DARLINGTON MWENDABAI, Chipata
THE meeting between Elvis Mhone and officials from the Citizen Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) is best described as one of those rare moments when the borrower and lender meet to celebrate a past transaction.
Mr Mhone, 57, who was loaned K 250, 000 by the CEEC, warmly welcomes CEEC officials in the company of Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Margaret Mwanakatwe, eager to share his success story.
After exchanging pleasantries with the visiting officials, Mr Mhone gladly takes them on a tour of his Eastern Comfort Lodge and they later retreat to a boardroom, where he tells the whole story.
The minister was in Chipata recently to check on CEEC-funded projects. And Mhoneâ€™s Eastern Comfort Lodge, being one of the beneficiaries of the empowerment fund, was on the list of local enterprises Mrs Mwanakatwe and her entourage were visiting.
Mr Mhone boasts that he isÂ CEECâ€™s goodwill ambassador in Chipata, having paid back the K250, 000 loan within 31 months, five months ahead of the official loan recovery period.
The Chipata-based hotelier, who is chairperson of the Eastern Province Hotel Catering Association of Zambia (HCAZ), says some of the emerging young entrepreneurs fail to access credit services because of financial imprudence. Mhone says borrowing money requires, firstly, a bankable business project and, secondly, financial discipline.
Mr Mhoneâ€™s relationship with the CEEC started in 2009 after he submitted a business proposal worth K250, 000.
At the time, he was running a small lodge which was previously a residential unit.
The former cashier for the defunct National Import and Export Corporation (NIEC), who also worked for other chain stores and rose through the ranks to managerial level, had the required business know-how, but needed capital to expand his business.
After his retirement from formal employment in 2004, Mr Mhone invested K95 000 in the lodge which started with two rooms and eight workers, but now Eastern Comfort Lodge boasts of 33 luxurious rooms, three conference facilities and a board room.
When he got the K 250, 000 loan from CEEC, he could have been tempted to buy a luxurious car, but he invested everything into his business.
â€œI invested the money in my lodge and I am happy I paid back the loan in full within two years, seven months,â€ Mr Mhone says.
He told the minister and her entourage that paying for a loan is not an easy thing, but one requires strict discipline to do so. â€œThe secret for one to be in good books with the CEEC or any other leading institution is to follow oneâ€™s budget policy religiously.â€
Mr Mhone says although the process of repaying a loan is tough, one needs to be guided by a customised repayment policy.
The Eastern Comfort Lodge proprietor was born in 1960 at Kamuna village in Lundazi, Chief Magondiâ€™s area, where he did his primary school at Kanyanga. He describes himself as a humble and honest man, an attribute he believes helped him climb ladders in business.
After growing his lodge from two simple rooms to 33 luxurious ones, Mr Mhone is considering expanding his business to his home town, Lundazi. He hopes that having paid back his loan in record time, he will be considered for another loan facility by the CEEC.
Mrs Mwanakatwe was visibly delighted to hear how Mr Mhone grew his business from two rooms in 2006 to 33 rooms currently, including three conference rooms and a board room. The minister also learnt that Mr Mhone has 25 employees and he will create more job opportunities as he plans to build 22 more guest rooms at his Chipata-based lodge.
As for the Lundazi project, the Eastern Comfort Lodge owner needs K2. 5 million to build a 60-room lodge, which is expected to create about 50 jobs.
â€œI did not buy a Toyato Hilux after I got the money from the CEEC. I am using a simple car to do my business errands,â€ he says to emphasise that he leads a simple life.
Mr Mhone starts his day with a prayer at 05:00am and to his workers, he is a workaholic who retires to bed at about 23:00 hours.
Praying to his God gives him strength and wisdom to manage people.
Although as a child Mr Mhone dreamt of becoming a policeman, his calling was in managing people as evidenced from the past managerial portfolios he held before becoming his own boss.
He started working for NIEC as a cashier upon completing school at Hill Crest Technical School in Livingstone in 1982. This was after he failed to raise money for his tertiary education.
However, after two years of working, precisely in 1985, Mr Mhone enrolled for a two-year course in distribution management at Monkey Fountain View College in Ndola.
In 1988, he rose to the position of assistant branch manager for NIEC in Lusaka and was later transferred to Mongu in the same capacity.
While in Mongu, he met Chaiwe a nurse at Lewanika General Hospital, who was to become his wife in 1989.
Sadly, his wife died in a road accident in Nyimba in 2010 .The couple had two children, Chimuhanya Elvis, 22, and Esther, aged 19.
And in 1991, Mr Mhone was brought back to Lusaka as NIEC branch manager and, two years later, he was promoted to the position of regional manager. When NIEC Stores was sold off during the privatisation process sometime in 1995, he was among the lucky workers that were retained by the South African chain store, Shoprite.
Mr Mhone became branch manager for Shoprite in Lusaka, which was the first store to be opened in Zambia.
He only worked for a year then left to join Smart Centre as branch manager, and five months later, he was promoted as regional manager.
When Smart Centre was liquidated, being a manager, he stayed on in the defunct company to recover debts from customers, and this he did between 2001 and 2004.
Mr Mhone was paid a retirement package of K95, 000, the money he used to set up Eastern Comfort Lodge.
DARLINGTON MWENDABAI, Chipata