Interview with Arthur Busingye of The Hub Group and Busingye Properties

Being a past client of BLEGSCOPE, We spoke to Arthur about his roles in his various ventures, his background in business and entrepreneurship and the most challenging things his journey as a real-estate guru slash businessman he has faced throughout his career.

BLEGSCOPE_Business_Blog: You are a businessman and many may say heir of a formidable business empire hence you’ve never had a job before.

BB_Blog: Why are you doing what you are doing?

Good question. I was lucky enough to be born into a business family. My late father was a very committed person especially to a given (and chosen task). I learnt about business through him and from as early as 12/13 years of age, I worked in all his businesses ranging from petrol stations, buses, trucks and coffee.

But my first foray into business for myself was when I was a student at United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi. A friend of mine convinced me to leverage my school fees and fly to Dubai to buy items like watches and cars. I used my first year school fees and did so and imported a car and a number of watches with which I used to earn a pretty penny. I did complete my undergraduate degree in Business Administration with no hitches. But at the time I left, we were importing up to 6 cars a semester!

I believe that what you choose to do fits your temperament.

I do not believe you can be a hot-tempered chef and succeed in cooking wonderful meals.

Initially accumulation of wealth to me was a huge driver.

I needed to maintain a good lifestyle that I wanted and chose the quickest means to get there. I lived a very comfortable life. This was mainly as a result of choosing to take a route that would enable me to live at a level I did not want to fall below. So if you check for anything in my past as a business person, you will find out that I was always quick to take a risk as long as it would earn a buck.

So we always dabbled in a business that is sure to bring in cash-flow. Initially with Dad, it was transportation and coffee business which though made money, were good learning opportunities for me as I had just finished University and needed a challenge. I convinced dad and bought two buses which was my first independent business. We sold these 6 months later as it was not as easy as we had envisioned. In 1996 we started the cinema business along Wilson Road and it was a completely new business for us. Expensive to maintain the partnerships with the Hollywood studios and was equally tough for us because we could have used some of the money to buy buildings on Luwum street. In 1997 we started the real-estate business by buying a property in Kololo and thereafter chose to buy and develop as opposed to buy and hold like other property owners in the country.

BB_Blog: Then who did you eventually first talk to when deciding to follow your heart into the chosen passions in a mentor-like manner?

Well, I guess by now you should know about my late father, Mr Jack Busingye; he was the one who instilled what I feel is a hard commodity to find.

“Dad instilled in us work ethic. I learnt from him that having the ability to accomplish the task at hand is indeed the cornerstone of many successful businesses.”

He had the drive and energy to do what was needed if it was part of a bigger set of tasks to achieve a bigger goal.

I have learnt that to be able to work at something till you get it, the financial rewards will always be a bonus to what it is you are carefully working at.

I have learnt that whereas I may have learned more than a thing or two from my late Dad about business and execution, what I seem to have failed at is being able to instil this work ethic into those who work with me.

Some mistakes are surely going to catch up with you as you grow older in life and if you carefully notice people who are above the age of 50 either hit a positive trajectory, flat-line or completely crumble.

The mentorship thus is something not to be considered lightly.

BB_Blog: Then share with us your management style

I am not a tyrant. I believe that if I was maybe the companies we run would be in a different state. I believe in giving people the tools needed to excel and not run after them. This has been a huge challenge to many of our companies.

But above all, I believe in the fundamentals.

Even if you took an experience banker and put him in the business of manufacturing, if his or her fundamentals are not right, you will surely expect failure.

These intricacies are what have failed us at key points.

BB_Blog: Then share with us some of your greatest challenges as a business person.

If you have read a few of the recent papers, you will see a few of our current and on-going challenges. We have struggled in our pursuit of cash-flows to an extent that we have ended up losing some of our businesses. What we start out with as a concrete idea that is well controlled at the centre has enabled us to engage numerous service providers. This has always been dealt a strong blow by the reality of the business at hand.

Because of this, we have learnt a lot about customer satisfaction as another cornerstone in business. Richard Branson, the founder and current chairman of the Virgin Group of companies portrays and believes himself to be the most customer-curious business person alive. He is always keen on updating himself on what will enable the customer to keep coming back. I’ve learnt that this could be our biggest challenge ever.

Managing to even match our customer’s expectations, let alone even attempt to exceed them is a huge undoing on our part. One of my friends called me to mention this after we had established Boda-Boda. He said that we had done an amazing job on the physical infrastructure, but our service levels were a mess. His line that stayed with me was…. “ I can wait over 20 minutes for the waitress at my local bar to bring me my regular cold beer, but I cannot wait more than 5 minutes at a high value place like Boda-Boda”

So, I feel one of our greatest challenge has been meeting and exceeding our customer’s expectations.

The other has been choosing perhaps the wrong businesses. With Dad around we did coffee and made some money that allowed our foray into the real-estate business. With the challenges of global price fluctuations and the introduction of a stabilisation tax on coffee exporters to protect farmers, it became a wrong decision to stay in that business. This was the same too for the entertainment business. We realised it a little too late that the cinema and high-end bar & restaurant were perhaps the wrong business to enter into.

Such are the subtleties of lie when you can agree that the wrong business created a windfall to start the more successful business!

My other challenge per se as a business person revolve around getting into business at an early age. I started engaging in business before I was 15. The biggest factor that you do not consider until it actually happens is burnout. This comes in two forms. Not having the energy to think of new ideas or worse still not having the energy to implement and execute any ideas.

Some of the decisions I have made as the key director at the companies I own have not been great and have sometimes led to loss of money and even someone(or two) losing a job because I was over optimistic or there about. I might not go into detail here, but I have learnt a thing or two about how delayed (or sometimes none at all) payment can be a complete negative in you and your companies’ survival(s).

In the past 5 years for example, we have learnt that some bad business decisions have affected our ability to perform and in part negatively affected our reputation. We have had to make some very strong and negative business decisions in some cases disposing off of the entire business in order to stay afloat.

BB_Blog: So how have you thus survived in this game called business?

I don’t know if the word survival can fit herein. But we (read I) have matured somewhat. I am no longer so keen on wealth accumulation as my number one goal in business.

If you go back over generations, various names are mentioned. Many of them are leaders, religious folk, politicians, inventors, scientists, doctors and the like. Few of them are money’d people. The place for riches in time is there, but it is a bonus on whatever it is you are doing.

BB_Blog: So then, what do you envision for the next couple (read 5 – 10) of years?

Our current situation is indeed a tall order. We are definitely going to have to work just as hard as we did to get here in order to get us out of here. I however now know that I am aiming at not being in a similar situation in the next 10 years. We have successfully planted over 2,000 acres of trees and we are keen on pushing that acreage up as we have focused on this over the past 12 years.

BB_Blog: Anything you have learned from this interview?

“Young energy will be replaced with wisdom and caution.”

This relates to the huge risk taking that we did earlier on in business when we would go ahead and execute whatever it was we decided to do. Now we slow down and process the decision’s impacts.

BB_Blog: any advice for entrepreneurs new and old then?

First of all, do something that you like.

Something that you feel is not a chore.

Something that comes from a passion within.

This way you will never have to feel like it is a burden getting out of bed to go to work.

Secondly, never let your ego make decisions for you. Trying to prove yourself as a success to others is a sure way to decline.

About Hub Group, Busingye Properties and other businesses.

Arthur and a group of partners started Cineplex Cinemas in 1996 and is known for bringing forth the era of movies for Ugandans. Through HUB Group, the businesses also set up Boda-Boda a once up-market bar and restaurant. Busingye Properties owns Enkombe Place, one of the best places to stay while in Kampala.

By Edmund Kamugisha

Edmund Kamugisha Edmund is the Engagement Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has 10+ years of   management consultancy experience notably in MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry. You can follow him on twitter: @edmokmg

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    • Ntoni Timbyetaho, CEO Financial Planning Campaign -East Africa. on June 4, 2018 at 4:20 pm
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    Dear Arthur,

    Thank you for sharing all this information. I was once one of your bankers and i knew how smart you are. Besides my sister Jesca used to stay at your home when she was a student. So i seem to know your true and real story. You are so passionate about business because business is your second name. I like it when you say money is a bonus. True great people with money today like Bill Gates was in soft ware development not because he was igneous, or had money or otherwise. No way. He was in it to solve a human problem or a human need. Ii can add that it is also about the power of numbers which is very key as well. Imagine is you have processed great African coffee being consumed by all Africans. It means a huge market and happiness to all persons. Think of a brand like starbucks- world brand. Tha’ts it. Thank you.

    Ntoni Timbyetaho,
    CEO – Financial Planning Campaign.

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