Since 2017, when Robert Mugabe ceased to be President of Zimbabwe, the country has been looking towards a more optimistic economic future. Times of financial crisis affect every aspect of a country, and a key area of this is the upkeep of infrastructure. Now, with a country in recovery and hopefully on the rise, it is a key time for local businesses such as Exodus & Company. We spoke with the company’s founder, Exodus Makumbe, about the current climate for Zimbabwe’s civil engineering industry.
Founded in 2007, Exodus and Company is a Zimbabwean construction company that focuses on civil engineering construction, bulk earthworks, housing development, commercial and industrial real estate construction, real estate brokerage, and plant hire services. Its clients include the Zimbabwean government and other local urban authorities, as well as rural district councils, banks, mining companies and other private businesses in the country. It has a bulk of work in its history, including the construction of 158km of road, of different sizes, including those in housing developments, 300 residential apartments, industrial warehouses and even schools.
In the years to come, Exodus & Co hopes to expand its reaches beyond Zimbabwe, but even within its home country, it has been on quite the journey to get to where it is today, and that journey still isn’t simple today. Exodus Makumbe, its founder, explained to us:
“Our economy is undergoing some positive reforms from almost two decades of constrained activity, including in the construction sector. We can say the construction sector is recovering, but at a slower pace at the moment. However, there is a lot of scope for growth in this sector in the near future when the Government will rehabilitate and reconstruct some of the dilapidated infrastructure.”
Much of Zimbabwe’s infrastructure needs updating and repair after the times of difficulty the country is now exiting, but this promised increase of work also means a sharpening of attestation from the glut of competing companies who have been waiting for this improving market: “Competition in the civil engineering sector is quite intense, as there are many players of almost same size offering same services. Profitability margins are falling as companies compete on price, especially on public procurement tenders. The major client with sizeable projects is the Government and quasi-government institutions, and everyone is competing for this same business.”
When it comes to the real estate sector, the competition is even higher. Exodus explained to us that this is because of foreign developers, who have been making the most of low costs and a potentially ready-to-rise market to invest in Zimbabwe’s future. Unfortunately, this interest takes away from the business available to local, Zimbabwean companies: “High levels of competition is one of the typical characteristics of the housing development and commercial real estate development sector in Zimbabwe. In recent years, real estate developers and engineering contractors from China, South Africa, Turkey and other countries have entered the Zimbabwean housing and real estate construction market, and compete for the market with local real estate developers and general contractors. Most of these foreign developers have a wealth of experience and large-scale development capabilities, which for the local real estate developers in Zimbabwe is a very big challenge.”
Exodus & Co was founded with the aim to improve the quality of life of its stakeholders through the quality of its work. It was a noble aim, but the early years of Exodus & Co were not easy, as the company did not have a partner to lean on. Instead, it got itself onto its feet using its own ingenuity, focus and hard work: “We have not been that fortunate to have someone to handhold us in our journey. We had to be innovative to structure a housing product that the market was longing for, serve the market well, create a strong brand from scratch and secure strong customer support.” It can be difficult to find support when one is a newcomer, and like many companies when they are starting out, Exodus’ team had to rely on itself to create its foothold. Once a successful formula has been proven, though, and faith no longer carries that element of risk, support is suddenly quick to appear. In Exodus & Co’s case, once it had some successful projects under its belt and its demand was clear, the banks opened up their willingness to provide project loans – but before this, the company managed to make things work on its own.
Exodus himself oversaw the company for its first seven years, but then it was time to hand over the helm. “I formed the company in 2007, and led the formation and growth of the business as the founding CEO from 2008 to 2014 before stepping down to be the Chairman of the company.” Today, Exodus is still the major shareholder and, through his role as Chairman remains heavily involved in the direction the company is taking. However, he has trusted it to the aptly-named Progress Mambo to lead his company forwards as CEO into the years the come.
We asked Exodus about his company’s people-focused aims, and how his company strives to make a positive contribution whilst also seeking success: “We always put attention on improving customer service. It is very important to build the business around the provision of solutions to real life problems and contribute in improving the wellbeing of society. With this vision in place, it also become critical to share the ideas with the employees so that they understand the purpose of the business and empower them to be ambassadors of the company as they interact with the other stakeholders.”
Exodus & Co employs 105 permanent staff and has hundreds of others who work with them on a project-by-project basis. At peak activity, the company can employ up to 1000 people. These staff are given in-house training, as well as financial support to seek out training from external bodies, and the company makes sure to lift up and empower its staff through internal promotions and its careful use of benefits: “Operating in a volatile environment, we have carefully structured staff benefits to make sure they remain relevant to their lives now and in the future. We looked at this from an empowerment point of view by providing tangible benefits like the opportunity to own homes even at very young ages, so that even after retirement, they can live comfortably.” As well as making sure it is supplying every it can for its staff, Exodus is also making sure it is hitting the correct standard for its clients. To this effect, in November 2019, the company secured certifications for ISO 9001:2015 (Quality Management Systems) and ISO 14001:2015 (Environmental Management Systems). “We are very proud to have secured this endorsement. Compliance with the ISO standards will direct us to focus on satisfying customers’ needs, become more efficient and reduce waste, gain more recognition from business partners, and become trusted by customers. This sets a sound foundation for our growth plans.”
Exodus & Co’s upcoming slat includes the rehabilitation and widening of 20km of one of the major highways in the country – a tender it secured because of its impressive performance. Between itself and five other contractors, the teams will take on this road in 20km sections until its full 580km length is complete. On the real estate side of its operations, the company also has two upcoming housing development projects in Harare, which deliver more than 1000 residential apartments and 5000 serviced residential plots.
Another crucial piece of work for Exodus & Co is a range of road and bridge restoration work for the Chimanimani District of Zimbabwe. This district suffered in the wake of cyclone Idai, and in keeping with its aim to help its home country, Exodus & Co donated the free use of its construction equipment to help in the relief effort after the destruction. Now, the company is getting the area back to how it needs to be. This interest in Zimbabwe’s wellbeing is at the core of how Exodus & Co conducts itself, and remains as important to Exodus himself now as it did when he founded the company:
“I am guided by the desire to contribute in solving the problems in the society. The feeling of contributing to a better society through the products and services we offer inspires me to continue exploiting business opportunities that add value to society.”
Success is one thing, but to succeed whilst making a positive impact on the lives and areas around you – that is a true success indeed.