Peer to Peer Conversations:  Meeting with the heiress of a lodge empire
Nathalie Simwami Director of Golden Days Lodge

For weeks, I had been trying to setup a meeting with Nathalie Simwami, owner of an upcoming lodge on Buluwe Road Woodlands extension. What got my attention the first time we meet was that her business was in transition and a lot of work needed to be done to get it to her desired state. Armed with the TFHZPC tool, we sat down to discuss, as peers in business, what some of the challenges were there in having to deal with transition.

For starters, hers was a family business. Having traveled the world (literally), her family had ventured into the hospitality business which is quite competitive and demanding. Following an off chance opportunity to add onto the portfolio of businesses that Golden Days Lodges owns, the venture along Buluwe Road is a passion project for Nathalie (just like the FinInsight Story, but that story is for another day).

Having grown up around hospitality businesses, Nathalie has an eye for detail when it comes to her establishment. A typical day starts as early as 6 in the morning checking on every aspect of the business from the kitchen to vacant rooms to the conference room which is currently being upgraded. It is clear that one of her strengths is operations management.

My initial assessment when I arrived at the lodge was that there were many things going on and it was my hope that the owner was able to establish the lines that divided each and every SBU (strategic business unit). I was delighted to know that she knew every aspect of the business. Note that this is a woman who has no formal training in hospitality or hotel management. It comes naturally to her.

She shared her vision for the lodge and described how her 4 stage strategic plan would get her establishment to the “Promised Land”. However, only two obstacles stood in her way. Corporate governance and finance.

On the corporate governance side, like any family owned business the leadership structure can at times be a bit fuzzy if the hierarchy is not clearly established. Luckily, we found Nathalie at a point when a family boardroom meeting would soon be held that will clear the path for her gaining full clarity in the running of the business. She agreed with TFHZPC that structures are important and they affect the decision making process when investments into resources and capabilities are required. Luckily for her, she has a business minded family hence we anticipate that the heiress will get her way.  

On the finance side, knowing when to go market for financing was a critical issue that would make the difference between running to the Promised Land or crawling to it. She indicates this because, till now, she has been financing her operations organically. With weekend events such as birthday and kitchen parties as her largest profit pool, she has capitalized on the revenue she has be generating to finance the rebirth of her establishment. This has required prudent management of working capital. She has achieved this by ensuring she has good relationships with her suppliers who give her soft goods for the lodge on credit

. Using short term financing, she has been able to meet the demands of not only functions side of the business, but for the less profitable SBUs such as the bar. On the latter, she faces stiff competition with Chukams which is just down the road from her spot. However, she has an interesting strategy of fashioning her soon to be complete bar to cater to a more mature crowd. Furthermore, because she has been growing her clientele organically, she is building a love mark with her clients who are loyal to her cause.

When I asked the question of whether she would be willing to let go of equity in her business, she vehemently said no unless it came with terms that would ensure she had complete control without interference but with strategic advice.  I could tell that she clearly had a vision for the place and how she viewed her business growing over the long term.

I got excited about what she terms as phase 4 which would incorporate technology. With power saving strategies, automation of lodge processes and a complete revamp of her online booking system the business is poised to be on the frontier of being a smart lodge.

Although her business is in transition, the detail is in the financials. Her being able to establish which areas of her business create the most value is critical to the success of her project. We would advise employing the Boston matrix which allows managers to categorize their businesses into 4 categories (Question marks, Stars, Dogs and Cash Cows). With events, she has a pretty good cash cow that has benefited from location and proximity to clientele. A potential star is her “matebeto” side of the business. Although only 2 months old, this side of the business can also benefit from location as it has seen a surge in walk in customers who seek to indulge in Zambian food. The full list of services offered includes accommodation, bar, restaurant and swimming pool. Options are plenty for the discerning customer.

We will be keeping an eye on her project as it evolves from the little duckling that resides on Buluwe road to the swan we believe it can become.


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