- Journey. A dream started in their second year by five university students, the quantity surveying company is now employing all the founders, writes Joan Salmon.
Even before he wrote his last paper, Gilbert Okama, now 28 years old, was certain where he wanted to go.
In his second year as a quantity surveying student at Makerere University, he and four others resolved to start Maktech Investments Limited.
“We had this idea that since we were quantity surveyors in the making and quantity surveying is a consultancy job, we would set up a company through which we would offer our services to the public,” he says.
“We made sure that when we registered this company, as part of our Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association, we were not only restricted to quantity surveying but would venture into contracting and other related activities when the time came.”
Sitting for his last papers in April/May 2014 and graduating in January 2015, Okama became a full time employee and shareholder in Maktech as those with whom he started the company with.
Despite having a company, he needed some experience which he got in a one-year stint at Steelworks Uganda.
“Even then, I was still involved in Maktech activities. That was partly putting to practice what I was learning. But also because the company has and remains priority number one for me,” he says.
As a quantity surveyor, Okama is supposed to ably calculate the cost of any construction project before construction commences; manage projects throughout their duration to make sure they are completed within the estimated budget.
In case of any variation between the initial estimate and the final project cost, he should be able to figure out where the variation comes from and explain that to the project owner.
It is these and more that Okama and his team do. However, he notes that in most construction companies and consultancies in Uganda, their roles are restricted to just preparing cost estimating documents and they have very little to do with being fully involved in the project as a whole.
“In some instances, some quantity surveyors never get to go to the sites of the projects they are involved in, which is a shame really. The field incorporates all the other fields – architecture, land surveying, civil engineering, electrical works and plumbing – and I always wanted to be able to incorporate all that in my work,” Okama says, adding that “I wanted to be able to monitor all the projects I was involved in from initiation right to the very end. That is why I am glad to have my own company where the restriction cap is inexistent.”
Despite the joy of running a company, Okama says they got off to a rough start when the company came to life six years ago.
Between 2012 and 2014, he says, they only did odd jobs to ensure that the company has some activities going on as a foundation for the future.
They moved around selling who they were and looked for sub-contracting work from other contractors. They also utilised family and friendship connections to get work. “Actually, our first 100 per cent Maktech company project came from a high school friend,” he says with a smile.
“Getting work was made harder in the initial years because no one can give you their project if they do not trust you, more so projects that are handled in this field.”
He says some people have been sceptical about their ability to deliver as the team are relatively young. But with time they have learnt to trust them and have built good relationships.
“Although we try our best to do quality work at a relatively low cost, it is frustrating and unfair where some clients expect us to perform miracles and then take long to pay or never pay.”
Despite the challenges, he says they try not to segregate among clients. As long as a client is looking to do anything construction related, he says, they are excited to help, however small.
Okama and his team have an engineer, Suleiman Kajoba, to thank for who they have turned out to be.
“I met him upon joining university and he showed us that all this was possible, guided us through the whole initial process of starting the company. He is still a mentor.”
Okama hopes that the company will soon move to a bigger office, get more employees and develop stable and strong company structures that will allow him and his partners to be able to step aside and do other things while the company thrives on its own.