Mike Mlombwa is the CEO of Countrywide Car Hire, a company that offers vehicle rental and chauffeuring services in Malawi. He is in fact one of Malawi’s most successful businessmen, but it has not always been so for the billionaire.
Mike Mlombwa grew up economically- deprived in Mwanza, southern Malawi. He had to live with several families who would pay for his tuition.
“My mom was very poor… So, in the village, I grew up with several people who paid my school fees,” he recalled.
“In the afternoon I would come back from school to work in gardens or look after cattle or whatever.”
After his primary education, he had difficulty finding someone who would pay for his secondary education. He walked all the way to Blantyre, a distance of about 103 Kilometers to find a job. He did this without any income or shelter, he would visit churches looking for any kind of assistance. He finally found a part-time job with a family who took him in as a servant, that allowed him to finish his secondary education.
“One family took me in as a servant. I was working… but I was going to school where I did my Form 1-4.”
When he started selling stationery, he would go to neighboring countries such as Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa to obtain his products from wholesalers. To make this easier, he used his proceeds to buy a secondhand car, then a second, and a third.
“But the business became flooded [by competitors], especially from India… So I sat down and thought: ‘What should I do?’ he said
“Then the idea of opening a car hire company came into my mind.
“And little by little I started increasing my fleet. In 2005 I had about seven vehicles. Then in 2007 I had 15, but three quarters were second-hand vehicles. This is when I asked my friend to assist me with making my company a limited company.”
When he sought to expand further, he had a hard time getting loans. Due to his lack of a post secondary education degree it proved difficult to get loans from banks.
“I didn’t have a very good education like a degree, so it wasn’t easy,” he explained. “I struggled… The banks were not giving me an opportunity.”
He remained undeterred and got an idea in which he made agreements with car owners to use their cars in exchange for a 20% commission.
According to Mr Mike Mlombwa, that was how his business hit the air, he used the profits to acquire more cars for his business. Also with his increasing success, the banks were beginning to pay more attention to him.
Mike Mlombwa’s company has advanced far more than he began, with a fleet of 80 vehicles. Mlombwa still seeks to expand his business and is also venturing into hotel construction, they are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
When he looks back on how far he has come, he says:
“I came from a very poor family. When I say poor, I mean the poorest family. That is where I came from. Today sometimes I have to ask if I am dead in heaven or still alive, because I can’t believe that God has sent me here – that I have got a name in the world, in Africa.”
Advice To Young People
Mike Mlombwa admits that starting a small business in Malawi is difficult, especially the high interest rates placed on loans which are capable of ruining a business.
He created the Indigenous Business Association of Malawi (IBAM) to help support upcoming entrepreneurs.
His advice to young people looking to start a business is to be patient.
“They rush. When they see their business is doing fine in the first year, they want to start living a luxury life. They want to drive a Porsche; they want a certain life.”
“Younger people are always in a hurry to do things. They want to become billionaires in two years, but in another two years, they collapse,” he continued.
“That is why I always advise business people that only time allows you to [get there]… Time is going to allow you.”
Mike Mlombwa has no regrets on not completing his education, in fact he does employ people who finished their education.