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Taking a loan to buy land was a big mistake



Taking a loan to buy land was a big mistake

John Mwai is the Investment Manager at Safaricom Investment Co-operative, a Co-operative movement with over 5,000 members investing through rebates and share capital growth.

In my line of work, I conceive and incubate business ideas from the inception or ideation phase to implementation. This necessitates me to wear many hats and juggle between different roles from being a Finance professional to being a subject matter expert in diverse fields.

This involves a lot of reading and research work. It can be challenging but I love the thrill, the learning and the opportunities therein.

Before I joined Safaricom Investment Co-operative, I was employed as a Development Manager within a number of real estate projects.

Some years back, I took out a loan to buy a parcel of land. Whilst the land has appreciated to date, it has remained idle and I doubt the capital gains are higher than the interest I paid on the loan. The key lesson that I took away from this is that the opportunity cost of money should never be ignored.

I have many career highlights but most recently, I led the conceptualization and development of a high-end Residential Real Estate project that has won global awards. The project started off with many challenges and limiting factors that had to be overcome. For instance, we had a restriction in terms of building heights and that meant I had to be creative around the product pricing in a bid to recoup the cost of the land.

Secondly, the product had to offer maximum privacy. I worked with the team to design a one-of-a-kind product that has a villa feel to it, whereas it is in essence a condominium style building. Given the challenges faced, this was a very fulfilling achievement.

If I were to start all over again, I would invest more in a broader skill set and take on as many diverse jobs as I could. In today’s ever-changing world, the key skills are learnt on the job, and you never learn until you are neck-deep in it. Two key skills come to mind.

One is Data Analytics. This is vital for any professional, whether you’re in the service, manufacturing or any other industry. With continued technological advancements, one has to keep their finger on the pulse of various data sources to better understand their customers, the operating environment and the performance of their business in general.

The second is marketing, a key skill that is underrated. At the core of the success of any business is the ability to sell their goods or services. You could be the best mason around but that wouldn’t matter if prospective developers have no knowledge of your existence or abilities. These are invaluable skills that I feel would have made a big difference in my career if I had learnt them earlier.

I don’t save, I invest, which are two sides of the same coin. At any single point in time, I have a project that is running and I periodically commit funds towards it. It could range from subscribing to an online course that interests me to buying shares in a company.

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What matters is that my money is never idle. If I’m not investing in typical asset classes, I’m investing in my skills set. Previously, I would accumulate it in a bank account, in the pretext of saving but would end up consuming it.

I have come to realize that money and its tenets have different meanings to different people. If you could fold a piece of paper 26 times, its thickness would exceed the height of Mt. Everest. Compounding money works in a similar way. No matter how small your initial investments, the gains will soon be exponential.

Time is your friend in this case, not the sums you start with. The earlier you start investing the better the returns. That said, what has always stood out for me is that money is an enabler not really the nuts and bolts to a better life.

“It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.” – I learn this daily from George Lorimer.

A version of this profile feature on John Mwai was also published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.

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