Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|September 29, 2021|18 Minutes|In Billionaire, Billionaire Today

Billionaire Today

When a 17-year-old tells you: ‘I want to automate your $5 billion dollar market!’

Teenagers who dropped out of school, with nothing, take heart. This is the remarkable story of a young African who bought shares in his school uniform with $200 from his mum; he rose to fund the technology that runs business on the stock exchange  of Zimbabwe.Samuelle Dimairho is living proof that you can make money in the chaos of a struggling economy and end up in the fast lane.

Photo : https://twitter.com/sdimairho?lang=ca

The brokers in their sharp suits didn’t know quite what to make of 15-year-old Samuelle Dimairho when he turned up at their Harare offices in his school uniform.

“They found it intriguing, because I was the only schoolboy that would come to that particular brokerage. They found it fascinating, but, look, they were very helpful and give me advice. They would let me decide. I would ask them questions which they would gladly answer and they found it interesting,” he says.

Dimairho wore his ambition on the sleeve of his school uniform as he bought his first share. He was fascinated by the stock market and came back to the brokerage, after school, to work for free.

“I would attend trading sessions and go work for free at companies in exchange for learning. Because no one would say ‘no’ to a pair of free hands to help around the office in exchange for learning,” he says.

“I worked at an auditing accounting firm from the time I was 15-years-old. During the school holidays I would do three weeks of work because the holidays were about a month. I learned how companies do financial statements, do stock, inventory counts, do internal audits and that kind of stuff. You know company registering and secretarial work I used to also do that. By time I was 16, I registered five companies of my own.”

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange that fascinated the young Dimairho, was a very different place to that of the electronically driven bourse of today. I reported from there in the mid-1990s and found a strange set up – a long room with a few tables and the sales written, by hand, on a board with a felt-tip pen.

“It was an open outcry system, like an auction…there were about 80 something listed companies,” recalls Dimairho.

“So, they would go company by company and if a broker was trading in company ABC, they would say I have so many shares available to sell and one would say I want to buy and they would negotiate a price, when they are done with that company, they would move to the next one.”

Eventually, the still young Dimairho looked around the small stock exchange and formulated  big ideas.

I worked at an auditing accounting firm from the time I was 15-years-old. During the school holidays I would do three weeks of work because the holidays were about a month. I learned how companies do financial statements, do stock, inventory counts, do internal audits and that kind of stuff. You know company registering and secretarial work I used to also do that. By time I was 16, I registered five companies of my own.

Photo © https://twitter.com/sdimairho?lang=ca

“There is a perception about Zimbabwe. Look, I am sure everybody knows there is trouble around the world and some of the parts where things are bad, the way the media painted it is most cases worse than it actually is,” he says.

“In terms of an operating environment, it was quite uncertain in the sense that at the peak of hyperinflation, prices would double every fifteen hours. You had to be very street smart and adapt very quickly. The Zimbabwean money was like a hot potato, you had it in your hands and you had to get it out of your hands as quickly as possible, before it was worthless.”

The rough times spurred on the fledgling entrepreneur and his plans for the stock exchange.

“For me, around the time of the hyperinflation there was lots of arbitrage happening. In as much as I was trading on the stock market, I decided I want to start to focus on stock market automation because from 15 to 17 years old I had seen how manual the market was and I thought this is a 5 billion US dollars market. They have been talking about this automation since I was 16-years-old. Sorry, since I was six-years-old they have been talking about automation and now I was 17 and nothing had been done, let me try it. So, my philosophy was long term.”

It appeared that nothing was going to stop the young Dimairho.

“Sometimes, what I have learned with entrepreneurship is when you have daring ideas and you make bold strides forward you actually make things happen. I thought this market is manual and everybody around us is electronic. I could get price data from stock exchanges in China, Hong Kong, New York and London, but in my own country I have to walk to my broker to get prices of shares; or I would have to call a broker – which is highly inefficient.”

It was an even bolder step for a teenager who had just dropped out of school.

“I remember the first meeting with the CEO at the exchange. I was 17-years- old at the time,” he says.

“I booked an appointment with the operating executive and was meeting with him frequently. And he was like you better talk to the CEO. I booked an appointment with the CEO, waited patiently for him. Met him, told him my intention and what I wanted to do. I understand that when a 17-year- old walks into an office and tells you: ‘I want to automate your $5 billion dollar market.’ You are not going to take him seriously. You are going to brush him off in a diplomatic way and he said, ‘We will have a tender for it, keep your ears on the ground and in terms of the main system we have already identified somebody, but you can stick around you might find some maintenance work on the systems or anything they need help with.’ And that is how he played it out with me. It was basically a polite way of saying  ‘I don’t think you can do this, because we have already made a decision.’”

Far from deterred, Dimairho set out to write a system to propose to the stock exchange in Harare. He assembled a team of developers and sought big hitters from the legal and banking world for his board.

In 2009, Dimairho’s patience paid off. New regulations came into force taking the stock exchange out of the hands of the bourse and putting into the hands of the regulator. New management sparked the tender for a central securities deposit account that Dimairho had kept his ear to the ground for. He began the search for investors.

“So, it was a combination of institutional investors. Of course, there were different rounds of funding

The first few rounds I had about five other partners in this project. My portion, I got it from an angel investor who happened to be a mentor of me. He had been my mentor since high school,” he says.

“We won the tender in 2011; we invested about $6 million dollars into the business. It took about three years to implement, simply because you know when you go from manual to automation there is going to be many skeletons in the cabinets of different people. There was fraud happening and stuff in the paper-based environment, there are going to be people resistant to change. The legislation has to change as well. So, all that took about 3 years to happen and we opened our doors in September 2014. That’s when we had our first de-materialisation and settlement trade.”

So, the  Chengetedzai (which means ‘save’ in ChiShona ) Depository Company was born : electronic organising, in return for commission on transactions on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

“The first two years we did turnover of  probably 400 US million,” says Dimairho about the foundation of his fortune.

“It was very fulfilling to know, as a teenager, I had championed the initiative, of course I didn’t achieve it on my own and it took working with a number of people and bringing partners and more co-founders to the table. To know that I championed the process that had revolutionised the industry and now international players are investing in our market, the CSD, you know. It is something that is very fulfilling. It is a legacy that I leave.”

Remarkable words for a man, not far past his 30th birthday, who can afford to drive a couple of very fast Mercedes AMG around the streets of Harare. Stark contrast to the tiny shack he grew up in on the fringes of one of Harare’s richest suburbs Glen Lorne – the home of retired farmers and old money.

“That was in the 90’s, things were not yet that bad. They started to deteriorate just after 2000. Before, from 1992 to 2000 we were staying in Glen Lorne and we were growing our own food. We were struggling at that time, so, it was a simple as that, so everybody had to do some work during the day or you weren’t going to eat. We didn’t like it at that time, but I think it shaped who I am today.  It gave me the work ethic that I have:  If you didn’t do work, you didn’t eat !”

It was Dimairho’s mother who was the driving force behind this ethic.

“From doing chores in the house to doing garden work outside. That is what it predominantly was about. She didn’t expect us to go and make money outside. It was just to say: ‘Here at home you must work. When the day starts and it finishes you must show me what work you have done.’”

As a schoolboy, in these hardworking days, Dimairho says he was a dreamer and a planner.

“At the time I was 15-years-old and I wrote a 15-year plan or what I wanted to be and do.  By the time I was 30 years old, I had set a target of what I wanted to achieve. I wrote it in a counter book with red and black pens…I used to read during my break times, and I would go to the library and read newspapers. At that time, people were making money on the money market and I had been watching it for some time. I also started seeing action on the stock market and the prices going up.”

It was also Dimairho’s mother who lent her ID book to help him open up his first brokerage account – he was too young to hold one – and lent her son $200.

“In many instances because of inflation sometimes there would be a price disparity and there would be an opportunity to get in. The price would inevitably go up and you would cash out to make a bit of money in the process. So, my portfolio was basically diversified. Look, I grew it fairly quickly because I was speculative trader. I would just get in and out and make money. I remember in about four months I doubled that money and when I doubled that money, I told my friends about it and my mother as well and my mother gave me more money,” he says.

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“Then my friends from school gave me money as well. My deal with my friends was give me money I invest for you and we split the profit 50/50, but if I lose the money, you have lost the money. Don’t come asking me for it, because that can happen. Fortunately, I never lost anybody’s money. By the time I was 16- years- old I was managing a portfolio oft wo to three thousand US dollars of shares. That is how I used to make my pocket money.”

Zimbabwe’s finance minister Mthuli Ncube believes Zimbabwe’s battered economy may have turned the  corner and will grow in GDP by 7.8% this year.

Critics still say power cuts and price rises mean the government’s view is one through rose-tinted glasses. Dimairho feels the economy is getting better for his Aura Group of 13 subsidiaries employing 300 people.

“The Zimbabwean economy, believe it or not, I think it is slowly coming out of the woods…From an economic perspective, when it comes to business, I am an a-political person, but what I see from the ground is we are slowly getting out of the woods because of  a number of things .Global commodity prices have gone up and we have created new industries in the mining sector,” he says.

“Our gold production had gone up, so we have got an issue where our mineral production has gone up commodities prices have gone up, it had been good in terms of forex influx.”

Maybe, in one of the many corners of the Harare townships, a younger version of Dimairho is watching all of this and writing down his, or her, plans in a little book with red and black felt tip pens.