Fortunes in cargo

Mr Jeff Baitwa is soft spoken and strong-willed. He is also a fairly shy individual and an ardent listener too. According to his colleagues, Mr Baitwa is a decisive man who is not known for dilly-dallying when called upon to make a decision.

Such entrepreneurial traits perhaps explain why Threeways Shipping Services that Mr Baitwa co-owns with his brother Oscar is steadily growing beyond the confines of Uganda’s borders.

Threeways shipping company was ranked among Uganda’s Top 100 mid-sized enterprises in 2013. This follows the KPMG 100 mid-sized company survey – an initiative of Monitor Publications and its partners that aims to celebrate Uganda’s best performing mid-size companies.

For that, Mr Baitwa believes that the logistics company is now of age to consider listing on the stock exchange so that Ugandans can be part of the success story whose journey started nearly two decades ago.

How Threeways started
According to Mr Baitwa, the establishment of Threeways Shipping Company is a result of frustration caused by lack of opportunities after finishing University in early 1990s.

This was soon followed by a trip to Mombasa, Kenya where the idea to start the clearing and forwarding company became evident after discovering a gap in the logistics business, particularly clearing and forwarding of cargo.

“While in Mombasa, I observed cargo lying all over in need of service. And those who were supposed to do it cared more about money than providing the necessary services,” Mr Baitwa said in an interview in Kampala. He continued: “So, I noticed there was a gap. Given that we are landlocked country, let alone the fact that imports and exports have become part of life, between 1994 and 1995, we formed the company.”

According to Business Excellence magazine, an online publication, Threeways Shipping Services was first conceived in 1990 in the United Kingdom by the two brothers Jeff and Oscar Baitwa as a courier and freight forwarding business.

Four years later—between 199495—the business was moved to Uganda and incorporated as part of the Bro Group, which today comprises the flagship company Threeways Shipping Services, heavy haulage arm Transtrac, Threeways Distribution, and a radio station, Touch FM.

Its expertise
Since its inception, Threeways Shipping Services has been engaged in international freight and forwarding and logistics. Customs brokerage services are also an integral part of what the company is involved in.

Employment opportunities
In Uganda, where the company’s headquarter is based Threeways Shipping employs at least 600 people, according to Mr Baitwa. And across its outlets in Kenya, Tanzania, DRC and South Sudan, the Ugandan-owned company employs nearly 300 people.

Initial capital
A total of Shs5 million was the initial capital that built the Threeways Shipping Company whose appeal now transcends far beyond Uganda’s borders. This would not have been possible without prudent planning and investment, let alone persistence even when things were not going their way.

Annual turnover and target market
As a result, the company is now registering annual turnover of about $40million (about Shs104 billion) with a capital base of $20million (about Shs52 billion). Until seven years ago, the company’s turnover was almost $5 million (about Shs13 billion) which was mainly generated from local clientele.

To date, the customer base has widened ranging from corporates to government and multinationals. According to the Business Excellence publication, in 2007 Threeways Shipping had slightly more than 30 old trucks. And by close of 2012 it had more than 200 trucks, most of which are new.

Mr Baitwa, however, revealed in an interview that so far, the company has a fleet of about 300 trucks. The company has also beefed up its capacities and machineries (and specialised trucks) needed in partaking opportunities in the oil and gas business—an area he said the company has invested a lot to meet the required standards.

From about 50 customers in the same year 2007, the publication said the company had grown its customer base to at least 150 regular clients most of whom being major global importers and exporters.

Achievements registered
“Since 1996, we have been building our brand and it is now more visible across the region and beyond,” he said. He continued: “Among the local companies that are involved in oil and gas we are the leading company.”

In 2007, it was kicked out of the oil and gas business on the grounds that it did not meet the required standards. A year later, it re-emerged, this time fulfilling all the conditions. It has since turned out that the once maligned company is among the undisputed industry leaders, boasting of sufficient experience in the oil and gas cargo business.

Access to finance to boost capital remains a challenge that the industry contends with. Finding the right personnel and lack of what he describes as regulatory frame work that would support businesses stand high among the industry’s challenges.
Also, lack of commercial awareness and bureaucracy especially in the Kenya side are some of the other challenges that make doing business not only difficult but expensive.

He said he would like to see brief case players eliminated from the industry, more coordination among the fraternity, development of sound policies, improving road networks and more and affordable cost of power.

Future prospects
In the next two to three years, Mr Baitwa said he would want the company to be listed on the stock exchange and arrangements to have that materialised are on course.

It is part of the dream that one day local people will be part of the company.
He also wants the company to be more visible to an extent that out of three companies mentioned Threeways Shipping should be one of them.

Regional expansion plans
Development of a cargo facility in Hoima and Mombasa is also a priority that the company wants to fulfill in the near future. He expects that company to be more competitive and influential.

Aice to the young entrepreneurs
1. Be focused and develop business ideas that are sustainable and can make a difference
2. Do not start a business because another person is doing it
3. Have a cause and try to achieve it—don’t be a quitter
4. Understand that business landscapes keep changing so don’t get trapped or left behind
5. Be ready for challenges because they will always be there
6. There should be a distinction between you and the business
7. Don’t just get money from the business, get paid or have a salary
8. Never draw more money than you earn
9. Have bankable ventures and always keep clear records for accountability purposes.

iladu@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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