Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa has become one of the most successful businessmen in Africa. His company, Pan-African Tobacco Group, is a leading producer of tobacco products and other consumer goods. Pan-African Tobacco Group is special because it is wholly indigenous in its ownership and operations. It competes favorably with such international giants as Altria.
The company employs over 7,000 people in numerous African nations. Its annual revenues total more than $200 million. The company also recently celebrated its 40th year in business.
Ayabatwa is one of Africa’s leading philanthropists as well. He has helped to build infrastructure, schools, homes, and neighborhoods in hard-hit areas where few construction funds were available.
He is dedicated to improving access to education for children and young people in Africa. Over the years, Ayabatwa has given over 75 scholarships to deserving students in hopes of furthering their education.
Education is especially important to him because he was only able to achieve an eighth-grade education when he was young. He wants to make sure that all children receive enough education to make smart career choices and to lift their families out of poverty.
Despite having led a difficult life, Ayabatwa’s working history shows a blueprint for young entrepreneurs who want to achieve a similar level of success.
Ayabatwa’s first job was in the Post Office in Burundi. He began in an entry-level position as a clerk and typist. He enjoyed his new career and put in a great deal of work to excel. His managers and supervisors were supportive and focused on developing his skills.
While he worked for the Post Office, Ayabatwa soon began training new officials in the organization. His training skills impressed his supervisors.
During his tenure at the Post Office, Ayabatwa also learned French, an important language in the region. He picked up the language quickly and helped to teach others. He cites this experience as formative in wanting to promote community and working together.
After Ayabatwa worked for the Post Office for three years, he worked in a petroleum-storage company. He rose through the ranks in this job as well, saving money for his family and future business endeavors. His management skills were developed during this period of his life, and he began to understand that he could start his own business to provide for his family better.
Finally, he bought a pickup truck and hired a driver. He got into the business of transporting passengers and goods. His business thrived, and he was able to use the managerial skills he learned at the Post Office and the petroleum company to further his success.
The next business he started was a bakery. He had some supply-chain issues while he was getting his bakery off the ground, but he handled them creatively and soon became known for his importing abilities. Ayabatwa’s drive to succeed gave him the ability to bounce back from business difficulties.
Unfortunately, Ayabatwa has suffered a few failures in his entrepreneurial career. He believes that even negative experiences can have a positive impact on a person’s skills later in life. He believes that failure can be an effective teacher.
Ayabatwa’s experience as a gold trader did not go well. He entered the business with inadequate information, and he believed he was going to make easy money. He lost the money he put into gold trading.
This experience taught him to entirely do his research before engaging in any line of business. He says that failure is a delay, not a defeat. Rather than ending a person’s opportunity to succeed, it presents a temporary detour along the way. Ayabatwa took these skills and applied them to all of his subsequent experiences.
Ayabatwa’s tobacco import business began in the early 1970s. Traveling between Burundi and Tanzania, he was able to secure a foothold in the market. After some time spent importing and selling cigarettes, he came to understand that he could make more money producing these commodities for himself and distributing them across an extensive network.
The manufacture of tobacco products was easier than dealing with the regulatory headaches that came along with importing between countries. Supply issues were difficult, and sometimes political problems got in the way of doing business.
Having secured a good relationship with producers of tobacco and other raw materials, he was able to build a successful tobacco manufacturing company in the late 1970s. His experience with importing and exporting goods gave him an advantage when it came to setting up a new manufacturing company.
His tobacco manufacturing business soon expanded to multiple countries. His company was set apart from the competition because all of the operations were owned locally. Ayabatwa later took the opportunity to move to South Africa, where his business became a truly pan-African operation. Standing up to competition from many international brands gave him the confidence needed to take risks and introduce new product lines.
A Model of Success
Ayabatwa’s success in business is hard-won. Using the skills, he gained from his enterprises at all stages of life has helped him build assets and expand his business network. He has made significant contributions to communities throughout sub-Saharan Africa as a means of giving back.
Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa is a positive example for young entrepreneurs in Africa and around the world. He is living proof that business setbacks do not have to define a person. He has used all of his experiences, both negative and positive, to build a solid base for his entrepreneurial activities.