Not many Ugandan businesses survive when the founder parents pass on, leaving them in the hands of their children. But it is a different case for Ali Lubega Elipa, the director of Swift Safaris Bus Company in Mbarara District, a company he took over when his father, the company founder, Hajji Musa Matovu, died in April 2010.
Lubega, who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication at Makerere University and was working as a business development manager with MTN, said he used to earn more than Shs2 million every month when his father died.
It later occurred to Lubega that he had to keep his father’s dream alive in the public transport sector in addition to supporting his family since this was one of the major family sources of income.
Taking up business
Swift Safaris Bus Company was, before Hajj Musa’s death, operated by business partners but not brothers (Hajj Musa Matovu and Leo Beyagira) running it as a joint venture.
Lubega took up the management of Swift Safaris buses in 2012, two years after his father’s death, but he describes the transition as challenging. “Our father kept us away from his businesses, he wanted us to study and focus on other things,” said Lubega adding how he had to find his way. “His death was sudden; he had not arranged for the takeover of his business. So I was totally green on where and how to begin.”
Worse still, following the misfortune, the business was thrown at him by his late father’s business partner without proper records.
“I think there was no good will from him after my father’s death because he run this business for two years alone. When we asked him for accountability, that’s when he gave us just six buses which were also old, saying this was our share, yet the company had 20 buses,” he adds.
With no prior experience on how to run the business, Lubega took up the risky and unpredictable business. In the midst of this mess, Lubega was informed of yet another business partner to his father that he had to contend with.
On getting business back on track, Lubega said he had to rely on credit facilities and loans at first but added most of these have now been paid up.
The buses have free wireless Internet and television that entertain passengers. The reclining seats and sockets to charge phones also make it convenient for travellers.
Transport fares from Mbarara to Kampala are between Shs13,000 and Shs15,000 depending on the circumstances. He describes the peak season as December and January, this being a period for the Christmas festive season and students going back to schools and the low season being June, July and October.
The company has expanded from the six to 15 buses. “I have paid off some debts. I had inherited more than Shs750 million when I took over this business,” he says.
Some people thought this business would collapse but I have proved them wrong and instead stabilised and improved it, giving our clients confidence and proper services.
Our late father’s family has become more united because through this business, the orphans (14) and widows (3) have been catered for.
The company employs more than 100 workers.
Lubega attributes the company’s success to family support and goodwill from the public.
Avoid lavish lifestyle especially youth, he advises.
“I don’t think I would have managed to get to this level if I had not avoided such because at times, this lifestyle distracts you and you lose focus.”
Hard work and persistence also count.
Be trustworthy. “In business what keeps you going is being trustworthy,” he says.
Lubega said he was inspired by the lady he identified as Hajjati Kiyimba of Hotel Brpvad in Masaka District. “This lady took over her late husband’s businesses when he died, defying the common thinking about the difficulties that the youth and widows are unable to manage family businesses when they are passed on to them. This lady has managed to take the husband’s business to the next level,’’ says Lubega.
I want to keep business at manageable levels with good and well maintained buses. I also intend to bring in luxury coaches for our customers, build school for the needy, venture into real estate and bakery. The company now has 15 buses.
What customers say about the bus services
“The company workers are very trustworthy. I have never lost my client’s documents after using this bus. I advise them to continue enforcing strict discipline, especially on brokers who at times forcefully drag clients to their buses by grabbing their properties, especially in the bus parks because of competition”.
Joseph Mukiiga, courier businessman
“I always use Swift Safaris because of the good customer care and comfort of the bus. Good enough, they do not charge for luggage, however heavy it is.”
Jalia Muntu, teacher