What you need to know:
- Charles Morgan Kisitu stands out as a confident, self-assured, entrepreneur. He owns a highly successfully tours and travel company.
- However, his climb to the top of the tours and travel business has not been a walk in the park, writes Edgar R. Batte.
Charles Morgan Kisitu has walked a journey of self-actualisation, that saw him rise from a potter at construction sites to a cab tout, and to a chief executive officer of a reputable tours and travel company.
His story a testimony of perseverance. With no qualification but the zeal to work, Kisitu met his turning point on a journey to Masaka where he was contracted to drive Fr Dennis Dease, a priest from US who, while on the journey, became curious and sought to know why a young man of school-going age was driving a cab.
How he started
The priest was a first-time visitor who had come for a pastoral conference in Masaka District. At the time, Kisitu worked in Kitooro, in Entebbe where he would schedule taxis for passenger loading.
The job would earn him Shs40,000 per day which was good money for a young man in 1998. Additionally, the job linked him to several people. While the drivers waited for passengers, he would ask them to give him driving lessons.
Through the job, he would also save some money from which he acquired a driving permit at Shs150,000 in 2000. One morning, he asked one of the car owners who had two cars to let him use his other car to pick passengers from Entebbe International Airport and he agreed.
He would work and remit the money made and get paid a stipend. He did that for two years during which he saved and was able to acquire his own car. Six months into self-employment is when he met Fr Dease, in 2003 who contracted him to handle his transport needs for the seven days he was in Uganda as he went about his duties.
“However, during our interactions, Fr Dease was concerned why I was working at such a young age. At that age, he thought that I should be in school. I informed him about my challenges. Apart from looking after my siblings, I told him that I working to save some money to go back to school,” Kisitu narrates.
That was during the trip to Masaka where the priest was travelling to attend the conference. The two talked about many things and the possibilities the young man could explore.
His primary dream was to become a tour guide. Three days later, Fr Dease left Uganda, but he had taken with him some of Kisitu’s details.
After a year, he reached out to Kisitu and informed him that he had sent him a package through DHL.
“In my thinking, I thought they were clothes. However, he had sent me details about an academic scholarship from the university he was working with,” Kisitu recounts. He had initially dropped out of school in Senior Four.
So, how was he supposed to continue? He asked himself. He consulted Fr Dease who explained that he had processed and offered him the scholarship based on the details he had shared during the conversation.
Kisitu filled out the application forms, scanned them and sent them back to the priest. After two weeks, he received a call to go and get another package, still from DHL.
At the time, the cab had begun earning him, enough money to enable him acquire a piece of land and build a home which he did. He had also found a girlfriend and got a son.
While he needed the scholarship, he had a young family so, he needed to make some a tough decision.
After thinking about it and the consideration of his new family, he saw it fit to decline the scholarship.
“I informed Fr Dease, who talked to me through a friend and gave me three days to collect my visa from the American Embassy in Kampala and my tickets from KLM. I felt an opportunity slipping away from my figures. It was a tough moment, but I reconsidered my earlier decision and decided to go to the US in a state called Minnesota at the University of Saint Thomas,” Kisitu further narrates.
He was enrolled in the university to do a bachelor’s degree in business and entrepreneurship. He studied while working and earning as an intern with a company called Best Buy Electronics.
After graduating, in 2010, he was retained as a full-time employee, for a year. All along he was in touch and supported his family but needed them close to concentrate and be productive, so he began to work on the process to have them join him in the US.
He succeeded. He enrolled for another entrepreneurial course at the university from which he was required to make a presentation that he passed and earned a start-up capital of $75,000 (Shs270m).
He had always had the fascination about tour and travel, so his idea was to develop a safari project.
“I did not think that the idea would be appreciated but everyone was fascinated. I had done it in a way that it would help me give back to my community back at home given that I grew up as an orphan,” he explains.
After he graduated and won the start-up capital, he felt he would be more productive at home, in Uganda than in the US.
So, he made plans to return home. In January 2011, he returned to Uganda to pursue his dream of starting a tour and travel company.
The registration process and set up of the company cost him $2,500 (Shs9m). He named his company 1,000 Shades of Green Tours and Safari Company inspired by his love for nature and the fact that Uganda is gifted with different shades of it.
The first trip he did was to Murchison Falls where he saw different colour shades among several things. He adds, “I wanted to form a company that brought the thought of what I had seen and a company that was not confined by anything.”
Whereas his business started in Uganda, Kisitu has been blessed to organise safaris across East Africa which has helped him to understand several product offerings while pitching to potential clients in countries such the US, Canada, and Australia.
He then organised for his first clients to climb Mountain Kilimanjaro from which he did not make money because he miscalculated and ended up topping up $150 (Shs500,000) to successfully complete the trip.
What is the biggest profit you have ever made as a tour operator? I ask. “I organised a flying trip in 2018 where my sponsor had travelled with some couple who wanted to fly to Serengeti, and I made a profit of $25,000 (Shs90m) from it.”
His biggest loss was one he incurred after being conned by someone who overheard a conversation he was having with a client on phone.
The conman, a barber, contacted him along with a group of people who told him they had a box full of fake dollars but would become genuine if they bought a certain chemical and dipped them in it.
Kisitu was hesitant to believe them, but something inside kept urging him to try. He told them to buy the chemical, but they told him they could not afford because it was expensive.
They told him, his investment would be doubled. He believed them and waited for his share including interest, which has never arrived to date.
He learnt that making money the clean way was going to become his target from then on.
He advises anyone looking at doing business to stay steadfast. And those who are looking at starting a tours and travel company, they need to know the travel and tourism destinations they are considering selling.
“It took me two years to learn about national parks and animals there. You also need to understand where to get which accommodation. You must know about the high- and low-end hotels because you get all classes of clients, and you cannot sell what you do not know,” he advises.
He adds, “On a busy day, you exchange more than 50 emails from the clients inquiring about a lot of things. So, you need to have knowledge of what you are selling. You must be a good communicator or have someone who can do the job well.”
And finances are a pivotal part of business. The tourism businessman has an external auditor and an internal auditor to investigate his books of accounts. He also has an accountant to keep monitoring the cash flows.
Anchored on his childhood experiences, Kisitu runs a charity which he is using to help the less fortunate.
“I do this with proceeds that come from my businesses among which include See them Grow Charity
Foundation, 1000 Shades of Green Tours and Safari and 78 Band,” he says.
His business tip is no one will ever do your business the way you do it. “People will never have the vision and dedication you have for your own business. So, you must know and be present in your business and you must be a servant and not the boss,” he says.
As founder of the safari company, he gets paid Shs10m per month for what he does, among which include driving clients to destinations, pitching and sometimes cleaning the office and safari cars.
On his wish list is the goal to retire when he clocks 55 years of age. He is currently 44 years old.
“I am trying to mentor some of my employees and my children to take over. I have two sons. One is 21 years and the other is 17 years and still studying in the US. I have been working with them since they were five years because I want them to take over as I concentrate on my charity work,” he further explains.
He employs 48 people- 25 in the safari company, 12 in the charity foundation and 11 in the bar and restaurant.