IMPALA Car Rental chief executive officer Mr Thompson Dondo has opened up about the genesis of the business and ownership structure. The Sunday Mail last week tracked Mr Dondo to get a deeper understanding of his business.
He speaks in the excerpts below:
Impala (Car Rental) is our name; it’s derived from our totem. I am the founder and CEO. We registered the company in 2006 but we started working in 2007. It was difficult to start the business. I was living in the United Kingdom where I had a small nursing agency which employed Zimbabweans. I got into trouble with immigration because some of the people we were employing had no proper documents. The issue was resolved in the courts.
I was a young man in my early 30s then and I couldn’t stand it. I told myself I was going back home to Zimbabwe because I didn’t commit any crime as I was helping my fellow Zimbabweans.
I had lived in the UK for over 10 years and business in the UK closed so I came back home. I didn’t have much then, I only had a property which houses our headquarters along Chiremba Road. It was a property we had bought through Homelink. I had to make a plan to pay off the mortgage. I had two Nissan Sunny cars and I bought two more to make them four. I had £2 000 when I landed in Harare.
How we thought of Impala was that we thought of ways to generate foreign currency to raise money to pay back Homelink.
The first six months started very well as we had contacts in the UK who would come and hire our cars. We worked with the likes of Mduduzi Mathuthu (ZimLive Editor) to market the business as he was based in the UK then as the NewZimbabwe.com Editor.
We got an order from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for double cabs but we didn’t have any cars. We looked around from our clients and managed to give the RBZ the double cabs. Before we knew it, they ordered more cars and had over 20 cars within a short space of time.
We then managed to raise funds to buy our smaller cars, we had 10 cars initially then we bought our own first double cab in 2010. Unfortunately, it was stolen. I cried because I treasured that car a lot.
As the business grew, we were hiring more cars from individuals; we would pay the car owners 80 percent while we kept 20 percent. A bank approached us to finance our business.
In 2011, we bought three double cabs and 20 small sedan cars. We struck more deals with various financial institutions to increase our fleet. In 2014, we partnered with a South African businessman to set up Impala Car Rental in Johannesburg and we bought 12 double cabs. This coming month, we are going to add 25 double cabs in South Africa.
All I am trying to say is that we built the business step by step; slowly. We have managed to build our fleet to 300 cars in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa. In terms of workers, we started the company with my late brother (Alfred Dondo), a lady who was doing front office work who is now the general manager and a cleaner who is late now. I was the driver, fuel logistics and everything. Alfred was the security guy. Now we have 72 workers at Impala but we also have about 220 workers at Impala Spares, Fasfit and Impala Car Rental.
The talk that we have Government shareholders is cheap talk. The problem with black people is that they always think a fellow black man cannot make it without the backing of a political party or Government. Some years back, some people used to say Impala was owned by a former Vice President and Cabinet Ministers.
People speculate that we have State Security organs as owners of Impala. That’s pub talk. We run our own business and make our own decisions.
Going into 2021, we are looking at expanding the business into Tanzania where we are targeting to buy 50 cars. South Africa is a difficult market because there is a lot of theft and competition. We have upgraded our security checks but our challenge is that of theft as we have lost five top of the range cars like Toyota Fortuner and Hilux.