Ken Sharpe: School dropout turned millionaire

September 23, 2021



Businessman Ken Sharpe (pictured)says it has always been his desire from a young age to “make money and improve my circumstances through business”.

At 15, the property mogul set up a small tuckshop on his father’s mine and sold vegetable to the mine workers using the family’s gardener and inputs for free. He bagged 100% profit.

At 18, Sharpe dropped out of school in the UK, returned to Zimbabwe to go into business full time against his father’s wish who wanted his son to be doctor.

So tough has been his upbringing that his father sent him to the UK for schooling with $100 and a one-way ticket.

Sharpe had to share an apartment and doing night shifts to pay for his way through school, enduring a hard and difficult first year but learnt “how to survive and provide for myself as a 16-year-old kid”.

That experience emboldened him to be independent and to be resilient.

“More importantly, it showed me that, tough love from my father is what actually made me want to do more with my life so that my children would not have to go through the same. While others might hate their dad for doing this to them, I actually am grateful because this experience made me who I am today,” said Sharpe, who has been in business for 31 years.

He cut his teeth in FMCG distribution and beverage bottling, which eventually led to a diversified group of companies.

“I decided about 15 years ago to focus our core business on real estate, and therefore sold off the non-core assets. Right now with West Prop as the premier developer of properties for tomorrow’s market in Zimbabwe, we currently have several projects on the go, including, Pokugara Phase one (sold out) and two (launching this week), Millennium Heights block 1, 2 (sold out) and 3 (market release next month), Pomona City, a city within a city and Zimbabwe first smart city and later Mall of Zimbabwe,” he said.

With an American partner, Sharpe established Zimworx about 5 years ago which gives employment to Zimbabweans outside the country without them having to leave home (remote work).“Our vision is to create thousands of new jobs in the coming years. I also have investments in solar farms and other tech companies,” Sharpe said.

The property mogul believes in generational momentum in wealth creation.

He says great dynasties built over history were only made possible by the previous generation doing more for their posterity than the last one.

Sharpe knew from 15 years that he “would make sure that when I left this life I would have done more for my children than my parents did for me and leave them a legacy of blessing for multiple generations — this is the story of most Africans”.

He borrows from the teaching of Clayton Christensen, the founder, and guru of innovation, who said ‘the greatest gift we can give to our children is in what we DON’T do for them and not what we do!’

The task for the tycoon, he said, was to make sure he left for his children more than “my parents left me and not just the assets and material wealth which I had already achieved by the time of the accident in 2007” but a lasting legacy.

The property mogul says the family is a divine part of God’s plan and is the most important fundamental building block of strong societies and the primary social organisation which lays the foundation for relational healthy children and adults, self-government, self-provision, and assimilation into the wider elements of culture.

The primary and fundamental belief that family is the core unit of society makes it a transcendent value, he said, adding that the family is one of self-Government which is the foundation of all successful organisations.

Repetition is key to this process “and can be perfected through Generational Momentum”.

For generational momentum to accelerate, one needs not to think of just multiplying the one talent into five or 10 (as the Bible says) but aim for a minimum of a 100 times increase in one generation, he said.

“This is called the multiplier effect or in economics and mathematics the exponential growth curve because if you take 100×100×100 over 3 generations then you do not get 300X but rather 1 million times more, that is, $1000 in the first generation gives $1 billion in the 3rd!! There are some companies that have achieved this in less than one generation!!”

“It is the work of family units to build wealth across generations. There is surely no substitute and no better way than generational momentum to generate the greatest economic prosperity for the greatest number of people. All these attributes of wealth are to be studied carefully and transmitted from parents to children and generation to generation.”

The businessman recently won the Forbes Best of Africa Innovative CEO of the Year Award, becoming the first Zimbabwean to achieve such a feat.

He dedicates the award to “fellow Zimbabweans for showing patience over the years in the face of huge challenges”.

Sharpe says Zimbabweans are friendly, humble, hardworking, determined, and honest — qualities embedded “into us through generations”.

“As a company, it’s also a validation of the great work that our team is doing and that our vision is being appreciated and recognised at a prestigious and international level,” he said.

Sharpe says Zimbabwe has a cultural dilemma of the tall poppy syndrome where “we want all the grass cut to the same height and jealousy of other people’s success”, a mindset that has to be broken.

He says investors want the government to provide a stable platform and clear framework for investments — the repatriation of investment, profits, the ease of doing business, and an environment that’s encouraging to business from an economic, social, and legal standpoint.

“We have started, and we are headed in the right direction but there is certainly more that we can do,” Sharpe said.

West Properties was among the companies that donated funds to the government to help navigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The donation dovetails with Sharpe’s philosophy of wanting to “leave a legacy rather than just a heritage for our children” through giving “back to the people and environment that we live in and assist those who are less fortunate than ourselves”.

The tycoon said while he subscribes to the old adage “to teach a man to fish is better than to give him a fish” it was a different ball game in Africa as one cannot “teach a man to fish” if there’s no pond to fish from.

“Therefore you need to teach them how to build the fish pond first, and how to stock the fishpond with fish and then provide the means (capital) to enable them to do it. So businesses and corporations have a responsibility and a large part to play in social investment for the communities and environment that we do business in,” he said.

Upcoming businesses have struggled to stay afloat as they cannot secure funding from banks. Sharpe said the most important thing is to start.

“Have a clear definitive vision about where you want to go and what you want to achieve then start working very hard and don’t stop no matter what life throws at you. Start with what you have. You don’t need lots of money to start a business; you need money to scale a business. So tenacity, perseverance,  a never-give-up attitude and an unwavering belief in God will guarantee you success,” he said.

Sharpe says his wife, Joanna, sees a phoenix in him “because I always come out of the ashes alive and have the fortitude to never give up” arising from broken background following the divorce of his parents while he was young.

“I grew up being bullied and learned not to trust nor rely on anyone except myself. I have become a self-made millionaire by working hard and doing everything with my two hands and head. So I think it [reference to phoenix] just comes from the many difficult circumstances and challenges that I faced at a very young age and my desire to want to overcome them,” Sharpe said.

“My faith and a near-death experience later on in life further enhanced or rather cemented that resilient nature within me.”

In 2007, the businessman was involved in a skiing accident while holidaying in Canada.

He endured a 6-hour craniotomy and a five-day coma after doctors had given him a 2% chance of survival with the “chilling caveat that even if I did wake up from the coma, I would be vegetable”.

He was fully restored with no side effects and all faculties intact.

“Before the accident, I was confident only in my own abilities however afterward my life was transformed and it taught me that even though we all want to believe that we’re totally in control of our lives, feeling at times almost invincible and tough, the reality of it is: ‘At the end of the day ‘we’re all very fragile and vulnerable and life is just but a flash in eternity,” he said.

He says family has made him a better man in life, in business, and in his faith.

“In my church, we believe that no amount of success in the world can make up for failure in the family. Family is the most important thing to me,” he said.

“My wife is my purpose and my everything; she’s my pillar and has been a source of great support and inspiration. We are blessed with our only child and daughter Tatiana who means the world to us! She is the shining light in our life. We also have an amazing foster son called Denzel,” Sharpe said.

He describes himself as a man of God, husband, father, visionary, entrepreneur and innovator. The tycoon says he is “naturally an introvert and has lived a very private life” and belongs to a church Harvard social group.

The property mogul’s philosophy is to improve one’s life at a time and to leave the world “better off than when we came into it”.

The tycoon loves outdoor sports and makes an effort to read at least 4 books a year, mostly on business.

“One book this year that’s really impacted the way I manage my company is Measure what Matters by John Doerr who talks about OKRs [objectives and key results] and what is known as the Google Bible,” he said, adding that he reads the Bible daily.

Harare North legislator Allan Markham made an application for the court to reverse the land deal between Harare City Council and Sharpe’s Augur Investments.

Augur and Harare say the deal was above board. The case is before the courts.


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