The fall and rise of Noel Nkhoma: From selling Chickens to Running the fastest growing Micro Finance Firm

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Noel Nkoma
Noel Nkoma (L)

How a seasoned Banker rose from lows of selling chickens and eggs to running the country’s fastest growing Micro Finance outlet

“I was fired when I was on a work trip to Hong Kong, infact when I was connecting from London to Hong Kong, I found my Secretary’s missed calls but I didn’t return them not until I landed in Hong Kong that is when she broke the news that I was one of the ten Directors along with Miles Sampa who had been fired,” Noel Nkhoma narrates.

This was December 10th 2010 and Mr Nkhoma was Director of Corporate Banking and Marketing at Finance Bank which was considered a hugely successful story in the Zambian corporate circles.

The Bank founded by Dr Rajan Mahtani had grown to become the country’s largest commercial bank by branch network and Mr Nkhoma was one of Dr Mahtani’s trusted lieutenants.

“Imagine, moving from a place where you never even knew the price of fuel because the bank paid for our fuel to now start monitoring how many litres you would manage to top up at the filling station,

In his 25 years at Finance Bank, Mr Nkhoma had risen from a bank clerk to an Executive Director, the only Black Zambian to hold such a position in the bank at the time.

He was also serving as President of the respected Economics Association of Zambia which made him highly visible in the media as he issued commentary on economic and business issues.

Mr Nkhoma, with his fine business suits was by any measure a high flyer until his world seemingly came crushing down.

The Bank of Zambia seized Finance Bank from its shareholders in 2010 for what it called legal violations and questionable loans.

Dr Mahtani called the seizure politically motivated.

So for Mr Nkhoma, he says what followed was a period of serious readjustments and recalibration.

“When I was on this flight back home from Hong Kong, I could feel a sense of sympathy towards me from fellow passengers who had heard about what had happened to Finance Bank.

What was interesting is that when I called my wife telling her that I have lost my jo, she had not heard then and her first response was, so what will happen to the children and their education.”

Mr Noel Nkhoma, 50, was speaking Thursday evening when he featured on Prosperity Insights, a business motivation radio programme on Hot FM hosted by motivational speaker and life coach Reverend Walter Mwambazi.

“So the office grabbed the keys to latest Range Rover the office had just procured for us as Directors. I had to call for an urgent board meeting of the Economics Association of Zambia and tendered in my resignation. The other board members wanted to convince to stay saying I had not done anything wrong but I told them I would rather sacrifice myself than see an organisation that largely depended on donor funds suffer, so I left EAZ and started a private life,” he said.

I thought, there is no way I would allow those Zambians to see me mopping floors here when back home in Zambia, Noel was a star.

“It was really a private life because even my phone which was constantly ringing when I had the bank job suddenly started ringing, the people I thought were my friends simply ran away. I moved back to my farm and started selling chickens and eggs at Mtendere Market and Independence stadium market.”

“I remember what Fred M’membe told me just when I lost my job, he said “Noel, you may have to give us some of the fancy lifestyle you have become accustomed to,” and so I followed that advice and I stopped drinking from fancy hotels and I started drinking from Kaunda Square with my old friends.”

Mr Nkhoma said, “ My wife Alice one day just told me do anything that can make us survive and I had to go into chicken business.”

Mr Nkhoma shared that reverting to manual job was not difficult because had done some odd jobs in the past.

“After leaving Munali Secondary School, my first job was in an abattoir. So I know how to slaughter a cow and get it ready for sale. When I went to the U.K for my postgraduate Diploma, I had to work as a cleaner at McDonalds near the Piccadilly train station.”

He said he had to quit that job when one day as he was busy mopping the floor, a large group of Zambians who had just landed from a Zambia Airways morning flight were walking past McDonalds chatting away in Bemba.

“I thought, there is no way I would allow those Zambians to see me mopping floors here when back home in Zambia, Noel was a star. So I quit that job and luckily got another job as a waiter in a job at Kings Cross. For the duration of my stay in the U.K I survived on tips because my wages from my bar job was so low.”

He added, “When I was selling chickens and eggs at Mtendere Market, I would hear people talk behind my back ‘Siba Nkhoma baja, what has happened?”, I didn’t mind much because all I wanted was to get by.”

“She says, you are a still very energetic and smart. You know banking very well. You were at Finance Bank for many years. Why don’t you set up something of your own? I asked her, so where do I get the money from to set up a bank?”

Mr Nkhoma admits that the period after losing his employment was a stressful one and that he only managed to pull through with the support of his ‘solid’ wife of 27 years.

“My wife is solid. She was always encouraging me. And my neighbour at the farms Reverend Rex Nalumango, the husband to former Deputy Speaker Mutale Nalumango offered spiritual and moral support during an otherwise difficult period.”

“So I continued selling chickens and eggs and I would do anything from feeding the birds, picking the eggs, cleaning them, loading them unto the van and driving the van to the market. So I couldn’t even turn on the air con in the van because I couldn’t just afford fuel.”

“Imagine, moving from a place where you never even knew the price of fuel because the bank paid for our fuel to now start monitoring how many litres you would manage to top up at the filling station,” he recollects.

Mr Nkhoma said the key turning point in his life came when one day his wife sat him down and encouraged him to get back to doing what his knows best.-Banking.
“She says, you are a still very energetic and smart. You know banking very well. You were at Finance Bank for many years. Why don’t you set up something of your own? I asked her, so where do I get the money from to set up a bank?”

Mr Nkhoma said that discussion marked the transformation in his life as together with the wife, they managed to set aside K70,000 (K70 million unrebased) to launch Better Now Finance Limited.

“So 70,000 was our initial capital but today we have mobilised and grown the firm and we are now sitting at US$5 million in market valuation. Our goal is to grow this to US$8 million by end of 2017.”

Mr Nkhoma said BetterNow Finance Limited where he currently serves as Chief Executive Officer plans to issue a corporate bond and list on the Lusaka Securities Exchange in the near future.

“We are currently the fastest growing microfinance institution in Zambia, we have opened several branches over the last few years and we will soon be opening our Kitwe branch,” he said.

Mr Nkhoma encourages young Zambians to venture out into entrepreneurship as a way of creating jobs.

“Sometimes I feel I actually delayed, I should have left the bank much earlier,” he says.

He honesty, passion, commitment, sacrifice, dedication and focus are some of the key ingredients to success.

We now have institutional investors who have pumped in money and we are probably the only microfinance that is able to pay dividends year in, year out. So young entrepreneurs should seek to keep their word.”

“As BetterNow Finance, we have grown our working capital because people have been able to trust our word. We now have institutional investors who have pumped in money and we are probably the only microfinance that is able to pay dividends year in, year out. So young entrepreneurs should seek to keep their word.”

He added, “Sometimes I say to myself, a man without a past cannot be reliable guide into the future. If you don’t change nothing, nothing will change. I have experienced the worst that one can possibly experience in the sense that it is at that time you realise that actually manual work does pay.”

“It is something you call an induced transformation. Its not something you have prepared for or volunteered and I think this is something that we Zambians should start to think about. When we are in these offices, we think we have arrived,” he said.

Mr Nkhoma said young people especially should realise that in life, nothing is permanent except change.

Mr Nkhoma’s three children have all excelled in their education.

“Our first born is Chikubabe, she just completed her degree in Economics and she is starting her internship with KPMG and the second Kautengeni has proceeded to do his Masters in international relations and Economics in China while the third Menyani is at WITS University in South Africa where he is reading law.”

59 COMMENTS

    • +6
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      misplace information. There was Miles Sampa as executive director then among the Zambian Directors at Finance bank.
      “In his 25 years at Finance Bank, Mr Nkhoma had risen from a bank clerk to an Executive Director, the only Black Zambian to hold such a position in the bank at the time.”

    • +5
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      That’s just a typo. It should have read “In his 25 years at Finance Bank, Mr Nkhoma had risen from a bank clerk to an Executive Director, the first Black Zambian to hold such a position.”

    • +3
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      Yes there are lots of gaps in the story! Mathani had paid his ex directors and managers ‘vala mulomo’ sums precisely to keep quite about the rot the bank was doing to borrowers and the country at large.

      Simataa Simataa attempted to go against his “Shut your mouth and forever keep the peace contract” entered into with Mathani and was to pay dearly for that! Noel well knew that and still keeps his promise with Mathani and for that rewards are plentiful.

      I do not know of any bigger devil incarnate in Zambian business than Rajan Mathani …

    • +6
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      Very inspiring Noel. Shame that the writer did not do any justice to your story. But good on you. Keep it up

    • +1
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      “Our first born is Chikubabe, she just completed her degree in Economics and she is starting her internship with KPMG and the second Kautengeni has proceeded to do his Masters in international relations and Economics in China while the third Menyani is at WITS University in South Africa where he is reading law.”

      Some of these names awe mwe.

    • +1
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      There is no story here, just pride before and after a fall.
      He mopped floors in UK McDonald but not in Zambia.

    • +2
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      Sometimes you have to go backwards to make a huge leap! People who are not ashamed to go backward make it. The rest of you will be scrubs forever.

    • +3
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      Count yourself lucky Noel as you left the Bank with a Farm and from what I tell from reading between the lines cars and Houses, some people especially bankers are fired without even a spare shoe to walk with at least you had some where to start. Selling chickens is not a bad business at all the only thing is that the brand on your head was too high “Executive Director”. I vividly remember your name back in the days.

  1. +46
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    Really feels like you are saying that selling Chicken is a bad thing. Not at all. It is a good thing and I wish such writing should stop. Running a micro finance is just one of the business people can opt for. Just like growing tomatoes. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all!

    • +6
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      @Max, totally agree. Keeping chickens can earn you more per month than most CEOs. Eg, selling 2,000 birds per week will give you a gross profit of about k100,000 per month, do the maths.

    • +2
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      Precisely! When did selling chickens and eggs become a low and ‘ukukongwesha kaloba’ a high…!? Done poultry before and eagerly planning to go into it big time, though I have a fairly well paying job…

    • vote

      Yah, some how the truth is there, it could have been bad for him looking at his status by then, look from flying and spending almost the whole day in an air conditioned room-car to spending the whole day in chicken dung. It was a draw back according to his standards but not that the business in chicken is bad no.

  2. +5
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    Inspirational story LT. Just wish you wouldn’t be too quick to publish and at least do some editing, the phone ringing quote and the Fred M’membe quote are a disaster.

  3. +6
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    the same greediness that the corporate world is giving its executives is blinding them to the real situation out there. Mr. Nkhoma, your story is great but I think you have not told it well. You mean from an executive you dropped deep into the doldrums? When you are enjoying corporate trappings remember the day that these will disappear. And like others have observed, try and appreciate every other job such as sanitation workers, cleaners. These are just great jobs and you should not be ashamed to do them! step back and leave your “star” ego. everyone is a star in their own right! Old school indeed.

    • +1
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      It’s a great story but the person in charge of disseminating the information lacks writing skills not even good enough for grade twelve level.

  4. +4
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    The Biblical Jacob was working for his uncle Laban. The Bible says because of Jacob, Laban became exceedingly rich. Until one day Jacob woke up and decided to resign with immediate effect. Laban panicked and told Jacob that actually he was going to increase his salary but Jacob had made up his mind to also be an employer, not every time an employee, or a tenant or always driving a company car, when will you drive your own car? When will you sleep in your own house? When will you stop reporting to some bwana calling himself a supervisor? I already have my own house, my own car and very soon in six months time Iam going to invest in 2000 layers, I already have six hundred that will be dropping eggs in April and then I will with immediate effect ditch my current employer, I will dununa…

  5. +2
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    This is quite inspirational. What has killed many is the desire to maintain status. As long as a person is breathing, there is hope. This story has encouraged me a lot.

  6. +6
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    I think all Noel has done is share his experience we might not agree with it but he has said his piece

    • vote

      apa ponse mambala you haven’t started a business? anyone solely relying on one source of income in this day and age is a lunatic

  7. +1
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    Mambala same group as red lipped lizard, summer kamimba and vjm, condition contaminated! Many women some of prominent persons have fallen to this fall and rise man. But good you have soldiered on just we wonder why you don’t mention your other son who has done academically well also

  8. +5
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    There’s is absolutely nothing wrong with doing a chicken business. Noel’s story doesn’t motivate me at all

  9. +6
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    This story has so many gaps. He was broke but maintained his children at 3 international universities? and these guys retired na kasaka ka mahafu. That chicken thing is just a cover up. They were also heavily compensated after challenging their retrenchment

  10. +3
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    I Totally agree with some the bloggers concerning poultry business. I mean what is wrong with growing tomatoes, ranching or indeed running poultry business?
    Come on Mr Nkhoma. What business are Ross Breeders, Verino etc.. Involved in??
    I know people who produce more than 15000 Crates of tomatoes per year and their children are learning Abroad.

    • +1
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      Spot on! This just another story that is being told, I will not be objective on his story but rather be subjective because the story has gaps e.g how did he raise the K70K or is that he was given a golden hand shake after being fired? He makes sound like selling Chickens is a low life business.

    • vote

      Spot on! This just another story that is being told, I will not be objective on his story but rather be subjective because the story has gaps e.g how did he raise the K70K or is that he was given a golden hand shake after being fired? He makes it sound like selling Chickens is a low life business.

    • +1
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      We are no longer naive to believe every story, We know that the starring in a movie always wins the battle.

  11. +1
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    Very impressive Sir, from 70K to US$5m! I know most of us would straight away buy a used Harrier from Japan & furnish our houses & drink the change then start blaming government for high cost of living & other nonsense afterwards. Typical….

    • vote

      He has a separation package and also an out of court settlement following his assault at Pamodzi Hotel. James Banda whipped him for passing a derogatory comment at him.

  12. +2
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    You can’t hide fire, for the smoke will betray you!
    Indeed it’s like a pastor making himself rich from fleecing the gullible flock and claiming he’s been blessed! And they are so many in Zambia!

  13. +2
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    Noel kuzionesha ,,,, Rupiah enze egulisa Finance bank mambala. Mu komboni muli ndalama baba, seo kwa Linda tikumwa lini vi ma jameson ni Blue Labe ta!

  14. +3
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    What the man has not told us is what investments he made whilst working as director, looks like he was drinking too much in some fancy places, he has mentioned, even when he left work he couldnt stop. Besides selling chicken is not a bad thing, am thinking of setting up a chicken run and quit my accounts carrier which is not well looked at pa Zed. You can not inspire a wise person like me with such a story whilst looking down at other people jobs. Who will sell u chicken,s when everyone starts runing banks? its the same ego u, have which brings people down. Thank God he gave u another chance.

  15. +1
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    Wise man he is,even when he was still with FBZ,Noel was a down to earth man that spoke and interacted with everyone,the only director for that matter. From messengers to the top. No segregation what soever.
    His face was FBZ. Encouraging words for those still with the bank.

  16. +1
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    vote

    Mr Nkhoma is a human being hence he is not perfect just like us. It is therefore important to focus on his strengths rather than his weaknesses. For his life to make an impact, he focused on what he knows best. He concentrated his effort and energy on what’s important. Every legal business has the potential to make us successful. There are many ways to success, but one way to failure is trying to please everyone. We just have to build each other because we are all imperfect

  17. +2
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    He had 70million kwacha so he had a good start. Imagine a miner is retrenched without a single ngwee, can he be inspired by this or any other story. You need some money to start chicken rearing, eggs or general farming.

  18. +1
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    The LT editor may have gotten a loan from this company and return write this story as an advertising.

  19. +1
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    Well done mr nkoma , in life you only know whate god had prepared for you when you gate involved.its like talking about wining a jackpot.But you don’t buy a ticket.

  20. vote

    Most success stories are supported by a narrative of toil and setbacks. When do we ever hear of money finding money? Never? Because a story of against all odds is better than one of smooth sailing.

  21. vote

    Very inspiring, I have come to discover that in life every situation has two sides (positive & negative) and the best thing one can do is to focus his/her energies on the positive side…

  22. vote

    Inspiring Story Mr. Nkhoma.Keeping it Up and my God bless you. Lessons for us young people, lets take risk and venture into business.

  23. vote

    Noel who told you that selling eggs and chickens is a low life job and kukogwesha kaloba proper?you are fake. Don’t bite the finger that has been feeding you.mwiponta mukabwela

  24. vote

    Very encouraging indeed. When you are working you might think you have arrived. Whether the Man is telling us the truth or not, he is encouraging us to think out side the box whilst working.

  25. vote

    Pick what you think will help you from the story and not just looking for gaps .Why are some of you shallow thinkers.

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