Everyone loves a good origin story—that is why tales of the early days of world-famous companies such as Apple and Facebook have become the stuff of legend. These stories give us glimpses, however limited, of what it takes to build a company from the ground up. Besides this, few things actually serve as well as true stories if you are looking for sources of inspiration. Here are the origin stories of a few prominent Zimbabwean companies—hopefully, you can glean a lesson or two from these brief tales and maybe even manage to get some inspiration.
The Bank of Credit and Commerce Zimbabwe Limited (BCCZL) was founded in 1980. A little more than a decade after its founding, in 1991, it ran into financial problems and faced the risk of liquidation. The government of Zimbabwe came to the rescue and acquired all its shares to prevent its closure. After the acquisition by the government, the bank was renamed to the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe. It was listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange in 1998. Later in 2005, the company was restructured: The bank was renamed to CBZ Bank Limited which became a subsidiary of the newly created CBZ Holdings Limited.
In 1898 new arrivals in Harare (then Salisbury), Louis Susman and Adolph Rosenthal founded the Salisbury Lager Beer Brewery and Ice Factory company. The newly formed company bought 12 land sites and ordered the plant together with the equipment from Germany. All of it was transported from the Beira port of Mozambique to Salisbury via ox-drawn wagons.
By 1899 all the required machinery had arrived and brewing could begin. The manager, German master brewer Stanislauss Schwartz, used the well water available on the brewery grounds and adapted the manufacturing processes to local conditions. In addition to the alcoholic beverages, the factory also provided ice to hospitals, hotels and houses. This first brewery served country until 1960.
Econet Wireless was founded by Zimbabwean entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa. After conceiving of the idea of starting his own cellphone network in 1994, Masiyiwa had to fight protracted legal battles with both the government and state-owned enterprises hell-bent on maintaining a telecommunications monopoly. The legal battles had to go all the way to the country’s Supreme Court for Masiyiwa to get an operating license for his fledgeling company. It is said that Econet’s name comes from “Enhanced Communications Network”, which was Masiyiwa’s initial choice for company name before Dr Nkosana Moyo, who was then the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank of Zimbabwe suggested the current version. Econet’s first subscriber connected to the network in 1998.
In 1892, three brothers who had emigrated from Scotland, John, Stewart, and Thomas Meikle opened a successful trading business in Fort Victoria (present-day Masvingo). Almost two decades later in 1915, Thomas opened the Meikles hotel in present-day Harare. The Meikles Hotel was the first in Zimbabwe to acquire a 5-star rating—it did so in 1983. Thomas Meikle also founded other businesses, many of which are now part of the present-day Meikles Limited. These include the aforementioned Meikles hotel, part of the Victoria Falls Hotel and the TM chain of supermarkets.
In 1891, William Fairbridge, the Rhodesian representative of South Africa’s Argus Printing and Publishing Company, established the Mashonaland Herald and the Zambesian Times newspapers in Salisbury. The Mashonaland Herald was succeeded by the Rhodesian Herald in 1892. The company established the Umtali Post in Umtali (now Mutare) which was followed a year later by the Bulawayo Chronicle. In 1927, Argus Printing and Publishing spun off its Southern Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) newspapers into a new company—the Rhodesian Printing and Publishing Company which went public the same year. In 1980 the company was renamed to Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Limited. The following year the government of the newly independent Zimbabwe purchased a controlling 43% shareholding from Argus.
The company began life in 1944 as a wine import and distribution firm, PJ Joubert. In 1946 the company purchased a distillery in Mutare (then Umtali) and began its own manufacturing operations. During that same year, the company changed its name to African Distillers (Rhodesia) Limited. By 1989, African Distillers was producing more than three million bottles of wine a year which at that time accounted for about 75% of the country’s total production.
The first OK Store branch was opened in Salisbury (now Harare) in 1942. The second branch was opened ten years later in Bulawayo. The present-day OK Zimbabwe Ltd was incorporated as Springmaster Corporation in 1953. By the end of 1960, five more store branches had been opened around the country. The Delta Corporation owned the company’s operations from 1977 up-to a demerger in 2001. In 1984 Springmaster switched its name to Deltrade Limited which itself was changed to OK Zimbabwe Limited in 2001.
ZOL was founded in 1994 as Zimbabwe Online (a name perhaps inspired by the similarly named US internet service provider) by David Behr. The company’s founder studied Electronic Engineering at the University of Bristol, focusing on telecommunications and computer science. He briefly returned to Zimbabwe between 1999 and 2002 to run ZOL full time before spending 7 years living and studying abroad in the USA. Behr currently serves as the company’s Chairman. In 2012, ZOL became part of telecommunications giant Liquid Telecom Group after which it experienced massive subscriber growth.