richest man.


Strive Masiyiwa initally worked briefly as a telecoms engineer for the state-owned telephone company, he quit his job and set up his own company named Econet Wireless Group with the equivalent of US$75 (equivalent in dollars). Within 5 years, he emerged as one of the country’s leading industrialists.

Econet Wireless (Econet) is a privately held global telecommunications company with business operations and investments in more than 20 countries in Africa, Latin America, The United Kingdom, Europe, China, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and New Zealand with products ranging from Telecommunications, Internet services, Solar energy, E-commerce, Education, Renewable energy, Banking, Bottling to Hospitality and Video on demand.


Global Icon

  • In 2015 Forbes Magazine named Masiyiwa in the 10 Most Powerful Men in Africa list for 2015.
  • In 2014 Fortune Magazine named Masiyiwa one of the 50 most influential business leaders in the world.
  • In September 2014, the Chair of the African Union (AU), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, asked Masiyiwa to help mobilise resources for Africa’s response to the EBOLA outbreak. This was the first time The AU had asked a business leader to undertake such a role. The fund has raised millions of US dollars from the public using SMS donations, with contributions coming from many African countries. The donations enabled The AU to deploy the largest known contingency of African healthcare workers to combat the spread of the deadly pandemic.
  • In 2012, President Barack Obama invited Masiyiwa and four other business leaders to attend the 38th G8 summit at Camp David to address them on strategies on how to increase food production and end poverty in parts of Africa.
  • In 2003, a CNN Time magazine poll named Masiyiwa as one of the most influential business leaders in the world.



Personal Fortune


There are no reliable estimates of Masiyiwa’s wealth, because the vast majority of his business investments are held in private businesses. The only publicly known information is that of his listed business in Zimbabwe, the country he left 15 years ago. Based on this, Forbes Magazine estimates put Masiyiwa’s personal wealth at US$600 million. Ventures Africa recently estimated Masiyiwa to be worth over US$1.4 billion.


Why is Strive’s story so strong?

How Strive Masiyiwa transformed a $75 dollar startup into a company generating revenues in excess of US$ 3 billion (2011) is amazing. Here are a few brand lessons from business mogul, Strive Masiyiwa.


Saving can transform your life

Strive Masiyiwa once suggested to about 10 of his coworkers at a pub “Why don’t we start a savings club in which we all pledge to set aside a portion of our salaries?” It seemed a good idea to every one of His friends, even though only two eventually put in any money (including himself). Strive Masiyiwa said that this singular action transformed him into a very serious individual.

Key lessons:

  • Once you start putting money aside, things begin to happen.
  • When people must put their money into an account, you’ll soon see who’s committed and who is not.
  • Don’t be discouraged if others aren’t willing to commit; just proceed with those who will, even if it’s just you!
  • Even if you haven’t yet decided what you’re going to do, start saving, even if it’s very little. It’s not reasonable to imagine you’ll be able to borrow money, and start a business, without putting in anything yourself, however small.


Brand Integrity matters

Strive Masiyiwa’s company once had a dispute with another company, Masiyiwa then found a document that could totally damage their case; He definitely had the choice whether or not to disclose the document since no one had laid their eyes on it as at the time, but due to the court’s prior orders for both parties to disclose all documents, Masiyiwa submitted the document which could totally damage their case. He said that they stood the risk of losing $15 million if they lose the case; notwithstanding, he stood for integrity. Masiyiwa said “I will rather lose believing God was with me than win knowing He was not”

According to the saying of Reverend Martin Luther King Junior, Strive believes that there is always time to do what is right.

He is an ardent believer in building Brand integrity, He says “The original is always the best and it has brand integrity, you must do your best, and try very hard, to instill in your brand a culture of integrity. This is because, in the final analysis, a brand tends to take on the persona of its founders, and those who manage the business on a day-to-day basis”.


Sales is not the same as Marketing

Marketing differs from sales; Marketing goes beyond advertising and getting people to buy your goods. If you are to run a profitable business, you must understand the importance of marketing. “I learned that to develop a really successful marketing plan meant thinking “big picture” while also doing detailed research.

According to Strive, your marketing plan should at least discuss the basics:

  • Your target market (Who and where your customer are; past, present and future? Be precise).
  • Your customers (What matters to them most? Price, quality, prestige, etc.?)
  • Your competitors (Who are they, and why are your products better/different? Remember the role of perception).
  • Sales strategy (What’s the best way to reach out to different customers in your specific target market? Who do your customers trust?)
  • Advertising (Internet)
  • Customer support (Listening is so important. The value of your brand depends on it!)


Know what drives the industry

Econet Wireless is launching a new Pay-TV service called ‘Kwesé TV’ within the next few months and Strive understands that in TV business, the product being sold is the content – He understands that such content must be compelling and worth paying for.

Kwesé TV which will be broadcast across 44 African countries must have the ability to accommodate the rich and diverse interests of the company. Like Econet Wireless, Knowing exactly what drives the industry is an important strategy a brand must be well aware of.

In His own words “I will not launch a business, where there are existing competitors, unless I can identify at least five “insights”; you might call them “game changers.” I must then hold these insights closely to my chest like a good chess player. If the game intensifies, I must be able to generate at least five more in “quick fire”! Getting the desired insights requires a great deal of study, research and meditation


What’s the essence of wealth if you don’t affect your generation?

Strive Masiyiwa has impacted the lives of thousands of people due to his generosity and has won numerous accolades and gained international recognition for his philanthropic activities. He is considered one of Africa’s most generous humanitarians. Masiyiwa has used his wealth to provide scholarships to over 100,000 young Africans over the past 20 years through his family foundation. He supports over 40,000 orphans with educational initiatives, as well as sponsoring students at universities in various continents.

Published by Ogunbowale Olugbenga

Ogunbowale Olugbenga is a multiple award winning social entrepreneur & digital skills expert. An alumnus of the Leadership in Business Institute of Kellogg School of Management (USA), He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria). Inspired by the plight of millions of unemployed youths, Olugbenga founded, a digital agency passionately growing businesses & accelerating the application of digital skills for economic prosperity across Africa. To help institutions prevent scandals & promote performance, Gbenga founded Polivoice.Work, an anonymous employee feedback tool that captures & analyses feedback anonymously in real time to detect, predict & improve work place conditions. A Mandela Washington Fellow, Tony Elumelu Fellow, Royal Common wealth society fellow, YALI star of business & YALI network influencer, Olugbenga is the founder of Africa’s biggest orphanage outreach, The Orphan Empowerment Society, with a 5,000 strong volunteer force and a presence in 19 African countries empowering thousands of orphans with free vocational skills, medical care, & food. He is also the co-founder of the communication & leadership organization, Pacesetters Leadership Club.

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