We have all witnessed the rise of TN Holdings with its TN Grills, TN Supermarkets, TN Harlequin and TN Bank outlets sprouting all over Harare spreading to other corners of the country. They came onto the market like an unstoppable force, dribbling past some of the renowned brands born before them, entering into prestigious partnerships with some of the region’s respected brands, but where did the Tawanda Nyambirai led brand ended up to? Poor corporate governance, mismanagement of resources and opportunities led to a dead end for a brand that had so much potential.
By Bond Note Chihuta
Maybe some of you know Tawanda Nyambirai by his famous black Hummer but it will be good to start by dating history so that you all get to know who he is in the business circles and how he rose to become the talk of the town during the primacy of his businesses. By profession, Tawanda Nyambirai is a lawyer who made his fortune through providing legal advise to Strive Masiyiwa’s Econet Wireless Zimbabwe. He is a founding partner of the Mtetwa and Nyambirai Legal Practitioners.
Nyambirai went on to diversify his fortunes in 2001 when he founded TN Financial Holdings Pvt Ltd, a financial services group that later included TN Asset Management, TN Financial Services, TN Medical Benefit Funds and TN Bank (later re-branded to Steward Bank after a takeover by Econet).
When he started his business acumen, this ambitious young lawyer didn’t know that by deriving his brand name from his identity initials TN, was one of his greatest mistakes capped by lack of corporate branding skills from someone whose legal background did not demand more creativity but rather mastering the constitution. Why? Did he ever sat down and asked himself why Strive chose to name his business ECONET WIRELESS or why Nigel Chanakira named his own brand KINGDOM BANK or why Bill Gates named his MICROSOFT?? Okay, we will find out later why such poor branding failed him in invoking separate legal entity between himself and his business.
In 2009, he led the reverse takeover of Tedco Limited by his TN Financial Holdings. Tedco Limited, a furniture retail business listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange since 1973 was struggling and he saw an opportunity. Consequently, this takeover led to Tedco Limited changing its name to TN Holdings Limited and re-listed on the ZSE on 4 January 2010.
TN Holdings became Nyambirai’s hub of diversified projects which saw the emergence of TN Harlequin formerly a Springmaster Corporation Ltd brand which rose to become the country’s biggest furniture manufacturer and retailer. In that same holdings, emerged TN Bank whose success was driven by the support of Econet Wireless Accounts after a shift from their once prolific bankers Kingdom.
Nyambirai was able to diversify all the corporate incomes into various subsidiaries since he captained TN Bank and went to become the Chairman of Econet Wireless at that time. He had every cent available for investing by just a tweak of his hand. Through a very weak TN Bank board which comprised of Anthony Eastwood — Independent chairman, Rugare Chidembo — Independent non executive director, Christopher Maswi — Independent non executive director, Jonah Mungoshi — Independent non executive director, Dr Makaziwe Mandela — Independent non-executive director, Guy Pearce — Independent non-executive director, and Joyce Mudavanhu — non-executive director. All these highly ranked personnel were never able to challenge Tawanda Nyambirai during the decision making processes.
So when did Nyambirai and his TN Holdings misery began?? Under very unceremonious circumstances, the TN Holdings shareholders approved the demerger of TN Bank from the holding company, resulting in a separate listing of the bank on the stock exchange.
What drove this move?? Behind the scenes squabbles between the bank and its corporate clients who included Econet Wireless Zimbabwe led to TN Bank being delisted from the ZSE in a move which saw Tawanda Nyambirai and his other separate shareholders accepting an offer from Econet to acquire the biggest stake in the bank leading to a total control of all operations by the telecommunications company.
With TN Bank gone by the wind, Nyambirai was left in the cold without his cash cow which he always used to finance his projects, things started going wrong for the canny lawyer. Yes he must have pocketed a few millions from disposing his TN Bank shares to Econet but what did he do with them??
He began investing in tougher and highly contested battle grounds whose fortunes were hallmarked by highly competitive entities such as Inscor Africa, Lobels, and Dairybord. He put all is money into the food industry where he had no expertise at all. He opened the TN Grills into a market where Chicken Inn and Chicken Slice were ruling the roost, he introduced TN Baker where Bakers Inn, Proton and Lobels were the champions of the arena, he tossed TN Pizza into a market where Inscor’s Pizza Inn and Tawanda Mutyebere’s Pizza Slice had all already made their names, he factored in TN Deli into a food industry whose viability battle has always belonged to the street corner cookers, he pushed in TN Supermarket into an industry dominated by big traditional winners such as OK, Spar, Food World and now Pick n Pay, and he mischievously introduced TN Clothing into a turbulent market whose battles belonged to Edgars, Vintage, Bata and now thousands of other small scale traders who have mastered the art of clothing the nation way back before him.
All these investments crushed to the ground leading to his demise not because it was wrong to invest but he ventured into unchartered waters with too much pride, and a very boisterous personality which lacked wisdom. Talking to many employees who used to work in his several ventures, they all still testify that if only he had listened to those whom he firstly installed in upper management, his business wouldn’t have came crumbling down so hard.
During investigations, #MondayBlues was shocked to hear that one of his Financial Directors once criticized him of making investments without a proper clear critical path analysis and he was told “unozoita izvozvo kana wave naCompany yako”. Nyambirai internally was well known for firing people at will especially his male subordinates and illuminating female employees to higher managerial posts despite them lacking the technical knowhow of running such a very complex business. All for what?? Because he didn’t want to be challenged by his managers when in actual fact he was making the wrong decisions.
Nyambirai’s ambitions were driven by greedy rather than a passion for entrepreneurship. He once hired almost every manager from Chicken Inn in 2012 when he began rolling out his TN Grills but 1 year down the line, he went on to detain them for almost 5 hours in a heated meeting where he ended up firing them in a group after accusing them of defrauding him in unreconciled sales.
#MondayBlues later learnt that he went on to plant one of his nephews, Joshua Nyambirai to be his right handyman in overseeing the operations of the food outlets, a very inexperienced young man with little education who only further killed the business by intimidating those few managers who held on with little hope that they could rise from that black hole.
But one by one, his businesses couldn’t stand the experienced competition and the tough economic conditions caught up with him before he even reached the promised land. They began to close shop by shop due to low sales turnover hence failing to meet overheads on time. Soon the business couldn’t the salary bill and employees went for months without salaries and eventually all of them left. Labour Court battles would soon follow and he lost many assets from garnishing orders. Those who left with outstanding salaries reached a court settlement to have their salaries payed in furniture from the TN Harlequin shops.
We here now he is trying to revive his TN Grill located at Corner Samora Machel and Chinhoyi. The building has been cutting a very lonely figure since the collapse of the food outlet but those who went behind the scenes say a lot of renovations has been going on behind the closed doors. We wish him well and we hope some very good lessons have been learned so that history will not repeat itself.