For some people, especially those in high paying jobs, talk of retirement is a no go area. This is because they cannot bear to part with the perks of the job. Dr William Lalobo’s story is different, though.
In 1998, at the age of 38, he left formal employment. He had only worked for 10 years. Today, almost 20 years post-retirement, the 58-year-old hotelier and proprietor of a private hospital finds his days endlessly occupied, supervising and managing his company, The Paragon Group.
With the benefit of hindsight, the economist and computer programmer does not regret retiring early. “Retirement helped me to develop a very close bond with my wife and children,” he says, adding that this bond contributed significantly to their understanding and appreciation of the family business.
“The amount of work I do now exceeds what I used to do in formal employment. The level of thinking and risk taking is five times higher. Previously, my employer took all the risks but now, the responsibility and accountability are all on me. The impact of the losses incurred hits me like a bullet.”
In his businesses, Dr Lalobo doubles as a human resource manager, accountant, administrator, and engineer.
The birth of the Paragon brand
When he retired in 1998, Dr Lalobo and four friends in the USA partnered, with a dream to establish a hospital in Kololo, Kampala that would be named Mackenzie Ville Hospital. The venture failed to take shape.
However, his interest in establishing a private hospital was not dimmed by this setback. He partnered with his elder brother, Dr James Olobo Lalobo, who lived in the United Kingdom, with a dream of setting up a hospital. “In 2012, when National Housing and Construction Limited advertised land for sale in Bugolobi, we placed our bid and won. We bought the land and built Paragon Hospital on it.”
Later, when Dr Olobo withdrew from the partnership, Dr Lalobo sold half of the shares to his elder son, Obadiah Lalobo, who is now the co-director and company secretary of Paragon Hospital Kampala Limited.
Dr Lalobo believes Paragon Group has remained strong on the market because of the support offered by his family members. Besides his son, his daughter also works in the company as the head of finance and administration.
Venturing into the hotel sector
As Paragon Hospital grew, Dr Lalobo was drawn to the hotel industry, influenced by an Acholi proverb: Kong ikur weko icobo gwok. (Literally translated as: A hunter who wants to wait until the target animal is visible will most likely spear his own dog.)
“There are several opportunities wasting away in the tourism industry. The risks are many, but in time, I will reap from it. Nobody will advise you on where to invest your money if you are not able to analyse the lucrative and promising sectors of the economy.”
In 2008, using his savings from the hospital, he established Nile Nest Safari Lodge in Jinja. “My vision was that the Lodge would attract guests from Kampala and tourists who were travelling to visit Mabira Forest.”
In 2013, he began building The Pagoda, a hotel situated on Acholi Road in Gulu town. “Since I come from northern Uganda, I was able to study the situation and come to a decision that there is a lot of potential in the region,” Dr Lalobo says.
Heritage Safaris is born
Over the years, as he ventured into the hotel industry, Dr Lalobo kept an eye on the tourism industry. In 2014, when he bought land on the northern bank of River Nile in Gotapwoyo, Nwoya District, he relocated there with his wife to establish a tour company, Heritage Safaris.
On a busy day, Dr Lalobo and his son wake up at 4am. Each of them drives off from Heritage Safari Lodge in a Toyota Land Cruiser to go and pick guests from Chobe Safari Lodge. The tourists are taken to Tangi Entry for a 240km game drive that lasts up to 5pm. On the game drives, Dr Lalobo and his son double as tour guides.
His wife, as part of the staff of Heritage Safari Lodge, helps with the laundry, cooking, and cleaning of the rooms. The employees of the Lodge moonlight as traditional dancers at night. After returning to the Lodge at 7.30pm, Dr Lalobo builds a campfire where the guests are entertained by the traditional dancers.
The Lodge is well equipped with a fleet of tour vehicles and a cruise boat (which cost him Shs2billion), offering guests a real experience of the African outback.
How it all began
In 1982, after a failed attempted coup by some junior officers of the Kenya Air Force against the government of President Daniel arap Moi, University of Nairobi was closed for almost a year. Dr Lalobo was a medical student at the university.
“It was like a hit in my groin. I come from a family of medical doctors and this had influenced my decision to study medicine. I came back to Uganda and joined Makerere University for a degree in statistics and applied economics. In 1986, I graduated with a first-class degree.
Luckily, I have never regretted the path I took after my degree.”
After graduating, he was retained by the university to teach statistics and applied economics. “I began thinking and planning for when I would move from my rented house to my own house. This was the foundation of my laying down investments for the future. At 19, I had already made up my mind that I would retire at 35 years.”
As he prepared for his retirement he sought new jobs that would give him more leverage in life when he finally made the decision. In 1992, he joined the World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a computer programmer. He was stationed in Kampala, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam during the five years he worked with the UN.
During this time, he outlined his plans for all the businesses he would undertake. “I built and understood so well my business plan,” he says, adding, “My wife and children also understood it.”
In 1997, he joined Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) as the director of finance. In 1998, he retired from his job and from public service.
Impact of his business success
Dr Lalobo has remained with the pioneer employees of Paragon Hospital. In fact, their children are also employed in the company.
“Many of my pioneer employees are now landlords in Kampala,” he says, adding, “They have been able to educate their children. I attribute this to two strong philosophies I have. The first is the 20 activities a day rule. In each of my businesses, every worker – including my family members – is tasked to perform 20 activities a day as a way of improving performance and generating sufficient output.”
The second is the one per cent a day rule. Regardless of the employee’s starting point in anything even in a bush, as long as they can only rise and accomplish one percent that day, they practically need only 100 days to get a project done.
Advice to fellow retirees
Many people mistake retirement to be the point at which they cease to actively involve themselves in all forms of work. This kind of thinking has caused many to fail in their evening years.
Dr Lalobo thinks otherwise, “Retirement is a period in which you have to do a lot of personal money-generating activities in order to compensate the financial gaps created while still in employment. One should have an economic plan for their retirement. If you have a job, start looking for another one so that there is seamless transition in your pursuit for recruitment. Do not get stuck in one job.”
He advises his peers to keep records of their daily financial and physical activities so that they can track their performance.
Dr Lalobo is married to Christine Olwoch Lalobo and together, they have six children. One of their sons passed away two months ago.
Murchison Park’s Valley of Beasts
At 6.30am, a Saturday drive kicked off from Chobe Safari Lodge, located 17km west of Karuma Bridge, to Tangi Gate, located on the banks of River Nile, overlooking Pakwach Bridge.
Access through Tangi Gate offers one a complete view and definition of the treasures of Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) because of the vegetation which comprises savannah grassland and shrubs.
At 8am, aboard a Heritage Holiday Safari van, the seemingly excited visitors checked into the park through Tangi Gate. Aware that taking a few precautions can make a trip smoother, they are reminded of set rules while within the park. “Do not litter” and “Do not hoot your vehicle” were inscribed on a post.
At the Valley of Beasts
As a cold sun slowly climbs up the bare sky of the park, William Lalobo, the tour guide and driver, starts the car but hardly 300 metres from the gate, two lonely buffaloes cross the road and walk to the van. The buffaloes only move away 15 minutes later in response to another buffalo’s bellow.
“They must have been chased away from the main herd,” Lalobo says, adding, “It is the mating season and the females always chase away the old, weak and unfriendly buffaloes. A buffalo which cannot mount well or which is fond of fighting others is kicked out. Those lonely buffaloes can spend as much as a fortnight moving in isolation before they rejoin the herd. A group of isolated buffalo is extremely dangerous.”
Herds of buffaloes are one of the major wonders in the north-west of the park, which has earned the name, Valley of Beasts. The valley is unique because it offers a tourist an excellent experience to see almost all the animals in the wilderness of MFNP. Here in the savannah, animals that fall prey to others find it easy to see their enemies and escape while the predators can easily identify their prey.
The valley is also home to leopards, lions, hippopotamus, elephants, bird species, plants and aquatic species.
The antelope family
The antelope family (waterbucks, hartebeests, oribi, antelopes and kobs) offers the true experience of Uganda’s rich wildlife. While Jackson’s Hartebeests, antelopes, kobs and other animals run off from danger, an oribi (a biblical doubting Thomas) will stand and wait to confirm the danger before it takes off.
Smaller and less strong when compared to others in the antelope family, the daring nature of an oribi is explained by its capability to elude danger. It runs very fast and can make a 360 degree turn while in motion.
The most susceptible to predators are the Jackson’s Hartebeests. During feeding, one individual in the herd stays on the lookout for danger, often standing on a termite mound. However, when danger comes, the entire herd flees in a single file. Within two minutes though, most of them will forget why they were running in the first place and relax.
Lodges and accommodation
Within MFNP are Baker’s Lodge, Paraa Safari Lodge, Chobe Safari Lodge, Heritage Safari Lodge and many others. A night experience at the pocket-friendly Heritage Safari Lodge is a unique blend of comfort and culture, with traditional dances around the campfire.