For 30 years, he has operated a spare parts and vehicle repair workshop. George Kaahwa, the proprietor of Eagles Motors Limited, chose to run a business on the principle of integrity.
As he explains, drivers or clients that contact the company to give it business with expectation of kickbacks, are turned away. He simply cannot afford to have dirty books of accounts.
To him, it is more fulfilling to maintain clear returns than register money that the business did not earn and rightly register. In his office, on plot 188, Sixth Street in Industrial Area, he recounts the three-decade journey, one that started on a default line of his search for a source of livelihood.
In 1987, Kaahwa was a fresh graduate, with a Bachelor’s in Social Sciences from Makerere University. His hopes of finding formal employment were slim because, as he explains, jobs were only readily available for the sons and daughters of the privilledged. He decided to venture into helping people process documents such as import licences, application of import taxes, driving permits, tax documents, travel clearances, and this was largely for the illiterate, semi-illiterate and busy business people.
The first job
At the time, he lived in the boys’ quarters of the late Joan Kakwenzire, who was a professor of history at Makerere University. Her husband worked for the Cotton Oil Seed Company and talked to Kaahwa about the company’s search of someone who could provide repairing services. The youngster was happy to take up the opportunity.
In 1989, he teamed up with a friend, Blasio Kityo, and pooled resources to start the spare parts company. They undertook a few on-sight garage training and within a short while, the duo started repairing vehicles.
“We applied to Bank of Uganda (BOU) to trust us to service their vehicles and they contracted us. Within a year, I was able to buy a car, a Nissan Sunny, at Shs2.8m. I occasionally mortgaged it to the Cooperative Bank to raise extra capital for the company when we had big contracts to execute,” Kaahwa recalls.
In 1992, Eagles Motors applied to Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) for a tender to supply spare parts. At the time, the electricity company had a policy of running an in-house workshop at Lugogo in Kampala so they asked the motor company to supply the workshop with spare parts. Whereas there were many mechanical workshops that also competed for the tender, many could not interpret spare parts catalogues which was important when a company wanted to make orders for importation.
With the tender to supply spare parts, Kaahwa and Kityo grew their enterprise from offering repairing and servicing services to importing spare parts. It was a capital intensive venture so Kaahwa had to sell his Sunny to raise more money for the business. They imported from Kenya.
At the time, the business workshop was situated on plot 114, Sixth Street in Industrial Area. “I was mobile, and would move with a ‘no problem’ bag looking for business. In my bag was a stamp and proforma invoice. If a client made an order, I would sign them up and invoice them there and then.
By 1996, we had raised some considerably good capital, to a tune of $10,000 (about Shs36.8m). We moved to Prince House in Katwe, which has since become Quality Chemicals. In 1999, we got a tender with British American Tobacco (BAT) to service their vehicles. It was another big boost,” he recounts.
Buying current premises
With BAT, came a good proposition. Part of the tobacco company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was to encourage its vendors to buy premises. They had a special arrangement with Barclays Bank. BAT would guarantee its vendors to the bank to purchase property. Kaahwa attests that they enabled him acquire his current premises at a fee of $50, 000 (about Shs184m), which has become one of the best investments the company has made.
As luck would have it, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Monitor Publications Limited, Uganda Telecom, Celtel Uganda gave Eagle Motors business and in effect a boost. The company grew from importing spare parts from Nairobi to directly importing from Dubai, UAE. The company’s clients were the first platform of marketing its genuine parts.
“In 2002, we introduced an accounting system for managing and tracking repair history of vehicles we have worked on. One of the things that endears us to customers is transparency. The non-government organisation community likes accountability,” the Eagle Motors’ director attests.
Some of his clients include Plan international Uganda, Concern International, Goal Uganda, Oxfam International, and World Food Programme (WFP). “Our clientele is small but happy with the services we give. Five years ago, Uganda police heard of our original and patented spare parts and asked us to supply their workshop and we have supplied them since to date,” he says.
He adds that as a service workshop, they have changed the concept of mechanical work by being clean and neat as well as using language that is easily understandable by the clients. Mechanics in the workshops are graduates and trainees.