Military precision in business

Military precision in business

MASERU – CAN a stint in the military help instil the shrewdness required for strong business leadership?
Retšelisitsoe Theko thinks so. And as a former soldier turned businessman, he should know.
“That is what defined my life,” Theko says, referring to the four years he spent in the army.
Theko mentions two traits in particular: discipline and patriotism.

“If such qualities are instilled in the youth before joining the business world, Lesotho will be one of the most successful countries in the world,” opines the co-founder of Mamoth, a growing funeral service and life insurance company.
Mamoth is the only wholly Basotho-owned company offering medical insurance and one of the first to own a building, following in the footsteps of the partly government-owned Lesotho National Insurance Company and Metropolitan Lesotho.

Theko joined the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in 1986 and quit four years later.
He believes those years had readied him enough for the cutthroat corporate world.
“That was the best thing that happened to me because when most of my friends went to varsity for four years for their degrees, I joined the army and resigned after four years,” he says, resting in the foyer of an up-market hotel in Maseru.

“We took the same amount of time, they came back armed with degrees in various fields but I’ve got the degree of life,” he adds, with an air of satisfaction.
Left to him, it would become mandatory to serve in the military before venturing out into the world.
“Should I become a Prime Minister, every Mosotho child will go through that process then we will probably have some discipline in this country,” he says, before adding determinedly, “I would make it a law.”
He says the kind of discipline instilled in the army “will either make or break you.”
“It helps one to see things from different perspectives. It makes you able to endure hardships. For me it basically just moulded me into being resilient and being able to know what is wrong and what is right,” he says.

Theko says he learnt to be a team player, a trait he carried into business after quitting the army.
He says the preparedness of the military before and during every operation has helped him succeed in business.

Theko says in the army the key things are preparation, alertness, tactics, decisiveness during tough times and focusing on the goal.
Born in Thaba-Bosiu Ha-Theko in Maseru district, Theko and his parents moved to Ha-Tšosane village in Maseru city when he was only four-years old.
The 54-year-old businessman says he grew up in a business oriented family where his parents ran the first grocery shop in the area which served a number of neighbouring villages.
“The fact that I was raised by entrepreneurial parents led to what I am now,” he says, smiling.
“My mother amongst other things reared chickens and sold eggs.”

His mother also expanded into producing wool products.
As he grew older watching his parents’ businesses flourish, the entrepreneurial seed was planted in young Theko and he started thinking business.
Theko’s first taste of business came when he started hiring out his bicycle to his peers charging them from as little as two cents depending on the distance.
“That was my first entrepreneurial venture,” he says.

For Theko, that was one of the most memorable things he did growing up and it contributed a great deal to the man he is today.
As a child he also sold oranges on the streets but he did not do too well because his parents disapproved of a venture they viewed as too demeaning. They would whip him for venturing out to sell oranges.
“That was my worst experience because I was worried that some people might tell my parents if they saw me selling in the street. My friends would sell four bags of oranges and I would have sold half,” he says.
A lesson to young Theko was that “in a competitive world you do it yourself because nobody else will”.
From primary school he went to Lesotho High School because he wanted to study French.
“I have always been fascinated by languages.”

He did not do well in his final exams, disappointing his parents who wanted him to go to university.
“I wasn’t very keen on doing that,” he says.
So he joined the army.

But he didn’t dive straight into business after quitting the army.
Theko’s first job as a civilian was at Gain Stores in Maseru, where he became a sales person in the shoe department “for a very good salary of M95 a month”.
A year later, he worked for the Water Branch (now WASCO) as a messenger and worked his way through to being an accounts clerk.

He then joined Metropolitan Lesotho as an insurance sales person in 1990. Theko says he outdid many highly qualified candidates during the job interview at Metropolitan Lesotho.
“I militarily displayed how I was going to carry out the job, the way I would had I been making a presentation to my commander, giving finer details of the strategies I had in mind.”
After five years he was promoted to be the sales manager.

That is when he actually started implementing some of the things he had learnt during his stint in the army.
According to Theko, the language used in business management comes from the military.
“They sit and strategise on how to go about every move they make,” he says, reminiscing on his days as a sales manager when he had to come up with strategies on how to get people to sign up for the policies.
“There is a parallel between business management and appreciating what the army stands for,” he says.

Theko realised that some people were making fraudulent claims by faking people’s deaths. As they do in the army, he came up with a strategy.
Theko and fellow sales managers were given the task of investigating what were suspected to be fraudulent claims faking people’s deaths.
It was during this period that they decided to go into the funeral services business with Sekhonyana Matsoso and Selikane Motseko, his partners to date.
That is basically when and how Mamothe was born.

“Then in 1999 the very first business we registered was Mamothe Funeral Home in Nazareth,” he says.
Mamothe stands for Matsoso, Motseko and Theko.
Getting the business off the ground was a huge challenge due to financial constraints as approaching banks for financial help proved unsuccessful.
The break they needed came when they signed a deal with Metropolitan and registered Mamoth Insurance Brokers.

“We sold the insurance business with a view to finance the construction of a funeral home. Two years down the line we were able to build the mortuary,” he says.
They partnered with a South African business and started lending money to Lesotho civil servants through a stop order facility.
The venture succeeded and Mamoth Financial Services was born, which was now their third registered business.
The idea to venture into the medical aid business came after realising that students needed medical aid to study in South Africa and other countries but insurance companies at that time did not cater for Lesotho students.

“We partnered with the company called Ingwe that offered medical aid and then we started selling medical aid,” he says.
Mamoth Medical Aid’s first clients were Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) staff and the firm still covers the majority of its staff.
“The biggest advantage of using Mamoth employee benefits and its medical aid is the fact that people had problems with other medical aid schemes because they were in South Africa. But with Mamoth you just walk into our offices and you get your service,” he says. “So that is basically how we grew in that space.”

Putting people first is a motto Theko takes seriously.
“Without people in mind, there is no business,” he says.
He says in the army, the first priority is to ensure people’s security hence every soldier’s decision is based on that consciousness.

Theko says the school curriculum should be based on the love for one’s people and the country “so that our civil service is staffed with patriots not just people who are after a salary at the end of the month”.
Patriotism, he says, is instilled in young men and women who join the army hence his call for enlisting them before they can be released on the job market or business world.
“They will love their people, their country and will do their best to ensure the welfare of all of us.”

’Mamakhooa Rapolaki & Caswell Tlali

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