One of the most elusive business genes among Africans is widely believed to be building and sustaining family business for generations.
It has been described as the Achilles heel of businesses of black people founded enterprises across the globe. The cycle runs like this; a man (or woman in rare occasions) is born into poverty, he struggles and founds a business that he single handedly drives to some level of success then when he dies, depending on how much he had succeeded in growing the business, the family attempts to run it as they enjoy his sweat. But usually by the end of the second generation, the business begins crumbing or has, as is sadly famously said, “the wealth follows its owner,” in the grave.
It is, therefore, a kind of a novelty to find an heir who has not only maintained a business they inherited following the demise of its founder but has also grown its profitability, diversified and created a kind of empire. This story symbolises what was once known as the Otada Bus Company.
The current Kibanda County MP (Independent) Sam Owor Amooti Otada, had hardly walked out of university in 1998 at only 28 years when fate thrust him onto the control levers of what was one of the country’s biggest transport businesses.
“In fact, the party we were preparing for my graduation; the tents, the food and everything in Kiryandongo turned into the funeral facilities we used,” says Mr Otada.
The office label panel on the first floor of Social Security House (former Udyam House) just a few meters from Parliament (Otada’s political workplace), proudly announces Otada Group of Companies.
The office, though small, is immaculately furnished with comfy black leather chairs for his visitors. A Sun aquarium with different types of exotic fish graces one corner, a small book shelf holding books and business files occupies the other part of the wall while the chairman and chief executive of the group occupies a black leather swivel chair behind an imposing leather padded mahogany desk.
His phone rings constantly and out of courtesy to us for the interview he keeps turning off callers, occasionally picking those he thinks are more urgent.
Unlike many who mourn eternally the passage of their father and mentor, Otada celebrates the life of a man who entrusted him not only with a multi-million business at a tender age of 28 but also put the burden of driving forward a family business with its attendant challenges.
Today, what was once a single business has grown into four independently successful entities grossing an annual turnover of about Shs78 billion ($30 million).
This turnover is spread over the Otada Transport Company, Otada Construction and Civil Works, Otada Holdings (which runs the MTN franchise in Lango and Karamoja regions) and Otada Foundation which is the company’s real estate investment arm.
“Otada buses was the foundation, the business that my father and mother started as purely family owned until 1999 when my father passed away and I took over, we had about 30 buses,” he says.
The bus company with Otada Buses as the flagship company was later to be leaned to only eleven buses especially as competition increased and profitability reduced though the family has now made a decision to re-invest and expand it. Mr Otada says the decision is driven purely by its business feasibility.
The Otada Construction and Civil works is among other things into building roads and until recently was running the only waste landfill in east and central Africa in partnership with Kampala Capital City Authority at Kitezi.
Otada Holdings which runs the MTN franchise is the “cash cow” according to Mr Otada as it is responsible for at least half of the group’s annual revenues.