At the age of 13, Hashmukh Dawda dropped out of school for the lack of Sh300 in school fees.
With no alternative he sold two bakulis (bowls) for two shillings as start up capital for a sweets business— a long journey to his position today as chairman of a multi-billion shilling business chain.
Mr Dawda, now in his late 50s, owns The House of Dawda, a parent company based in Uganda with subsidiary companies like Britania Allied Industries, Manji Foods Industries, and Uganda Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
He also owns Masaaba Cotton Company exporting premium roller lint to Europe, the Far East and Japan.
Hasmukh’s House of Dawda bought House of Manji when it was under receivership towards the end of 2002, injecting millions of dollars to revamp its operations, rename it Manji Foods Industries, and give the group a foothold in Kenya.
Manji Foods makes biscuits, cookies and wafers and recently introduced cereal product Multibix.
Since 2002, the company has changed its packaging and doubled its range of biscuits (in both size and brand) from 40 to 85, and rolled out the Splash brand of juices, with keen attention to its sales channels.
The availability and affordability of any product is critical to its growth in the marketplace, says Dawda, the chairman.
This and innovation have been critical in turning around the business from 100 workers, to now 178 permanent employees and over 400 casual workers, he says.
The company has also made substantial investments in staff development to retain the workers and give them an opportunity to grow with the company.
“We prefer to invest in training rather than lay-off underperformers,” says the Human Resource manager, a Mr Nzioka.
Yet much still lies ahead. The company is planning new marketing strategies and another plant upgrade, as well as opening its first Kenyan juice factory.
It did the same in Uganda on the request of the Ugandan President who encouraged Mr Dawda to assist mango farmers whose mangoes were rotting due to the lack of a ready market.
Dawda also has a passion for customer satisfaction, as his library attests.
His favourite book is the Customer Care handbook written by the Rwandese Private Sector Federation (PSF) in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and supported by President Paul Kagame.
“One of my favourite sections in the book is where it says that anyone who contributes tax to the government is a government customer and should be treated respectfully irrespective of their background and preference. That is a valuable lesson I have learnt and made it my company’s mantra. I am teaching it to my staff. I want them to understand that our customers are the reason why we are in business and as such they are our bosses. If we cannot respect them or listen to their feedback we have no right being in business,” he says.
The path for Manji Foods has required tenacity, however.
From financial hiccups at the start to stagnation during the 2007 post election violence — when Dawda even contemplated closing shop.
“The accumulating costs of doing business were taking their toll on my business. I had reached the end of the road, but my staff and my family reminded me of how far I had come and encouraged me that my end wasn’t anywhere near,” says Mr Dawda, sitting beside a plaque on one side of his mahogany desk that reads: “He who does not hope to win has already lost.”
He cites imported biscuits, which he claims enjoy preferential tax treatment and compete with locally manufactured biscuits, and also advocates for legislation that will promote tax deductibility on charitable contributions in order to promote more strategic philanthropy.
Himself a great philanthropist and a senior ambassador for peace with the Universal Peace Federation, a global network of individuals and organisations dedicated to building a world of peace, Dawda dreams of a day when Kenya will rank highly in the global index in terms of morals, accountability, and youth empowerment.
“These are little things that we take for granted, but trust me they will have a huge impact on every sector of the economy. My company has received many awards, but that should never make me content when my country is burning. I yearn for the day when my country will get international recognition and awards. That day I will know that Manji Foods, which is in Kenya, has truly achieved, because Kenya has achieved,” he says.