When most people go to a department store or supermarket and select a product off the shelf, they take for granted that the item is simply there ready and waiting for them to purchase.
But it doesn’t “just happen.” All items on the shelves for consumers arrived at that location as a result of the determined effort of a complex chain of actors who are working together in a complicated arrangement of coordinated cooperation. That includes growers, producers, manufacturers, packagers, transportation providers, managers, computer technicians, communications specialists and more.
All of these parties must engage seamlessly to ensure that “Product A” gets to “Location B” in a timely manner and at a cost that is affordable to the end-user.
Thus, the central processes of supply management, supply chains and logistics play a critical role in the lives of people to a greater degree than most comprehend.
Now consider that some locations have supply and logistics challenges that are far greater than other locations. The nation of Zambia provides a vivid example.
Zambia is a landlocked nation in south-central Sub-Saharan Africa. With no ocean ports, products that come from outside of Africa must be transported over thousands of miles of land and across many areas where high-quality primary, secondary and tertiary road networks simply don’t exist.
Add to this the high costs for fuel, a shortage of skilled labor for jobs like truck drivers and containment specialists, and the scope of the problem comes into greater focus.
It’s these types of challenges that one African entrepreneur built a business around. Zambian-born businessman Clever Mpoha launched SAVENDA Management Services in 1997. What started as a small company trading in cell phones soon blossomed into a thriving, multifaceted and highly diversified conglomerate.
Much of that success was resulted from the fact that Mpoha early on recognized the fundamental importance of commodity supply management. He saw vividly how it played a central role in the lives of millions of ordinary people. Zambia was in dire need of a better logistical system to facility the flow of commerce among central African nations.
Clever Mpoha instinctively understood that any person who could bring solutions to the supply management challenges of Zambia would be a person a lot of other entities would be eager to compensate well if he could deliver solid solutions.
Mpoha set out to do just that. He got out a fresh sheet of paper and analyzed the situation. He then began drawing up lists of practical problem-solving strategies. One such solution was finding reliable partners to form relationships with and cobble together new approaches for moving “Commodity A” to “Destination B” in a time-efficient manner.
The first obvious focus for Mpoha and SAVENDA was Zambia’s dominant industry — copper mining. Mpoha approached mining firms and offered workable fixes to the numerous and complicated problems they were having in moving their raw materials to their destinations.
But the approach of Clever Mpoha was also multi-dimensional. For example, he noted that copper companies not only needed to move their products out, but they also needed to bring products in to support their operations. That included basic things like food, fuel, vehicles and medical supplies.
The technical term that business entities use for obtaining what they need “the procurement process.” SAVENDA Group increasingly became the go-to procurement solutions provider for international businesses operating in Zambia.
It is significant to note, however, that as the SAVENDA Group expanded into a larger organization, the issue of supply management became a key internal issue for the continued success of the business.
Clever Mpoha said:
“To manage a business, you need a healthy and functioning supply chain. It is the lifeblood of any company’s day to day operation. To put it simply, a supply chain is how you will organize people, activities, information and resources as you serve your customers.”
“This is cardinal when the business is growing because challenges will arise in terms of shortages in human resources, funds or information on how you will execute your plan to serve your clients.”
Cleve Mpoha said the key to the success of the SAVENDA Group was an ability to “constantly look ahead” to short-term, medium-term and long-term sales forecasts along with implementing strategic planning to understand how these projections would impact the flow of the supply chain in the future.
Mpoha and his team found it beneficial to establish strong working relationships with a large and highly diverse network of suppliers. That ensured that an alternative was always available if one supplier happened to fail in any given situation.
Yet another insight Mpoha offers is in handling large contracts versus small contracts. The temptation for many managers is to forego the small contracts and concentrate on the “big money” of major customers. That’s a mistake, Mpoha cautions.
“We realized that we also needed the smaller contracts for the cash flow that could easily be accessible because of early payments This gave us good cash flow, even when the business was growing rapidly.”
The internal and external expertise of SAVENDA Group with supply management and logistics issues has made it the premier firm of its kind in Africa. It has helped make Zambia a transportation hub for 16 surrounding African nations.
It’s why major companies, such as Huawei, China’s largest telecoms provider, came to SAVENDA first when it needed a reliable distribution partner for its products in Zambia.
Mpoha said Zambia still faces enormous challenges in developing efficient supply chains throughout the country, especially for healthcare, agricultural and the retail sector. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic uncovered numerous existing deficiencies in the Zambian distribution infrastructure in terms of healthcare delivery.
Solving those kinds of problems is what SAVENDA continues to do every day.