Munyukwi Kahari has been around the block when it comes to watching the success and failure of businesses. He has evaluated and developed strategies for entrepreneurs and distressed companies across many diverse industries.
While with the International Finance Corporation (the private sector arm of the World Bank), he helped entrepreneurs in structuring their projects, advising on business strategy, raising finance and ensuring that they built the capacity and systems to run their companies successfully.
Kahari also played a supervisory role in the re-establishment of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as the creation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry South Africa.
It’s an illustrious career, but two years ago, Kahari chose to leave it all and form his own business. As a new business owner trying to establish not only a niche, but also an industry, he faces the same challenges all entrepreneurs face.
Turnaround Partners, the business of which Kahari is a founder and director, was formed in 2004. Other directors are John Chitsa, Matsobane Khwinana (also a founder) and Mike Wakatama. As its name suggests, the company’s core focus is helping turn businesses in distress around and put them back on the road to success.
When asked how their company differs from a management consultancy, Kahari explains: ”Management consultants focus on improving on what a business is doing well, but turnaround specifically focuses on businesses experiencing problems.” So what exactly is a business in distress? Kahari uses a very apt medical metaphor. Businesses facing liquidation are those he calls “in hospital on life support”.
“But a business may be ailing long before it reaches that stage. It is a business that is struggling. It could be making profit but is consistently not performing up to industry standards.” For these businesses, Turnaround Partners does a diagnostic of every aspect to asses the real cause of the problem and then agrees with stakeholders on an action plan.
It’s interesting to note the way Kahari uses the word ‘turnaround’. One of the challenges of setting up the company has been educating people about the turnaround industry and what it can do for their business. Kahari relates the story of the company’s inception:
“It was a prime time to launch the business because the DTI was reviewing the legislation that pertains to struggling businesses in order to try and make it more balanced. It’s now called the Business Rescue Legislation. We wanted to be first in the market, to get front-row seats, as it were.”
Getting in first had its ups and downs. Establishing what turnaround is was a more protracted process than the founding members anticipated. “We had to work hard to get people to know about it and come to an understanding about what it is. The market is currently small, but this hasn’t stopped us from being active,” he adds.
He believes that the market is very underdeveloped in Africa, lagging behind more developed nations. “It’s an interesting area and there is a lot to be done,” he says. However, Kahari knows better than anyone that a business needs to adapt and evolve in order to survive.
“When you’re developing a new market, you still need to be making money,” he quips. For this reason, the company expanded into other areas and is currently involved in a project with the IFC to help banks across Africa do better business with small businesses.
It has also signed up with US-based Omega Performance, a company involved in bank training with two-thirds of the largest banks in the world. The focus is to build capacity of credit officers in South African banks. In addition, Turnaround is involved in business advisory services for people wanting to start, buy or expand a small to medium business.
Despite these other areas of focus, Kahari and his team have never taken their eye off the turnaround ball, working hard to build awareness and develop the industry. They founded the Turnaround Management Association of SA, which is affiliated to the US mother body, TMA US.
They work closely with investors to attract clients and the message is spreading.“We experience the same problems that all start-up businesses experience,” says Kahari. “Initially, you have no relationships with suppliers and people are sceptical of what you are selling because they are not familiar with it.
These challenges never go away until you create a dominant position in the marketplace.” But about this he is upbeat and philosophical: “I believe this will be successful. There is no room for failure in business because the consequences are serious!”
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