A belief in the adage ‘sow and you shall reap the reward’ and a commitment to working with integrity are the drivers for Gwarega Dambudzo.
What’s your story?
After qualifying as a civil engineer, I worked for private firms and government entities in Southern Africa for about fifteen years before I started my own consulting practce in the same field. This was preceded by my further studies in business management, (MBA), in order to have a holistic understanding of the business world to augment my technical competences. So, for the past eight years, I was the managing director of a consulting practice involved in infrastruture delivery, project mamanagement and small business mentorship. At the end of 2022, I relocate to Australia, but continue as non executive chairman.
What excites you most about your industry?
While I acknowledge the role played by many other industries, I argue that the construction industry is one of the foundational industries upon which all others are anchored. The industry provides many of the social and economic infrastructures that enable the economy to thrive. Think of the transportation infrastructure, the water services, commercial buildings, education and health delivery infrastructure, which is designed and built by engineers. This infrastructure is designed guided by sustainability principles, so we incorporate social, economic and environmental sustainability in the delivery process. Investment in infrastructure will continue to grow and technology advancement will improve delivery efficiency.
What drives you in your career to push beyond what other people consider normal?
Unfortunately, life is guided by principles that seem to always work whether one is aware of them or not. For instance, I have realised that the principle of sowing and reaping always holds true, and this drives me with the understanding that the extra effort I put into what I do will bring better returns than what the normal investment would bring. I am satisfied with whatever outcome when I am convinced that I did my utmost best. In my line of work, the results have a visible direct impact on communities, which brings satisfaction to me.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
Financial accounting, which I learnt during my MBA studies, helped me to carefully scrutinise the financial statements when I became an entrepreneur. This is critical for me because I do not rely entirely on the accountants to tell me the story of what is happening in the business. Instead, I spend more time working with them to find solutions to improve business performance. On the softer skills, I learnt to listen. I am always patient, not too quick to answer, but to listen carefully to get the story, which seems to have projected me as an empathetic leader.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Just because there is no price tag on it doesn’t mean that it is not precious and valuable”. This is translated from a vernacular version that my mother drilled into me as I grew up. This was mainly regarding relationships, particularly friendships. It is impossible to measure the value of relationships in monetary terms, but they are very precious in our lives, more so in the business world. A good referral from a professional contact landed us our first business contract, and I will forever be indebted to that contact. I learnt to appreciate the different relationships I have.
Who inspires you?
My father had a huge influence on my pursuit for education, he inspired me to always be open and ready to grab any opportunity that presents itself for my learning. Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, left a lasting impression on me when it comes to servant leadership. He led by example and left the stage while he was still a darling of many across the globe. I cherish his humility. Steve Jobs inspired me to take the road less travelled in pursuit of a dream, hence I pursued entrepreneurship against my family’s concerns and fears.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
As of May 2023, when compared to the global stock markets, Apple, valued at US$2.7tn, is only surpassed by the US and Japan’s stock markets which are valued at US$40tn and US$4.1tn respectively. It goes on to say that Apple is bigger than all the companies in France (235 companies), and India (1,242 companies). This just seemed crazier than what I could imagine. However, it shows the belief consumers and investors have in the future of brand Apple, and the leadership behind it.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have ventured into entrepreneurship much earlier than I did. This would have given me ample time to take more risks, with the benefit of time on my side. Entrepreneurship and investing are risky endeavours, but they can also be quite rewarding. I could have explored a few more ideas than what I have done so far, deepening my experience and learning. I had started venturing into farming and agro-related business before I left Africa. However, I am pleased that I still made the decision, albeit a bit late, and I have learnt and grown as a business leader.
How do you unwind?
I like football (soccer). I support one of the best teams in the English Premier League, which is very good at nurturing young talent, and they have exceeded everyone’s expectations during the 2022/23 season. The current young manager should be a case study for leadership. So, I watch soccer. A year ago I started playing golf, and I am now hooked. I still need to push my handcap down to some respectabale level. As a family man, I also create time for weekends with the kids, playing board games, including chess. I do a lot of book-reading too.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your career?
No matter how good you think you are, you are dispensable! I realised that loyalty alone is not enough for one to stay in an organisation, one has to be passionate about what they are doing for them to last for as long as time allows. I have also resolved that I will treat my staff and partners the best I can, but accept and be prepared that one day they will leave when they find another place they perceive to be a better one to offer their services with passion.
Everyone in business should read this book:
‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. If they cannot find this one, ‘Power Questions’ by Andrew Sobel and Jerod Panas is a good alternative.
Both books address what I consider to be the leadership lever – how to build relationships and influence people. Leadership is all about influence, not command and control. Those who are led should find reason to willingly follow the leader, and that can only be through positive influence.
Shameless plug for your business or career:
One of the values we live by in our business is ‘to create lasting relationships’ with both our clients and partners. This is related to another of our values, integrity, which I have inculcated in the team to ensure that whatever we do, we can unashamedly defend the decisions we have taken in delivering our services. In an era awash with fly-by-night professionals and businesses, building lasting relationships requires one to give their word and stand by it, no matter the cost. In this respect, we have completed some work for clients below cost to maintain the relationships.
How can people connect with you?
The best way to connect with me is through my social media link where one can also have a preview of some of the work that I may be currently working on.
Social Media Links?
This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.