Munatsi: A banker with the Midas touch

April 15, 2021

NDAMU SANDU

At the peak of his career Doug Munatsi (pictured) brought ex-Barclays Plc chief Bob Diamond and billionaire entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar to Zimbabwe for a discussion on the ABC of sub-Saharan Africa banking.

As CEO of ABC Holdings, with operations in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania, the offer by Diamond’s Atlas Mara was too good to resist and Munatsi and co-directors exited the banking group.

“I think the bank attracted itself, Atlas Mara were looking for a regional player with sound grounding and BancABC presented that to them,” Munatsi said when asked what attracted Atlas Mara into the banking group.

Seven years later, Munatsi is on a crusade to lure investors; not for a local bank but for the investor-starved economy.

The President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is on a drive to lure foreign direct investment under the Zimbabwe is open for business thrust. Part of the thrust includes appointing executives of repute like Munatsi to drive the plan.

A year into the job as CEO of the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency (ZIDA), the banker admits the going has been challenging notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic that affected business practices the world over and ushered in a new normal.

“The positive side is that we commenced our operations when the world was adjusting and that presented an opportunity for us to go digital and this worked to our advantage. We also took the necessary steps towards creating the fundamental systems that are setting ZIDA to position Zimbabwe for accelerated growth,” he told Business Times yesterday.

Munatsi said his task was cut out and one of the priority issues was to improve the country’s ease of doing business by operationalising the One Stop Investment Service Centre (OSISC). This was done through the support of relevant government agencies. OSISC is a single cohesive entity that provides prompt, efficient, and transparent services to investors.

ZIDA has also set up a strong and energetic administrative team drawn from the public and the private sector. The team, he said, comprises of industry leaders who have a proven track record of hard work, dedication and winning. The agency has also attracted the right skill sets and some key positions have been filled in. Critical departments have been formed as espoused in the ZIDA Act and we have taken off quite well.

The agency has hit the ground running, getting Cabinet approval for the Musha/Muzi Housing Programme to anchor and facilitate the sustainable financing and development of affordable houses for society’s low income earners.

“A lot of paddling has been happening under the waters and we will be announcing some of the milestones that we have achieved in due course,” Munatsi said.

But he said there have been challenges: instilling new corporate culture must have been difficult to some in the organisation.

“I have a certain way of looking at things and this does not always augur well with everyone. We are here to make a difference and business as usual will not cut it,” he said.

Zimbabwe has gazetted six special economic zones (SEZ) to lure foreign investors. The six are Sunway City in Ruwa, Fernhil in Mutare, Beitbridge, Masuwe in Victoria Falls, Imvumela in Bulawayo and the Belmont, Donnington, Westondale and Kelvin Industrial Corridor in Bulawayo. Sunway City and Beitbridge Special Economic Zones have been partially developed and are ready for occupation by qualifying investors, Munatsi said.

“The rest of the zones are still at development stages which include the conducting of economic and infrastructure feasibility studies and the development of bulk utility infrastructure such as water, electricity, sewer, internet connectivity and roads,” he said.

“We are currently working on a pre-feasibility study for the Victoria Falls and Masuwe SEZ to ascertain the viable business projects and the financial requirements for the development of bulk utility infrastructure for the zone.”

Munatsi said the lack of bulk utility infrastructure within designated zones has been a major impediment towards attraction of investors within the zones. ZIDA is engaging local and international financing institutions to develop funding models for the development of bulk utility infrastructure within the designated zones, he said.

ZIDA, he said, was relooking at how Special Economic Zones are set up to make Zimbabwe as a strategic location.

“We want to assure investors that we have a stable economy, respect property rights and we are truly open for business,” the executive said.

There are other factors, such as politics, that have a bearing on the success of ZIDA.

Munatsi said politics is prevalent “everywhere in the world but our job is to focus on the economy”.

“The ZIDA Act was specifically crafted to be non-partisan to politics, geographical location of investors and race,” he said.

Executives that come from the private sector have struggled to adapt in State-owned entities or quasi-government agencies. Munatsi said culture sits at the centre of “our ability to achieve our mandate as ZIDA”. 

“I must say however, that I have been fortunate to have a team that is results driven and believe in putting the country first. While I understand that there may be a general perception about the culture in state-owned enterprises, I can assure you that this is far from the case at ZIDA. We have an energetic and vibrant team that is just raring to deliver,” he said.

The agency recently got Cabinet approval for a joint venture between the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and Fossil Mine for graphite mining under contract at Lynx Mine.

“The proposal is for a production contract with a possibility for further exploration in the future.

ZMDC will contribute mineral resources, the mining title and infrastructure at the mine. The business arrangement will be based on product sharing,” Munatsi said, adding the benefits include employment creation, foreign currency generation and community benefit.

ZIDA is currently processing a number of government priority projects through private finance initiative.

These projects are guided by the National Development Strategy: 2021-2025. Since the organisation was formed, ZIDA had approvals on four projects: City of Harare and Harare Light Rail for the Harare Metro Rail system, partnership between Victoria Falls Municipality and Lament Hotel, Muzarabani gas and oil exploration project and the Musha/Muzi Housing Project.

Munatsi said his background as a banker and the new role as ZIDA chief executive officer have a common denominator: both are customer related functions.

“Having had to assemble a good team to succeed at BancABC, I drew from the same lessons,” he said.

Munatsi’s interests spans across farming, Xtenda Finance and DBF Capital, among others.

The executive said he is at ZIDA fulltime while the other businesses have got well experienced people running them.

“I am part of the strategic operating of the other business but I am operating full time at ZIDA,” he said.

The banker has worked for the then Barclays, Zimbank, International Finance Corporation (IFC), Heritage Investment Bank, FMB and BancABC.

“These were all very diverse organisations which focused on different aspects from global banking to local and regional focus. Each one played a significant role in allowing me to be the person I am today,” Munatsi said.

He joined banking in 1985 as a graduate trainee and 10 years later, he set up Heritage Investment Bank, a feat very few bankers would attempt to achieve.

“The IFC opened up my thinking and how I viewed the world, it also gave me a lot of great contacts which I still cherish up to this day,” the banker said.

Heritage Investment Bank got a lot of support from an array of investors. One particular investor was Heritage Insurance and local financial institutions also chipped in and individual sponsors, Munatsi said.

When FMB was sold, the owners approached Munatsi.  He said the owners had approached Heritage as they could have “bought into our vision of growing the bank into a Pan-African giant”.

The pan African giant would come in 2000 when ABC Holdings listed in Botswana.

The group’s first preference would have been having the listing purely in Zimbabwe but the land reform was at its height and Zimbabwe at that point was not ideal ground for raising capital, Munatsi said.

He is reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown which puts emphasis on the transformation of one’s life by being who you really are.

Munatsi’s philosophy is underpinned by the need to persevere.

“Always go for the BHAG-BOLD HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL no matter how tough, no matter how challenging you should always persevere and push to the limit,” the banker said.

He is one of the poster executives when indigenisation in the banking sector is mentioned as the bank was not swept away by the banking storm which left a number of indigenous banks in the corporate graveyard. Those that survived the storm have been swallowed up by foreign banks.

“It’s unfortunate that some of my peers were a victims of circumstances but Zimbabwe has bred a lot of great indigenous bankers both locally and globally. Zimbabwe will continue to churn out some of the greatest financial brains; all we need to do is to give them an enabling environment,” the banker said.

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