By Patrick Kagenda
Harshad Barot is the owner of the Ovino market, one of the most modern and biggest markets in Uganda, and a chain of other real estate developments, including apartments Kampala, Bugolobi, and Nkumba and Tirupati recreational Park at Jinja, whose construction is ongoing. The Independents Patrick Kagenda asked Harshad how it all began. Excerpts.
Who is Harshad and when did he come to Uganda?
I was born in 1960 in India in the state of Gujarat. I grew up under hardship and in September 1993, I found my way to Uganda.
Arriving in Uganda as a job seeker without a relative or friend to go to, I headed to Nakasero Hindu Temple which provides free accommodation to Indian community members who have no where to stay. I looked for jobs but to no avail as I didnt have the degrees required for getting a job. It was after failing to get a job that I thought hard and came up with an idea of going to do business.
You had no job and no qualifications. How then did you start business?
I went to Kikuubo and asked for the wholesale price of lotions and other items and thereafter, I started going to the local small shops asking for orders so that I could supply them with merchandise whose price I now knew. I bargained with the wholesalers who gave me goods at a discount and on credit and I started a supply chain to the small shops. I would walk in the morning carrying samples of what I could supply the small traders and to take orders from them, and I would walk as far as Luzira, Seeta, Kansanga and all the other suburbs of Kampala, moving from shop to shop. When I had received enough orders I would rush to Kikuubo, pick the goods and take a special hire.
You seem to have lived on good will. Did the traders appreciate your service?
The small traders who had to first close their shops and go to Kikuubo, stopped as I was the better alternative and this way I made profit. But one surprising thing is that because of hiring a small car and having to deliver every order I had taken, I never used to count money paid to me and I was surprised that no one ever gave me less money. Because of the peoples honesty, my love for the country grew very fast and my zeal to work harder increased. During the rainy season, my customers would say I wait until it stops raining but I never heeded as I was committed to meeting my clients deadline. Sometimes they said, look at this Muyindi he is going to fall sick, but that never happened.
How much were you making on a daily basis?
I was making almost Shs 4,000 per hour. For this, I have to commend the Indian community who gave me merchandise on credit not because of being a fellow Indian but because I was doing my business. After delivering merchandise, the next morning I would start walking to take more orders. Two months later, I got a shop in Wandegeya from Mrs. Edaru Peter. She was a good lady whom I had been supplying and would always pay me without any delay. I asked her to become a partner in the shop as I would bring the goods and she runs it and we share the profits. She said she had other partners who included Mrs. Joan Kakwenzire [Private Secretary to the president in-charge of poverty alleviation] and I agreed to have them on as partners.
What happened next after you got the partnership in the shop?
This was my turning point in business. Before I joined these ladies,Â they were making Shs 50,000-60,000 in profits per day, but when I joined them the profits went toÂ Shs 300,000- 400,000 and they became very happy. When these ladies agreed to work with me, I immediately put Shs 4 million into the business. The 4 million was some of the money I had made and some credit I had taken. Because of the contacts I had made when I told the wholesalers how I had got a shop, they told me to take whatever I wanted on credit and pay later. After sometime, I got my own shop in Wandegeya and put in goods worth Shs 5 million.Â Around 1993-94, there were no supermarkets in Uganda and within six months I had 5 supermarkets. I am the one who started Umoja canteen at Makerere University, Ntinda Holiday Supermarket, and then people started coming to me asking for help to start supermarket businesses.
What happened after you got your own supermarkets?
One day a friend of mine came from Canada and asked me to join him in big import and export business. So I agreed, got out of the supermarkets business and started Sordit (U) Ltd in Industrial Area that was importing general merchandise and food stuffs. These people I joined had come from Congo because of the war. When the Congo war ended around 1995-96, they went back to Congo and I remained in the business.
What is the secret behind all your success?
There are rules in business if you want to be successful. Knowing to calculate, paying back credit, and involving your family to work as a team. Even now I work with my son Rajiv and he is the general manager of Tirupati properties.
When did you start buying property?
In 1996-97, I went into property buying and selling. Again during the same period, I went into manufacturing and whatever I used to supply, I started manufacturing it myself. This included baking powder, icing sugar, and sweets. However, my interest remained in the property business as I knew how to look at property and tell this is good property and that is bad property. Then two years ago these people of Tirupati came from India and as we had known each other since childhood, they asked what business we could do together in Uganda. Even when I was still doing the small businesses they came several times to see me. This is when we joined together and came up with the big group Tirupati. Our aim was to build a shopping mall where very many people would come buy and go and after looking at all the places we agreed on down town Kampala in Kisenyi where Ovino is located.