“It is difficult to tell you all of my business experiences given that I have been in business for as long as I can remember,” Mr Patrick Bitature, the owner of a number of businesses recently told a breakfast meeting of up-coming entrepreneurs in Kampala.
His story is intertwined with that of Uganda due to the fact that he was born around the same time Uganda got independence -1962.
Like many other successful entrepreneurs, Mr Bitature had a humble beginning and climbed to the top through a combination of hard work and good timing.
He says: “My childhood was pretty smooth because my parents had good jobs with the East Africa Community, which would afford us a Shamba boy, a car and a chauffeur to drive us around.” However, Mr Bitature recalls how the entry of Idi Amin Dada through a coup in 1979 changed everything.
Things went from bad to worse and eventually life became impossible.
As a young boy, Mr Bitature discovered that he had to mature rather first and it was during this time that he slowly but steadily started transforming into a man with a more focused outlook towards life.
“It was at that time that things changed, it was hard for me and my family and we did not only lose everything but my father died too.”
“There was no way through because the person who would plan for us had passed on.”
The sinking economy that resulted from bad leadership affected all forms of people including Mr Bitature’s family. Uganda became a joke and many people lost hope.
Eight years down the road, President Amin was toppled by a combined force led by the Tanzanian army. “During the time, inflation had skyrocketed to about 400 per cent and everything seemed to be scarce.”
At the time of Amin’s fall, Mr Bitature was a first year student at Makerere University; however the future looked bleaker because of a power struggle to replace Amin.
Around the same time Mr Bitature says, I got a well wisher who offered to sponsor my Accounting studies at the London school of Accountancy.
“After my studies I returned to Uganda, however there was evidence of mismanagement in every corner and the country’s economy had not fully recovered.”
The turbulence saw Bitature being abducted and for seven days, his family lived in fear, but still hoped that he had not ended up like his father who was killed during the Amin era.
Mr Bitature recalls he was abducted at Uganda Airlines, where a muscled man dragged me up to the Nile Mansions (Nile Hotel). “Here I saw people being tortured on suspicions of being rebels.”
He adds: “I was then taken Matuga. These people thought I was part of the rebels, I was asked about my travels and where I had been all along.”
However, the situation was saved by Obote’s children with whom I had studied with at Namasagali. Through them and Father Grimes, they caused Obote to order for my search and within hours I was located in Kireka.
Mr Bitature says: “After all these trials, I didn’t just get into business because I had no any experience before hand.” However, through the mentorship of city businessman Mr Karim Hirji, Bitature soon became an accomplished businessman.
“I found a brilliant friend in Hirji, who knew quite a lot with an interestingly keen resolve of keeping records on paper.” “Mr Hirji taught me how to work hard and the value of flexibility, which has offered me an opportunity to adopt to even the most impossible of situations,” he says.
Learning this took me about ten years and I have in all my business life lived and tested the success of Hirji’s business principles.
With an experience worth telling Mr Bitature, entered the business world, however, things became harder due to inadequate access to finance.
He says: “A certain bank refused to offer me an account on the excuse that my business wasn’t doing good. To be precise I had a shop in Kampala and I had started my MTN dealership business.”
However, the era of liberalisation changed the business outlook and came with a lot of opportunities. “When opportunities come you must be ready, learn how to leverage your balance sheet, ideas, resources and network and you must of course work hard, because that gives you ten times the power you need.”
Mr Bitature says his success is not largely based on his fitness but because he has positioned himself pretty well to grab any passing opportunities.
“When MTN entered Uganda I was fit and agile, I was in the goal post and when they shot I was there because I had read where the ball would go,” he says.
MTN’s entry into Uganda bore Simba Telecom, which has been the foundation for the growth of wht is today a reputable business.
He says: “Though he has been involved in creating different businesses, he has learnt that one must be focused and do something that he is able to do better.
He emphasizes the importance of customer relations, which as he says has assisted him to establish good contacts since his days when he was running a night club back then.
He says business is more than making profit, but it is through profits that you can grow. He says his business focus has turned to that which touches the ordinary person on the street.
However, as he says getting to where he is hasn’t been easy and he has had to exercise hardwork, determination and honesty. “Because I have evolved I am now looking at ventures that impact on the ordinary person including schools and hospitals. This way I will be saving lives, creating employment and making profits,” Mr Bitature says.
He cautions against extravagancy and showy lifestyles, although he says it wouldn’t hurt that much if one has achieved a solid financial position.
Riding on the success of Simba Telecom in Uganda, Mr Bitature was granted a Vodacom dealership in Tanzania alongside five other companies.
Though business wasn’t good in Tanzania Mr Bitature contends that his losses at least made him learn valuable lessons.
Mr Bitature also has a Safaricom dealership with about 60 shops. He says his experience with Kenyans has shown him that they are a hardworking lot compared to other East Africans. He has also ventured into the Nigerian market; however his has been the cruellest of all experiences.
He says, his peers had warned him about Nigeria but he could not resist placing his gamble. His Nigerian market experience, he says has taught him to be more cautious and not to spread out carelessly.