SAVENDA CEO Clever Mpoha Reveals the “Intangibles” of Business Success


What goes into the making of an entrepreneur?

What separates those who manage to successfully build something from nothing while the vast majority of start-ups falter within the first year of operation?

Very often, the difference is the intangibles. It’s the factors you don’t read about in business books or learn at Harvard Business Management school.


From its headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, SAVENDA Management Services Ltd (also known as SAVENDA Group) has emerged as a premier African procurement and logistics solutions company that has developed a global reach over the past two decades.

Now a multimillion-dollar firm that creates more than 1,000 jobs for Africans and others directly or indirectly, it started out as a two-person operation with just $1,000 in cash to capitalize on its launch.

One of the two behind the start-up is Clever Mpoha, a man of humble beginnings, born in the remote village of Nzonde. His partner in creating SAVENDA Group was his wife, Esther Chanda Mpoha.

The Unusual Motivation of a Future Entrepreneur

It was 1994 and Clever Mpoha was a young man fresh out of college. He had earned a degree in accountancy from the ZAMIN School of Accounting in Chingola.

With a degree in hand, Mpoha knew he had little time to waste in finding gainful employment. Not born into a wealthy family by any means and coming out of higher education with extremely limited finances, a good job with a solid paycheck should have been Goal No. 1.

However, while Clever Mpoha was certainly eager to find work, his primary motivation was not a steady paycheck. He wanted to find a wife.

To that end, he shaped his job search around not around the parameters of best pay or opportunity for career advancement. Rather, he sought a work venue where the selection of attractive and intelligent women might be most promising.

In his subsequent job interviews, Mpoha made no bones about his motivations. Among his first interview was for a position at Zambia Railways. There he was interviewed by Mr. Munalua, the Human Resource Manager for the company. Mpoha wasted no time confiding to Mr. Manulua that he was first and foremost hoping to find the woman of his dreams along with a job.

Laughing, Mr. Munalua said: “I have never met such a crazy young man whose only reason for wanting a job at Zambia Railways was finding a woman.”

Even so, Mr. Munalua was eager to assist this “Clever” young man. He referred Mpoha to Kabwe Industrial Fabrics (KIFCO) which happened to be located just 800 meters from Zambia Railway headquarters. He told Mpoha to see a certain Ms. Eldha Sakala, the HR manager for KIFCO.

Ms. Sakala’s reaction upon meeting Clever Mpoha was the same. She erupted with laughter when he confessed his desire to find a wife first and a job second. Nonetheless, she sent Mpoha to an assistant personnel officer. Mrs. Beatrice Zulu saw the situation from a more practical perspective. She knew that KIFCO was in dire need of well-qualified accountants.

Clever Mpoha was hired.

It took only a day, however, for Mpoha to feel he had made a major mistake. His first foray around the office environs of KIFCO revealed not a single marriage prospect on staff. The company employed a number of women, but none were of his age, single or otherwise available. He decided then and there to quit immediately and seek another job.

But then fate intervened, just as it has at many critical junctures in the remarkable career of Clever Mpoha.

Almost by chance, he struck up a conversation with the company’s financial accountant, Mrs. Ngao Phiri. She advised Mpoha to stick around for a couple of weeks. She said most of the young ladies were on leave from KIFCO to write their college exams. A cadre of prospects would be returning to the firm in about two weeks.

Buoyed by this news, Mpoha stayed on. Two weeks later, Mpoha came rushing into KIFCO headquarters late for work that day. Upon entering the firm’s finance department, he almost immediately encountered a stunning young woman with a vibrant personality.

For Clever Mpoha, it was love at first sight. For the young woman, Esther Chanda –- let’s just say the time scale was a bit more extended.

Building a Dream Together

Clever and Esther became fast friends. They enjoyed each other’s company in a natural and unforced way. The two seemed to be “on the same page” across a variety of life issues.

In the end, it was the relentless resolve and persistence of Clever Mpoha over a two-year period that made Esther his beloved wife. Theirs’ was a relationship anchored in love. However, they also shared a mutual vision about their place in the world. They frequently discussed what might be accomplished by careful planning, accepting risks, developing a strategy and boldly moving forward to pursue a larger dream.

Today, Clever Mpoha said building SAVENDA Group from a fledgling $1,000 operation to a multinational logistics firm simply would not have happened without the love, support –- along with the intelligence and unlimited drive to succeed –- packaged in the form of Esther Chanda Mpoha.

She remains his most trusted advisor. Mpoha wrote in his recently published autobiography, “The Business Mind of Clever Mpoha”:

“Even the best consultants in the world who give expert advice will give it to you with a disclaimer. If things don’t go as expected, they will not be held liable. I know that even a wife will not be held liable, but she will suffer together with me if her advice fails.”

Thus, the meteoric rise SAVENDA Group as a Pan-African success story is a testament to the idea that, in the realm of business and entrepreneurship, it’s often the intangibles that make the difference between failure and success.


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