In Sarah Kiyimba’s compound, a structure started being built in 1990, an idea her husband Sulaiman Kiyimba, had conceived after a visit to Hotel Brovad Nairobi.
Impressed by its beauty, customer care and general inviting atmosphere, Kiyimba desired to setup a similar hotel in his hometown Masaka.
Enthusiastic, the merchandise trader and coffee dealer got a bank loan and he started construction in the same year, but unfortunately, he died in 1994, leaving his vision a shell, on their half-acre piece of land.
“At the time he passed away, he had put up the first shell of the hotel. We owed Shs172m to the bank. I was one of the signatories when acquiring the loan so I had to continue with the payment plans yet did not want to abandon the construction he had begun on,” Ms Kiyimba recounts.
Forging a path
The couple had five children and she had to find means of fending for family too. She decided to take charge of running Victoria Coffee Factory, which her husband had left her.
By the end of the coffee season, which ran from May to July, she had made Shs45m. The market for coffee was available and particularly boosted by the slump in Brazilian coffee growth.
With her money in the bank, farmers she had interacted with told her about the fortunes of investing in buying cotton. She went to Nebbi where it was grown and decided to invest part of Shs45m earnings.
She made sure that she first cleared the loan obligation to the bank. The cotton investment earned her Shs85m profit.
Networks that matter
“I invested all Shs85m towards construction of the hotel. My husband had left only a shell of the building. The money got finished before completing the hotel. I went in for another loan. I met Juma Kisami who worked with Uganda Development Finance Company that later became DFCU Uganda,” she says.
Ms Kiyimba explained her plan to finish the hotel to Kisami. He advised her to take a feasibility study which enabled her acquire $250, 000 that was part of the apex fund given by Bank of Uganda (BoU) through subsidiary commercial banks.
The bank was with her, every step of the way, by making sure that she kept books and learnt how to keep them. Bank staff members were helpful in managing her loan by releasing the funds in batches and advised her on how to handle suppliers. BoU staff would also visit the hotel and advise on progress.
“This was very helpful to me. I made sure that I marketed the hotel and did not default on my loan payment. After a year, I went in to get another loan of Shs180m. I was able to pay both loans, of $250, 000 and Shs180, within three years. Book keeping taught me that when you run business the straight way, you are able to achieve a lot more,” she explains.
Growing her business
Over the years, Ms Kiyimba has been able to grow her hotel enterprise from 25 rooms’ capacity, in 1997, to 125 rooms today. These include single, double occupancy.
At the back of her mind was to provide good standards, good customer care and more, just as they had planned with her husband. She was wise not to keep all her eggs in one basket.
She employs well under 100 people. On completion of the loan payments, she started investing in putting up office blocks in Masaka town so that if hotel business was down, office space would earn her some money.
The 60-year-old says power and water interruptions are the challenges in her business.
“The two are interconnected because when there is no power, water cannot be pumped out to the district which affects business. You cannot explain this to customers. We have a 100,000 litres reservoir but if we go without water for two days, it is not sufficient enough,” she adds.
At the moment, she is completing 15 serviced apartments and a 1,000-seater conference room.
Cassim Ssembajja - finance manager, Hotel Brovad
Ms Kiyimba is an exemplary person. She is selfless and hardworking. We have had goals, to pay off loans and expand so from the start, she had invested a lot of time. She would always be the last time to go to bed and we have always emulated her. We do not work official hours but look forward to getting the job done. She treats us all, employees as her own children which explains why she has retained almost all the employees she started out with.
• 1997: Certificate of recognition for self-improvement on Women’s International Day, by President Yoweri Museveni.
•2007: Recognition of Excellence Award from Ministry of Tourism, Trade & Industry, for outstanding contribution to the promotion of tourism on World Tourism Day
•2017: Obwakabaka Bwa Buganda, Ministry Y’abakyala ne Bulungibwansi, for exemplary leadership and service in business.
•2013: Recognition for invaluable contribution to implementation and success of decentralisation of Uganda by Ministry of Local Government
•2015: Woman Achiever of the year, Flair for Her.
•2006: Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited, winner of Central Region.
•2012: Uganda Investment Authority Best woman Entrepreneur
•2001: Vocation Service Award, Rotary Club of Masaka.
Tomorrow read about Jasuvanty Bhikha who impacts lives through meditation and self-awareness classes.