Make a speedy retreat when you are not ready…

__A successful pitch is not enough.

After we got a license in New Zealand, I felt we could do almost anything and go almost anywhere, and I got a little cocky. Papua New Guinea, here we come! The Australian and New Zealand partners I had worked with to get a license to set up the business in New Zealand, now called 2 Degrees, had heard there was a privatization of the telephone company of Papua New Guinea, and they felt we should bid for it.

“Why not?” I said confidently. And off we went to this beautiful island country just off the coast of Australia.

Initially it seemed a simple enough professional process: an international tender was published by one of the big accounting firms. We responded with a beautiful document setting out our proposals. It turned out there were no other serious bids at all. It seemed like a walk in the park. But in reality there is nothing like that in life!

The consultants recommended to the government that they award the tender to us. Agreements were circulated and I travelled to the country to sign. So smooth and professional! Just one more step… government had to approve. I was invited to meet the PM who was so gracious and invited me to present to his Cabinet. What a privilege!

I made a fantastic presentation to them. They seemed to like it very much. It was a coalition government with many parties.

After the meeting, the PM and minister told me it would have to go to Parliament! They were worried, because the trade unions did not want the company privatized.

Within days, it became an ugly public fight amongst politicians on very ideological grounds. We were in the middle of a storm!

“It’s not you guys, but this has become a powerful issue for the opposition because privatizations are associated with job losses,” they said.

We had a signed agreement with the government, and I could easily have taken the advice of the lawyers to go to court and enforce our rights. We chose to exit graciously and we left.

I wasn’t upset, but slightly bemused by my own naivety. We had not done enough homework on the country and its politics at the time. That is why we had been the only serious bidder.

# Lesson learnt. Let’s go home to Africa!

Looking back after all these years, I laugh at how they ate my lunch. An Irish businessman turned up after me, did the deal in broad daylight, and made a ton of money. He was more experienced in that type of market and had done better homework. He made it look so simple.

I couldn’t “course-correct” because I did not know enough about the environment. I had not done my homework correctly. I didn’t have enough experience and I was terribly over reaching my resources and capacity.

After that, I absolutely refused to even entertain such partnerships. Let’s say it was my own personal experience, and it does not have to be yours. This was a failure from which I learnt huge lessons that were to guide me for years to come. These include:

# Be careful with things like privatizations, and partnerships with governments in business.
# Homework, homework, homework.
# What worked somewhere else does not mean it will work everywhere!
# Careful not to over reach.

One day I hope I will return to that beautiful country of Papua New Guinea and its friendly people, and serve them as an entrepreneur.


by 16 Replies

About Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

16 thoughts on “Make a speedy retreat when you are not ready…

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1.
    When I experience a setback like this one, the first thing I do is to avoid jumping to quick conclusions about why things went wrong. If you’ve been working passionately on something for awhile, you can get very emotional and make the wrong assessment of why things went wrong. On Shark Tank, for instance, many of the people who fail to get investment are wrong in their assessment of why they failed. I try not to comment because you can say things that you’ll regret later.

  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 2.
    Another lesson is the importance of constantly gathering business intelligence about what’s happening around you. You must be “plugged in,” without being fearful or fretful. Examine carefully regulatory, political and economic developments, both locally and internationally. Don’t rely on rumours and chitter chatter. Be methodical and check things out carefully. Always try and forecast and anticipate. Be nimble and proactive. Don’t watch a situation until it’s at your doorstep, like an armed bandit.

  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 3.
    I knew that the problem was not Papua New Guinea, but me. I would have failed in most places at the time. I drew up a list of things I had done wrong (I was not interested in what others had done wrong). I tried to fix each one of those problems over the months and years that followed.

  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Here is a word of wisdom:

    Habakkuk 2:3
    “For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay.”

    Many of us have a vision but we do not always understand the appointed time.
    Setting up a business outside your home is not just a simple matter of arriving there and setting up shop.
    Without the lesson of Papua New Guinea I would not have been able to set up in places like U.K., US, Latin America and many other places in and outside Africa!

  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Without the lesson of a Papua New Guinea I would not have been able to set up in places like U.K., US, Latin America and many other places in and outside Africa!

  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Andy writes,

    I saw your last post on the Audacity of Faith….

    I’m from PNG,
    I relate to your post and can say, you exercised caution in the shark tank.

    I’ve got an event comming up. I could use a guest speaker…that’s if your available on Sept the 8th this year.


    My reply,
    I really wish I could come, unfortunately I’m committed the other side of the world.
    I hope to come back one day!

  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Thembisile writes,

    Hmm… Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay… Jeerrr!!! You know sometime back 10 years ago, I thought this verse has been used by hypocrites to sabotage or delay things , when Pastor quote it, it was like here we go again because I was sooo impatient and scared about the unknown… Oh! Yes, God’s timing is the Best…

    My reply,
    Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, DRC,Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon, US, are just some of the countries I managed to get into after the second, third, fourth, fifth try…
    My list of places that I would like to get in is even longer.

    Sometimes it’s the wrong deal, or partners, bad economic politics, or there is something going on in the country at the time which makes it difficult to get in and run a successful business. Wisdom will sometimes dictate that you not go in or you retreat carefully.

  8. Melusi Mwinde

    Dr Masiyiwa you are a great man.You really blessed my life,Am a living testimony of your vision of creating 2.2 million scholars & global leaders by 2020 thru Higherlife Foundation.

    Am from Binga,graduated last year @Midlands State University.God bless you papa.

  9. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    When we launched Mascom Wireless (Botswana) the President of the country, not only agreed to officiate but he took our SIMCARD, and became our first customer.

    He retired from his position the following day. It was the first and last time I ever met him.
    President Sir Ketumile Masire died peacefully in his beloved Botswana this week. He was 91 years old.
    My prayers, and thoughts are with his family and his great people.
    Please join me in extending our condolences.

  10. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    It was with great sadness that I learnt this week of the murder of the wife of the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Mrs Lipolelo Thabane.
    I condemn unreservedly such unwanton violence.
    My prayers are with her family and the peace loving people of Lesotho.

  11. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Announcing 19 quiz winners from 14 African countries!

    We have had a busy month! Please go to to find out if you’re a winner of our 1) Quiz on Kwesé Inc shows that help teach entrepreneurs how to pitch, and 2) Quiz on Kwesé TV exclusive programming for children! As always, once you know you’re a winner, please come back to this Afterthought and let me know, so my team can get in touch with you on Facebook messenger. Congratulations and thanks to all for participating!

  12. Nixon B Dauseni

    Thanx for continue to share wth us yo experiences there ar making us wiser & wiser Mr Masiyiwa.may th Ld keep u & bless u wth more yrs

  13. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Don’t allow your clothes to speak on your behalf when you go for a pitch!
    You should be remembered for what you said rather than how you were dressed.

    For instance (as a man) I don’t really like ties and suits but I keep them for when I go to see investors, even in Silicon Valley where the guys come in shorts and sandals.
    Be (BUSINESS) smart, and dress the best.

  14. Mulenga

    I remember the saga with getting licensed in Papua New Guinea (PNG) very well. I lived in PNG at the time (I am Zambian) and remember how proud the African community there was to see an African player on the scene.
    It was Econet, and then GreenComm and Digicel who came to look at setting up operations. Eventually, only Digicel set up their network (GreenComm never materialized despite a lot of initial noise).

    PNG was (and continues to be) an extremely challenging environment in which to operate. Not just from the unions either, but other sociopolitical hurdles such as landowner issues arise (e.g. mast/repeater sites located on customary land). The geography is a major challenge (mountainous terrain), and infrastructure (poor roads, erratic electricity supply etc).
    But it’s a young, emerging market and this presents opportunity.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *