Reginald RichardsonBy Reginald Richardson|March 10, 2021|12 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

How not to fall by the flying doctor.

He grew up poor, thinking rich. This is the story of the flying doctor Tiroyaone Mampane - a highly qualified young man in a hurry who has been through the rough times including a night in the cells.

It is early morning in Gaborone – the thriving capital of Botswana – and the doctor is flying.

Standing at 172cm and donning a size 30/32 trendy slim fit black jean, matching sneakers and shirt and a grey jacket, car keys in one hand and a small orange container (I learn later, it is his breakfast) in the other; he enters the administrative building with a tinge of street swagger in his stride.

You would be forgiven for mistaking him for one of the students milling about on this college campus. He is, in fact, the founder of Boitekanelo Group of Companies and President of Boitekanelo College; one of the few 100% Motswana owned colleges in Botswana. At 44-years-old, he is also one of the youngest and most successful CEOs in a country run by grey hair.

“I usually wear suits when I have an important business meeting to attend,” he tells me as we settle down for the interview in the conference room adjoining his humble looking office – 6×5 metres- I guestimate 

“Oh…” I nod my head matter-of-factly.

This is Dr Tiroyaone Mampane – a man on a mission. Constantly. His drive is as strong as his roots were humble. The eldest of three children, he was born in Bontleng, in the poor margins of Gaborone, in leaner days before diamond wealth trickled down to feed the growing city of around 230,000 people that it is today.

Back then, in the late 1970s, Gaborone was a city of just 20 000 people. It was a time when Botswana was making headlines for being one of the world’s poorest countries with a GDP per capita below US$ 200; a far cry from the current US$6500. Back in the day, it was a tough city in which to try to better yourself. 

“I first learned about business helping out at my grandmother’s tuckshop where I sold fat cakes and balanced the books at the end of the month. Back then almost every customer bought on credit,” he says tilting his head and fidgeting slightly, something he seems to do more than occasionally.

“As young boys we also went around the neighbourhood collecting bottles to sell so that we could have money to attend matinee movies on Saturday.”

Although he knew that he wanted to be a medical doctor when he grew up, little did he realise – as he picked up bottles – that the entrepreneurial spirit was already coursing through his veins.

Two decades later, armed with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Botswana, a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the then Medical University of South Africa (MEDUNSA); he joined the government’s Princess Marina Hospital as a doctor. But expectation soon clashed with reality; before two years was up, he ditched the job.

“My salary was around BWP7000 and after expenses I was left with P1400. I had to seriously introspect as to whether that was the kind of life I wanted for myself.”

Back then, the HIV/AIDS pandemic was ravaging the country and the health sector was losing medical personnel; often, they simply did not return after completing their government- sponsored studies abroad. 

Noticing an opportunity, he, along with two friends, set up a private medical clinic, but before the year was up, he was on the move again. He set up Boitekanelo Group of Companies and approached two other friends, in the same profession,to join him leading to the opening of Boitekanelo Training Institute in 2007.

With six staff members and a single program to offer -a certificate in health care assistance- the institution would grow until it changed its name to Boitekanelo College, in 2011, to offer a variety of diploma and degree programs all health science related. An emergency medical rescue services and catering arm were quickly added to the family. But the health of the two entities quickly deteriorated and despite the doctor’s best efforts he could not save them from their demise.

“We were taking on too much and we got burnt. We realized that we needed to concentrate on areas that we are good at. It was a learning curve …because growth can kill you if you don’t manage it properly. It was probably premature or the industry was not yet ready but for now the idea is to try to be the best we can at what we are doing now. I am now developing people who can help patients so that we make a bigger impact. Right now, we have over 4000 graduates working across the country and each patient that they touch is my contribution”.

Dr Mampane wishes there could be better coordination between the different regulatory bodies and stakeholders that they work under. He says they have to satisfy requirements from the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Health Professions Council, the Botswana Qualifications Authority and the Ministry of Health all of whom seem not to liaise with each other, he says.

“I also wish Botswana could be more lenient with entrepreneurs who make genuine mistakes. A product goes through development and constant improvement. But unfortunately, in our country, when you make a mistake, they ‘kill you’. From our experience we actually get more help from outside, than from within.” 

He does believe that government has the best policies to develop the entrepreneurial sector, but that individuals within the civil service seem to have a race-based mindset towards their compatriots.

 “A white professor from Stellenbosch can come over here and they get better treatment.”

We were taking on too much and we got burnt.  growth can kill you if you dont manage it properly.   But unfortunately, in our country when you make a mistake they kill you. " 

- Tiroyaone Mampane

I ask him about the time he spent a night in a police cell. He fidgets even more, strokes his forehead with both palms, and exclaims: “Aaahh…eish…” He clearly is not amused by that experience when he was hauled out of his office by corruption investigators. He explains that it was a clerical error on their part for a payment from the government that they had been waiting three to four years to be settled.

“Up to this day, I don’t understand why they came for me personally…and not even my signature was on any of the paperwork… I have let it go… even though it was and still is one of my bad experiences to be honest.” 

He is non-committal when I ask him about rumours that there could have been ulterior motives behind the arrest. In Botswana, it is not always a far-fetched idea.

What about other threats? How is the operation surviving the onslaught of Covid 19? He acknowledges that it is not easy and probably things will get difficult for many more businesses.

“Luckily our board played a key role by doing an enterprise risk plan…but also our prudence in cash flow management helped us. We have a policy that we must maintain a three months financial buffer for operating activities and after the first lockdown government also paid us so that helped a lot. We are also scared and a lot of businesses are going to go down…but businesses have to adapt and pivot on the one thing that can keep them afloat.”

“When you look at it from a macro-economic point of view our country really is not doing very well…even if we can survive now, the future is really not looking good for us as a country”.

But what about the future of the company?

“Our strategy is to grow by bringing in new programs, to grow the 2000 plus student population we have, develop more campuses, a training hospital. We believe there is room to double our current figures within the next 5-10 years.”

But for Dr Mampane that vision does not end there. The institution already has a presence in Swaziland and Lesotho- stepping stones to the rest of the continent.

His advice to up and coming entrepreneurs: “Have a team of people who can offer you alternative perspectives, other than yours, on any problem you could be faced with. I am passionate about helping young entrepreneurs grow even maybe through setting up an academy or something,” he says as we wrap up our interview. 

On my way out I couldn’t help feeling that this unassuming CEO, with an active mind, always rummaging for the next move, has barely started his journey.