It is often said that successful people are self-centred and believe in themselves. And this is something that becomes immediately apparent when you talk to Mr Gordon Babala Kasibante Wavamunno.
We ask him who his star of life is, and the answer quickly reels off his tongue: “Myself”.
Wavah, as he is fondly called, is one of the most prosperous Ugandan businessmen. He has at different times ventured into dry-cleaning, bars, hotels, a driving school, banking, media (defunct WBS), textiles, furniture, water (Wavah Water), farming and publishing (Wavah Books Ltd).
He also owns GM Tumpeco Ltd and his biggest flagship business is Spear Motors Ltd, which owns the franchise to import Mercedes Benz into Uganda.
Growing up, Wavamunno did not complete formal schooling, having dropped out of school, he says, before joining Mbarara High School. Wavamunno says he decided not to further his studies in order to have an early start in business.
He soon followed in his father’s footsteps as a businessman and was determined to make it to the top as a wealthy man, an idea his late father, Yovani Wavamunno, liked and something Gordon prides in.
Asked why he regards himself as the star of his life, Wavamunno answers: “I have never been employed in any way. I don’t know what it means to have a boss. I worked with my father in his businesses and learnt a lot of business skills until I grew up to start and run my own businesses.”
He was so determined to succeed, he says, that not even “two politically-instigated” stints in jail in 1971 could derail him from pursuing his goals.
In 2012, the Queen of England bestowed upon Wavamunno the British royal order of chivalry as a knight in the order of Saint John. Whereas recipients of knighthoods in this order are not ordinarily entitled to the honorific of “Sir”, Wavamunno prefers to be addressed as “Sir”.
The award was in recognition of his philanthropic work with St John Association of Uganda, where he has been a member since 1983. He currently serves as the chairman of the association. Among other charitable acts, Wavamunno is credited with having donated ambulances to the association, renovating their offices in Kampala, and offering bursaries to orphans.
The 74-year-old Wavamunno was born in Rugaaga, present-day Isingiro District. He also serves as the honorary consul of Hungary to Uganda.
Wavamunno was also awarded an honorary doctorate by Makerere University, and, he says, he is a “professor” in business and entrepreneurship at Nkumba University, which he also serves as chancellor.
On his many firsts
In his business career, Wavamunno says he was the first African to start up a dry cleaning company, Whitener Dry Cleaner Limited and the first African to start up a driving school - Western Driving School, all by then stationed in Mbarara.
President Museveni, he recalls, was among the people who went through his driving school. He also claims to be one of the first Ugandans to start up a bus service called Rugaaga Bus Services.
“I first hired two buses from Eriabu Mukasa, then one of the prominent bus operators and fuel dealers in Mbarara. These buses operated on the Mbarara-Ntungamo route via Kikagate. Later in 1969, I bought a 72-seater Leyland bus from Gailey and Roberts in Kenya and bought another 64-seater Austin bus from the same company in 1970,” Wavamunno recalls.
As an investor in the transport sector in the 1970s, he was one of the people who were instrumental in seeing commuter taxis operate on gazetted stages. He also claims to be the first Ugandan to build a hotel in Lake View Hotel in Mbarara with support from Germans and Italians. He was also the first Ugandan to grow flowers for export.
Socially, Wavamunno says he was the first Ugandan to run a bar in Mbarara and brought in the first Congolese to play music at the place. Currently, he has businesses in Europe, which he declines to mention, and has travelled to more than 70 countries.
Religiously, Wavamunno says he also holds the title of Canon because of the role he played in the Church of Uganda such as building religious institutions like St James Ruharo Church of Uganda in Mbarara. He is also a church commissioner; a title he claims is more powerful than that of the Archbishop.
Much as he is one of the richest men Uganda prides in, Wavamunno says his business success has not come without challenges.
“I had to drive to Kenya to buy dry cleaning machines when I was opening up Whitener Dry Cleaner. By the time I bought a pick-up truck to trade in dry merchandise in Ankole, one of my employees did not know how to drive. I had to train him. I had to borrow more than $2m to start up Lake View Hotel. When it eventually opened, I would receive calls in the middle of the night over spilled milk but somehow, I managed to keep it running,” Wavamunno recalls.
What he believes in
Having ventured into business at an early age, Wavamunno reasons that for one to do well in life, it does not have to depend on how well educated they are, but rather what their life vision is.
“When you give hand-outs to youth in form of money, they will first pay attention to their needs. In three days or less, it will be finished. Instead, show them how the money is made and they will strive hard to work for it and make more out of their works,” Wavamunno concludes.
This trait, he says, is what has helped him maintain his wealth for so many years.