By Agnes E. Nantaba
Miraj Barot is the managing director of Tirupati Development Uganda Ltd, which largely deals in real estate development and management but with interests manufacturing and consultancy. He spoke to Agnes E. Nantaba about their operations.
What are the key elements in your management philosophy as a manager?
Miraj is nothing without the team. As an individual, I can develop a good idea but for it to take off and succeed, the team is involved. Team work is the greatest asset and strongest pillar for any business.
I am not a ‘do it yourself manager’ but rather a ‘delegator.’ As a manager, you’ve got to rely on other people to get the job done and that means becoming a proficient delegator. I trust that I have capable employees who share my ambitions to get the things done; they only need the latitude to get the job done, and that is me.
You are one of the youngest CEO’s in Uganda holding fort as a managing director of more than two companies, how do manage to work effectively?
For all the companies to run and be successful under one manager, team work is the tactic. I work with dedicated managers at different work stations through whom I conduct daily follow ups and now with the latest technology, monitoring and evaluation of projects is easier.
How would you assess the business environment in Uganda currently?
The country is growing economically but Uganda can only transform into a middle income economy backed up by SMEs. In reality, there are very few large scale businesses in the country and with the country having largely a young population, SMEs are the way to go. But this can only be realized if they are organized.
The business park is a concept borrowed from India. 20 years ago, SMEs in India were scattered but the government built Gujarat Industrial Parks to confine them in one area. But in Uganda, we implemented it from the private sector perspective and it has been successful to the extent that we are launching the second phase.
Your companies largely deal in real estate, which is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. What opportunities does the sector present to potential investors?
Uganda is still virgin in terms of real estate especially outside the Central Business District (CBD). There is still vacant land with opportunities but focus should be on where demand is. We are therefore looking at taking up such opportunities in real estate development.
What are some of the challenges associated with real estate management?
The biggest challenge for the real estate industry today is the depreciation of the shilling against the dollar, which causes inflation. We have been forced to increase the prices yet some clients refuse the changes. And while we want to develop the country from the SMEs based perspective, we are pulled back by the depreciation. For other challenges in business management, they have since become part of the game and it’s from them that you can know how to rise when you fall.
How have you managed to solve and maneuver through such challenges to remain relevant in the market?
Our basic strategy is innovation. We always look out for a new and unique product. We built Ovino in Kisenyi as the first slum conversion project in Kampala CBD and others like Tirupati Mazima Mall, and now the business park. We don’t want to copy and duplicate ideas of others but bring on board what the market asks for.
Your latest addition to the group was the acquisition of the assets of Sembule Steel Mills, which you have pledged to bring back to life. How far have you gone in executing this?
We are on the right track and production is ongoing. However the revamp is still challenging. Almost everything ranging from machinery and work force need upgrading. We currently make hollow section pipes but in the near future on acquisition of the necessary machinery, we shall start steel manufacturing.
Tirupati ventured into sugar production in 2013 – a move that was expected to be the game-changer in Uganda’s sugar industry. What progress have you made so far?
We are still on hold since the 9,000 acres of land, which we planned still has many squatters. There are still issues before court and once they are sorted, we hope to actualize our plans. But the challenges within indicate that we cannot start any time soon.
What is your reading of the real estate industry in Uganda in the next few years?
The market is still open with vast opportunities with the closest being real estate management spreading outside Kampala CBD. As Tirupati, we have already signed an MOU with Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) that grants us rights to build business parks in six other towns. By the beginning of the year, we shall have started implementing the $15million per project.
You were recently awarded for your distinguished contribution to the real estate industry in India and Uganda. Being the first Indian in Uganda to be awarded, what does it signify to you?
As a young entrepreneur who looks beyond his country, I am humbled by the recognition. It is just the beginning; it’s motivation to work harder.
Where do you see Tirupati in the next five years?
We still have a long way to go as Tirupati. We are also looking at tapping into opportunities in the education sector. Hopefully by the beginning of next year, we shall have started the developments in the area of setting up a higher institution of learning or a university.
Within a period of five years, we hope to be in full swing with production at Sembule Steel Mills. We are also considering rolling out our real estate operations to up country towns.