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Simon Wafubwa: From a dream to managing billions in pension fund

Enterprise
 Simon Wafubwa, founder and CEO Enwealth Financial Services. [Wainaina Wambu, Stanadrd]

Simon Wafubwa is soft-spoken with every word uttered measured to deliver the underpinning philosophy that has set him apart as a business guru.

As the founder and CEO of Enwealth Financial Services, Wafubwa has in 12 years built a firm mulled from his bedroom into a regional empire controlling Sh85 billion in pension assets under administration.

He quit his job and used Sh300,000 of his pension payout to start the firm in 2011 which has since diversified to offer other financial services including Enwealth Capital which offers a Money Market Fund and an insurance brokerage arm.

Wafubwa is reflective as he recalls the scorn, sleepless nights, consistency and faith that took to build the business.

At his office along Ngong Road, he still uses the desk and cabinet he started the business with as a reminder of the journey and perhaps not to get consumed by success. He'd bought the desk at Nairobi's infamous Mtindwa market for Sh3,000.

In a candid interview, Wafubwa tells Enterprise of his business roots and what it takes to stay at the top.

Restless in employment

I had read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren thrice and I became restless. I asked myself what is my vision in life. And in what way I'm I able to express it optimally?

After much introspection, I came up with my own purpose in life which was value-adding to humanity through compassion for God's glory.

I then developed a personal strategic plan as progress in life has to be intentional and I had to be clear about the future I was walking into.

I came up with my "why". Many people start with the "how". For example, "How can I be a billionaire?" but "Why must I be a billionaire?" has more value.

As a devout Christian, I also believe that every destiny was already provisioned for at creation.

SWOT Analysis

Having been clear in terms of purpose and mission of life, I did a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. This is a framework that evaluates a company's or individual's current status and helps develop strategic planning. It assesses internal and external factors, as well as current and future potential.

This helped me develop the "four capitals" for fulfilling my purpose.

These include spiritual, knowledge, social and financial capital. They have to go together, if you focus on one too much then growth becomes imbalanced.

It began with self-awareness. In what way will I be able to create an ecosystem of values to feed my vision? If you don't feed your vision it dies.

The "four capitals"

Your network determines your net worth. You are the average of five persons around you. In terms of networking, I cut back relationships that were cannibalistic and for relationships that were value-adding, I created more time.

Through social capital you get knowledge capital, this is through family support, investment ideas and inspiration.

Through social capital you also get accountability.

Visions without accountability are not secure and that's how we were able to get our first board.

Most SMEs neglect governance. We put in place our board within two months of operations. We selected them through the '7Cs' which include character, credibility, competency, chemistry, commitment to the vision and complement your weaknesses.

The trust dividend is also important. In any relationship when the trust quotient is high you get your results quickly and cheaply.

Believing in yourself

Having developed my personal strategic plan, the next thing was how to actualise it. That's when I resigned from my last employer. Initially, I wanted to convert the second bedroom in my house where the house girl was sleeping with my daughter to an office.

One evening a friend CEO of a big government agency called me and asked I understand you have resigned from your job, what are you up to?

I told him I wanted to start a consultancy, training and even farming.

He told me you are very stupid.

Unfortunately, in our society, people have been affirmed to their own self-destruction.

Sometimes you need people who can tell you as it is and may help you avoid making certain destructive decisions

If someone tells you you are stupid ask them why they could be right.

I asked him why.

"Companies that start in beds they sleep," he responded. Fortunately, this did not deter me from my vision.

Working with what you have

With my Sh300,000 partial pension access, I went to Vision Plaza to rent an office. I bought a desk and cabinet at Mtindwa. I tell young people, you don't have to start from up there just start from where you are.

As long as you are not aware of what you have at hand you may not be able to harness optimally the value that is within it. Despite the progress we've made, I still retain this desk to be able to remind me that my value is not in material things but in the impact of lives. When we see lives are transformed into a lifetime of financial well-being and dignity that's value.

Build slowly

I kept telling myself the only thing that starts at the top is a grave or pit latrine.

By starting and building gradually, you are able to learn from mistakes and from those mistakes you grow and accumulate wisdom. Once you are clear about your "why", you stick to it, there's that stubbornness that will keep you going.

Back then, I had an old Nissan Sunny car which I used to fuel cheaply. I used to give petrol station attendants money facing away as I was embarrassed.

Many times that car stopped at the road pushed it to the side of the road and took a matatu for Sh20. I told myself that in the boardroom I'm going to meet clients, there was no parking for the car and all that is required is my brain to sort out the problem. I would freshen up in the bathroom, compose myself and just walk in to engage clients.

Read a lot

In the early days, I was a heavy reader. My reading list comprised books on leadership, spirituality and strategy.

I woke up in the early morning hours did Bible study, read, and exercised and by 5 am I was in the office. It had to happen that way.

I relied on the McKinsey 7S Model, a business model for organizational effectiveness which says that there are seven internal factors of an organization that need to be aligned and reinforced in order for it to be successful. These include strategy, structure, systems, shared values, skills, style and staff. Those are fundamental principles that you can't undo.

Organic growth

Through social capital, we got our first clients. The brand wasn't big, but people knew me for what I do and God has greatly blessed us.

How else can people trust you with millions and you are at a small office in Ngara? People knew me as a person able to deliver work diligently on what we promised the customer.

Word started spreading that there was a small firm getting work thoroughly done. With referrals filled the room with staff and bought space and expanded.

From two employees in 2011, we now have about 70 staff spread across three countries.

Market research

We've done a lot of impact and research in growing the brand just to get credibility and we've partnered with Strathmore University over the years.

You can't innovate in a market you don't understand. Research gives us insight for strategic foresight.

We used it to refine process flaws and generate training content. We also use it for marketing and brand value positioning and collaboration in the sector for policy shaping with stakeholders.

Challenges

There are people who at the beginning you think you can work together better through partnerships and strategic synergies. However, you realise later that there was moral value misalignment. The moment software incompatibility doesn't exist it can't be cured through hardware.

Also, the work ethic in the present labour market is a bit lacking. It's not easy to get graduates who have the tenacity, diligence, drive focus, self will and commitment to a firm's vision.

There's a bit of restlessness enabled us to put a chaplaincy programme where we rigorously train our people to align with the vision of the institution and then build resilience. We've seen positive traction in that so far.

You can have good people but not aligned in terms of the company's vision.

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