Industrialist and entrepreneur James Mulwana died earlier this week and was put to rest on Wednesday. As a country we should be thankful for the gift of the man and that he was with us long enough to leave an indelible mark on our history.
For a man who lived to the ripe old age of 77 and filled those years with a life of achievement it is futile to try and capture the essence of the man in one article.
He was an intensely private man who never courted the media, but from the words of friends and colleagues one can glean a few life lessons from the godfather of Ugandan business.
· Work like you will live forever
The breadth and depth of Mulwana’s business and community involvement would put the majority of us to shame. His businesses are household names and his service to his community and country, while not as visible, have touched thousands upon thousands. Mulwana counseled patience to those who would listen. This advice was all the more surprising coming from a man who had lived through some of this country’s darkest times, where expediency and bare faced opportunism took the place of integrity and diligence. People’s experience of the man was that he was never after the fast buck, and the portfolio of businesses he put together was testament to that philosophy. Mulwana knew intuitively and from experience that no enduring legacy can be built in a hurry.
· A man has got to do what a man has got to do
Mulwana went into business at a time when the environment was rigged against the African entrepreneur. He then lived through a time when it was prudent to keep your head down. In the last two decades the foundation he had painstakingly laid down bore fruit and earned him immense wealth. He was known for an unbending will but to have survived – no, thrived under the circumstances, he must have coupled this with rubber-like adaptability. Clearly he was driven by a sense of responsibility for which whining, complaining and failure was not an option.
· Follow your own star
As a budding businessman he might have gone into the traditional retail businesses at one time or another but in later years he was never afraid to step out into the unknown. A local pioneer in the manufacture of car batteries, plastics, flower farming and agro-processing, Mulwana must have known the pain of breaking ground but he remained confident in his ability to preserve through the steep early learning curves to win first mover advantage in a lot of his business enterprises. Say anything else about the man but no one will accuse him of being a copycat.
· Impressing those who don’t care, humility
By all accounts he was humble man, a humility that was probably forged in years of battling insurmountable odds and living with the ever present fear of failure. But probably also because having dealt with businessmen from far and wide he knew in his heart, his achievements were modest compared to what he saw in his travels and interactions. He was a reluctant big fish in a small pond, who knew there was still work to be done.
· Leave a record
It is interesting how those who are not hell bent on leaving a legacy are the ones who invariably do. By taking care of business year after year, decade after decade Mulwana cemented his place in Ugandan history. His life’s major omission maybe that he never wrote his book. A life well lived like Mulwana’s deserves not only be documented but also told in his own voice, to narrate how he handled the spirit crushing set backs, how he overcame self doubt but also how he came about his own philosophy of life. Isaac Newton said that the reason he made so many discoveries is because he stood on the shoulders of giants, men who had gone before him and provided the foundation from which to launch his work.
We are a third world country mired in poverty and disease, it is the doers like Mulwana not the flossers and smash-and-grab artists who dominate our headlines, that will change that fundamentally.
As a trailblazer and leader of men, his life should serve as inspiration for all other aspiring empire builders.