PROFILE: She gave up studying and living abroad to save the family empire

Sunday June 2 2019



Jessica Mshama

Jessica Mshama 

By Elizabeth Tungaraza

Her success story speaks volumes. She has accomplished so much in a short period that those who know her, especially her clients, feel she is on the route to becoming a billionaire.

Many see her following in the footsteps of the likes of Mohammed Dewji, a Tanzanian businessman and former politician, who runs MeTL Group, a conglomerate founded by his father in the 1970s.

Like Dewji, who happens to be her former employer, Jessica Mshama, 23, took up the reign of her family businesses a few years back, making them more profitable than before.

At the age of 21, her family trusted her with family businesses that were not doing so well. She became the director and in-charge of a family supermarket at Sinza Mori, a bakery, poultry project and a honey and flour business just to mention a few.

Her interest in business started after she completed her bachelor’s degree course in Commerce and Finance at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya. She later joined Mohammed Dewji’s MeTL Group as a human resources officer.

A year later, Jessica felt she had acquired enough experience and decided to quit the job so she could concentrate on her family businesses. She says the experience she got from her former employer made her think twice about her family businesses, which were not stable by then.

“My parents wanted me to study abroad like my other three sisters, but believe me, I wanted to study near home. I chose Kenya because it would be easy for me to come back see my parents and check on how our businesses were running,’’ says Jessica, the last born in a family of four children.

People wonder why Jessica decided to come back home instead of getting herself a job abroad and her answer has always been the same. Home is where she saw the opportunity of establishing herself in entrepreneurship. She finds it better living at home than away from home.

“My dream is to see people of my generation succeed through me. That is why I decided to come back home and do what I am doing now. I plan to establish an NGO to go by the name, Nakua na Tanzania, literary meaning ‘I’m growing up with Tanzania’. The objective is to inspire and empower young people who have been left behind in the world of entrepreneurship and development,” she explains.

She says many young people lack entrepreneurship skills hence miss on the available opportunities. She says in Dodoma Region, for example, there is a lot of untapped potential in groundnut and sunflower farming as well as beekeeping.

“There are a lot of opportunities in Dodoma Region. Unfortunately youth lack information on how to make use of the opportunities. Those engaging themselves in sunflower and groundnuts farming and beekeeping lack market information. They also lack processing skills,” says Jessica.

Hard work is all it takes

Jessica attributes her success, which saw her receive an award as one of Malkia wa Nguvu winners this year in the Next Malkia category to hard work. After her family trusted her with their family businesses, she opted to start with the supermarket business.

“The business was not doing well. I started by purchasing stock directly from wholesalers instead of buying from middlemen suppliers as used to be the case before I took over,” she says.

Jessica’s decisions to restructure her family business paid off as she started realising a little profit. She put more effort in searching for loans and invested further into the business.

“Within a short period we started to realise some profit,” she says.

She did the same for the bakery business. Instead of buying bread, cakes and other snacks from bakers, Jessica decided to start baking their own products. They started by producing 1000 loaves of bread everyday, selling each at Sh950 wholesale price.

She also struggled and managed to keep their dairy farming business back on track by increasing the number of cows from 95 to 200, milking 500 litres a week of which they sold a litre for Sh900. She did the same in poultry and currently, they have 3,000 chickens at their poultry farm in Bahari Beach area in Dar es Salaam. Jessica also started another poultry farm in Dodoma with 100 chickens.

“I also started producing sunflower oil, processing groundnuts to peanut butter and harvesting honey. I feel so proud that at least our family businesses are progressing well compared to what they were two years ago,” she says proudly.

Despite the achievements, Jessica has encountered a myriad of challenges in the process. She however, took them positively and turned them into opportunities.

Leading staff who are older than her is something she had to learn through practice. “Leadership needs someone to make things going. It can be tough at times because older people might feel you are disrespecting them when you demand to get daily reports on time or want prompt actions on anything that goes wrong,” she explains, adding:

“I lead a team of 31 workers. Believe me, it is very difficult to lead people who are older than you. At first it was difficult but slowly they understood that this was business that we had to do together and that they needed to be serious with work and be productive. Thank God we are on track now and because of their hard work, we made some good progress and they have benefited from it as well. The company has offered them a 60 per cent salary increment in two years.”

More about Jessica

Apart from being an entrepreneur and a youth activist, Jessica is a gospel singer. She is a member of the JSisters group vocalists whose ‘ShukaBwana’ song was a hit in 2016. She recently launched her single track, ‘Nimeamini’, featuring Walter Chilambo. Jessica is also a fashionista.

She went to Olympio Primary School, Babro Johansson Model Girls Secondary School and did her diploma and degree in commerce and finance at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Kenya in 2016.

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