How he built a billion dollar business in Tanzania
When Mr Gulam Dewji, a Tanzanian businessman called his son Mohammed to come back to Africa and join a family business about 14 years ago, little did he know that this would create a multi-million dollar business.
Being a young graduate of Georgetown University in Washington D.C, Mohammed's interest was in building a career in international business and finance.
Life hardships in a foreign land left him with no option but to heed his father’s call to come back home. He has now built a strong company.
Like any other graduate, Dewji Jr, popularly known as Mo, got a job at Wall Street after graduating, he told Forbes magazine.
The American biweekly published his photo on its front cover of its June 1, 2013 edition.
At Wall Street, Mo worked 100-hour weeks and earned an annual salary of $40,000, with an added bonus of $20,000.
But a good chunk of that money went to taxes, making life difficult for him.
"Thirty per cent went to taxes, $30,000 to pay my rent in Manhattan and what I was left with was barely enough to build the life that I wanted…I asked my father to give me more money but, being a practical man, he simply said he would not send me any money and that there was opportunity for me to come back to Tanzania," he recalls.
So he returned to Africa in 1999, heralding a new era at Mohammed Enterprises Tanzania Limited (METL).
During that time, the company was a trading house that mostly dealt with commodities with an annual revenue of $26 million.
His first move then was to seize opportunities as they arose and privatisation was one of those things he decided to benefit from.
"I recognised that there was tremendous opportunity for business growth particularly in the manufacturing sector," he says.
Then he also thought about starting up an edible oil refinery.
"Naturally, my father felt this was a risky move so I borrowed $1 million from my father and bought a soap plant that manufactured one tonne per hour," he said.
At present, that factory produces 20 tonnes an hour. He then proceeded to buy an edible oil refinery with a capacity of 60 tonnes a day. With time and further investments, its capacity today is at 2,200 tonnes a day.
Mo managed to repay that loan to his father, something that gave him (his father) the confidence in the way forward in terms of growth for METL.
"For him, it was a huge shift from what he knew as a trading business that he started from scratch, to moving towards a more corporate structure and vision for METL as a group of companies. Today, our projected revenue for 2013 is just over a billion dollars in Tanzania alone, we employ more than 24,000 people," Mo told Forbes.
The company has diversified in trading, manufacturing, agriculture, financial services, real estate, mobile telephony and distribution.
In Tanzania alone, the group has over 31 industries in manufacturing ranging from textiles and detergents, to edible oils, plastics and grain milling.
In agriculture, the company owns over 60,000 hectares. It also grows cotton. It also gins, spins, weaves, processes and prints – producing 100 million metres of cloth/year.
"The revenue from our group of companies constitutes a little over 3 per cent of the GDP of Tanzania and employs 5 per cent of the formal employment sector,” he says.
But he is not satisfied yet. The company which also has operations in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Dubai and moving into Uganda, is looking into having a strong presence in East and Central Africa.
"Our vision is that by 2018 the METL Group will have an annual revenue of $5 billion and employ 40,000 people," he says.
Thus in short, the company has grown 30 fold in the last 14 years. “If someone asks me who is smarter between my father and I, my one answer is that it is my father! Why? Because to make money from money is easier than to make money from nothing," he says.
Apart from business, 38-year-old Mo is a politician. He is the Singida Urban MP.