Early Life and Education
Strive Masiyiwa was born in 1961 in Rhodesia now (Zimbabwe). When he was seven, his family fled the country as Ian Smith’s embattled government began to fall apart.
The family settled in Kitwe, a city in north central Zambia known for its copper mines. His mother was an entrepreneur with interests in retail sales, small-scale farming, and transportation.
His father worked at first in one of the nearby mines but later conglomerate the family business.
Strive Masiyiwa attended primary school in Zambia, by the time he was 12 years old; his parents could afford to provide him with a coveted European education. They sent him to private school in Edinburgh, Scotland.
When he graduated in 1978, he heads a journey back to Zimbabwe, planning to join the anti-government guerilla forces there. “One of the senior officers told him ‘Look, we’re about to win anyway, and what we really need is people like you to help rebuild the country’.
He took the man’s advice and returned to school in Britain, by gaining a scholarship earning a degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Wales in 1983.
He worked briefly in the computer industry in Cambridge, England, but soon returned to Zimbabwe in 1984, hoping to help the country’s repossession after the war of independence it had won in 1980.
Masiyiwa joined the Zimbabwe Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (ZPTC), the state-owned telephone company, as a senior engineer. ZPTC quickly promoted him to the position of principal engineer. Masiyiwa became frustrated with the government bureaucracy, however, and left ZPTC in 1988 to start an electrical contracting firm named Retrofit Engineering. He was chosen as Zimbabwe’s youngest-ever Businessman of the Year in 1990.
He recognized the great potential for wireless telephones in sub-Saharan Africa because the region had only two fixed-line telephones for every hundred people in the 1990s. He saw that wireless networks would be quicker and less expensive to build than land-based networks that required stringing miles of telephone lines across rough terrain.
Wireless telephone service would also be less vulnerable than traditional landlines to the theft of copper wire for resale.
Masiyiwa first approached ZPTC about forming a mobile telephone network in Zimbabwe. The company wasn’t interested, however, saying that cell phones had no future in the country.
Masiyiwa then decided to create a cell phone network on his own. He sold Retrofit Engineering in 1994 and started to finance Econet Wireless through his family company, TS Masiyiwa Holdings (TSMH).
He met with fierce opposition, first from ZPTC, which told him it held a monopoly in telecommunications, and second from the Zimbabwean government, which swamped him with red tape and demands for bribes.
As a devout Christian, Masiyiwa was opposed to paying bribes and kickbacks to government officials. He decided to pursue his case through the courts.
After a landmark four-year legal battle that went all the way to the nation’s Supreme Court, Econet finally won a license to provide cell phone service in Zimbabwe.
The court declared that the government monopoly on telecommunications had violated the constitution’s guarantee of free speech. Econet’s first cell phone subscriber was connected to the new network in 1998.
While Masiyiwa waited to gain the government’s approval for operations in Zimbabwe, he was able to start a cell phone network in neighboring Botswana.
Econet Wireless Holdings then established a presence in over 15 countries, including other African nations, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
The company also diversified into satellite communications, fixed-line telephone services, and Internet service.
Masiyiwa decided to relocate his family and the Econet headquarters to the Republic of South Africa in 2000. Some observers suggested that he was going into exile from his homeland once again.
Masiyiwa himself said simply that South Africa was the best place from which to launch a multinational corporation because it had the continent’s most vibrant economy.
His main interest remained in telecoms.
Some of the key businesses that he established with partners included Econet Wireless International, Econet Wireless Global, Mascom Wireless Botswana, Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel Nigeria), Econet Satellite Services, Lesotho Telecom, Econet Wireless Burundi, Rwanda Telecom, Econet Wireless South Africa, Solarway, and Transaction Processing Systems (TPS). He also has interests in mobile operations in New Zealand, Bolivia, and Dominican Republic.
Business Reputation & Associate
The company he created is known to have operations and investments, in more than 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, US, Latin America, and New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, and China
After more than ten years in South Africa, Masiyiwa moved to London; however, he still retains significant business interests in South Africa.
Econet Wireless (Econet) is a privately held global telecommunications company with business operations and investments in more than 20 countries in Africa, Latin America, The United Kingdom, Europe, China, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and New Zealand.
The only listed entity is its Zimbabwean subsidiary.
The Zimbabwean business is often mistaken as the holding company, because it is listed.
Masiyiwa also has interests in the United States of America (USA). He has partnered with one of America’s leading telecoms entrepreneurs, John Stanton, in a venture called Trilogy International Partners, which built New Zealand’s third mobile network operator known as “2 Degrees”. Masiyiwa’s investment in Seattle based Trilogy International, have also helped him secure interests as an investor in Viva’s Bolivia and Dominican Republic businesses. Masiyiwa also has a controlling interest in a company based in Vermont USA, that manufacturers nano fibre carbon products, called Seldon Technologies.
One of Masiyiwa’s most successful ventures is the London-based privately held Liquid Telecom Group, Africa’s largest satellite and fibre optic business spanning over 14 countries.
Other activities of Econet include enterprise networks, financial services, renewable energy, television and media (Kwesé TV).
There are no reliable estimates of Masiyiwa’s wealth, because the vast majority of his business investments are held in private businesses. The only publicly known information is that of his listed business in Zimbabwe, the country he left 15 years ago. Based on this, Forbes Magazine estimates put Masiyiwa’s personal wealth at US$600 million. Ventures Africa recently estimated Masiyiwa to be worth over US$1.4 billion.
Masiyiwa is generally recognised as one of the most prolific philanthropists to ever come out of Africa. He has used his own family fortune to build one of the largest support programs for educating orphans in Africa. At any given time his family foundations support and educate more than 40,000 children. Masiyiwa is also a member of the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett initiative known as the Giving Pledge.
Masiyiwa is also involved in supporting a diverse range of health issues including campaigns against HIV/AIDS, Cervical Cancer, malnutrition, and more recently EBOLA. He is an avid environmentalist and together with Sir Richard Branson founded the environmental group, the Carbon War Room.
He recently took over, from former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, the chairmanship of AGRA, an organisation that supports Africa’s smallholder farmers. In 2013, he was appointed co-chair of Grow Africa, the investment forum for Africa’s agriculture, which has helped mobilise over US$15 billion in investments for African agriculture.
Honours and International Award
- In 1998, the World Junior Chamber of Commerce named Masiyiwa one of the “10 most outstanding young leaders of the world”, an accolade previously bestowed to John Kennedy.
- In 2003, a CNN Timemagazine poll named Masiyiwa as one of the most influential business leaders in the world.
- In 2012, President Barack Obama invited Masiyiwa and four other business leaders to attend the 38th G8 summit at Camp David to address them on strategies on how to increase food production and end poverty in parts of Africa.
- In 2014 Fortune Magazinenamed Masiyiwa one of the 50 most influential business leaders in the world.
- In September 2014, the Chair of the African Union (AU), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, asked Masiyiwa to help mobilise resources for Africa’s response to the EBOLA outbreak. This was the first time The AU had asked a business leader to undertake such a role. Masiyiwa, with the help of other leaders, set up the first ever Pan African fund raising campaign known as #AfricaAgainstEbola Solidarity Fund.
- The fund has raised millions of US dollars from the public using SMS donations, with contributions coming from many African countries. The donations enabled The AU to deploy the largest known contingency of African healthcare workers to combat the spread of the deadly pandemic.
- In 2015 Forbes Magazinenamed Masiyiwa in the 10 Most Powerful Men in Africa list for 2015.
- In 2015, the International Rescue Committee(IRC) awarded Masiyiwa the Freedom Award.The award is given annually to an individual who makes an extraordinary contribution towards supporting refugees and championing the causes of liberty, individual freedom, and dignity.
- At the UN Global Leadership 2015 awards dinner in New York, USA; The Africa Against Ebola Campaign was recognised for their humanitarian contributions and outstanding work in response to the Ebola epidemic. Chairman of the Trust, Masiyiwa accepted the award on behalf the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust.
- In 2017 Fortune Magazinenamed Strive Masiyiwa number 33 in the World’s Greatest Leaders list for 2017 along with Elon Musk and LeBron James.
Lessons from Strive Masiyiwa
- Identify A Human Need And Reach Out To Meet It
According to Masiyiwa, this is the most sure-fire way to succeed in business.
In 1994, 70% of Africans had never heard a Telephone ring. People all across Africa desperately needed a reliable and cost-effective means of reaching out to their loved ones and associates wherever they were in the world. That was a human need. Masiyiwa, as a young engineer set out to change that. He had the technology to do it and access to substantial resources. “We didn’t wake up and say we wanted to make billions of dollars; we said we wanted to extend telecommunications to all the people of Africa,” Masiyiwa stated during last year’s commencement address to graduating students of Morehouse College. If you reach out to meet the needs of the people around you, you will wear the crown.
- Be Patient And Relentless; Never Give Up
Few people are as patient and as relentless as Masiyiwa. In 1993, when Masiyiwa set out to establish Zimbabwe’s first independent mobile telecoms network, he encountered stiff opposition from the Zimbabwean government. The Zimbabwean Post & Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) – a government-owned entity held a monopoly over the telecommunications business in the country and the corporation was vehemently opposed to granting Masiyiwa a mobile operating license. The Government threatened to prosecute him if he dared to proceed with his venture. Masiyiwa took the battle to court, and the case lingered for close to five years. It was a slow and long process, but Masiyiwa never gave in. Of course the government tried to subdue and frustrate him, but Masiyiwa was resolute. He was determined to challenge the government’s monopoly of telecommunications services in the country and was keen to launch his own mobile telecoms network. His persistence paid off. By 1997, the court ruled in his favour and Masiyiwa was able to launch Econet wireless. Develop a tough skin; be relentless, and be patient. Success hardly occurs in a split second; you need to learn to wait for your moment
- Work Hard And Stay Focused
This is a no-brainer. Nothing good in this world comes easily, least of all, success. You may have identified a need and possess the most brilliant business ideas. You may even have the praying spirit of Jesus; but if you are lazy you’re doomed to fail. Success requires hard work. Masiyiwa works long hours every day and has cultivated the requisite discipline to be focused. Work Hard And Stay Focused!
- Pray Hard
“God will do nothing except you pray; and you have to be clear what you want”- Strive Masiyiwa
This might sound like illogical business advice particularly if you’re an atheist. But according to Masiyiwa, a devout Christian, prayers are essential for success in business. Masiyiwa has stated countless times that when he was battling the Zimbabwean government in court for the right to operate a mobile Telecoms license, he prayed fervently. While the court case lingered, Masiyiwa prayed for victory. Even though it took four years, Masiyiwa’s prayers were eventually answered. Employees at Econet and people close to Masiyiwa confirm that the tycoon never takes any important business decision before first going on his knees. Judging by Econet’s raving success, Masiyiwa’s prayers actually work. Prayers may work for you as well.
- Give Back
What you give comes back to you ten-fold. Masiyiwa is Zimbabwe’s biggest philanthropist. Along with his wife, Tsitsi, Masiyiwa is a co-founder of the Capernaum Trust, a Zimbabwe-registered privately funded Christian charity which sponsors the education of over 28,000 Zimbabwean orphans. Apart from providing scholarships to these children, the organization also provides food packs and healthcare for them. Masiyiwa funds the trust from his own personal resources with support from Econet Wireless. The Universe seems to have rewarded his generosity with brilliant success and a $600 million fortune.