He has worked alongside big names in moving pictures such as Jill Scot and Desmond Dube as Line Producer for the international locally filmed movie ‘The No.1 Lady Detective’ and local drama ‘Re Bina Mmogo’ but Ndipo Mokoka has set TV production aside for a while to focus his energy on growing his transport business, Mr. Mokoka’s Transport.
From just two combies in 1998 the business has grown to 20 buses, three support bakkies and 42 employees.
Lebogang Mutuwe sat down with the humble, hard working, God fearing family man to find out what drives his success.
Q. Who is Ndipo Mokoka?
I am a hands on owner and Managing Director of Mr Mokoka’s Transport.
I’m also a family man from Marapong married to Keitumetse Mokoka for 11 years now and we have two daughters, 11 years old and seven years old.
Q. What drives you?
My family is my biggest motivation. Whatever I do we discuss it as a family because this is a family business.
My wife is also part of the business so we discuss a lot about business.
The support and time my family gives me motivates me further.
I never thought I would be where I am today, but with God everything is possible.
You were in the film industry before the transport business, tell us about that. I have been in TV production for the past 17 years filming documentaries to be aired locally and internationally.
I was also Line Producer for local drama, Re bina mmogo and the international movie, No. 1 ladies detective, that was shot in Botswana.
Though I have set TV production aside to devote my time to growing the transport business, I love it and enjoy it. One day I will get back to it.
Q. What convinced you transport was the business of choice for you?
Back in 1998 while I was employed by Worldview Botswana, I wanted to supplement my income and discussed this with a colleague who inturn introduced me to transport.
With my savings I bought two 16 seater import combies, one going to Gabane and the other going to Tlokweng.
This one I put on Mogoditshane route. Soon a lot of people flocked to the taxi business and things became tougher as you know we have a small population.
Q. How did you get past that?
A friend introduced me to long distance transport. In 2002 I bought a Mercedece Benz Sprinter mini bus for Serowe Gaborone route.
Two years later I found more opportunities in the same route.
Permits were in people’s hands and they were not utilising them; even now you have to negotiate with someone for a permit when you want to expand.
I acquired two more Sprinters for the Serowe Gaborone route in 2004 and a VW Crafter the following year.
After acquiring the permits, Mr Mokoka’s Transport was born.
Q. Did the growing business bring you any challenges?
Growth came with opportunities and challenges. I remember a jealous competitor burnt one of my Sprinters and the VW Crafter.
There is a case in progress regarding that.
As if that wasn’t enough, the same people started to terrorise my family.
They would stalk my wife and kids and at some point they attempted to kidnap my child from school. Luckily the perpetrators were arrested.
Q. Sounds like something from the movies. How did you recover from that?
We repaired the buses and put them back on the road.
The customers were very supportive.
Their response and support made me realise that this was a business of choice for me. Besides the hard work, long distance routes have better income.
Q. What other challenges do you face?
In 2012 we launched the Francistown-Gaborone route and that came with its own challenges.
We are competing with all the giants who have been in the business for a long time.
While that gives me confidence, we need to be different from the rest.
We invested in two fully airconditioned Irizar and Marco Polo buses and these morden buses are very expensive and the cost of running them is also high.
Our staff know that customer service is key.
You meet different people with different personalities and you need to know that the customer is always right.
Q. Impressive. But how do you manage to run such a big business from Gaborone?
Because of the size of the business, we have had to operate from three branches in Francistown, Serowe and Gaborone.
Three managers help me run the business from these offices. I appreciate these guys for without them I don’t think I would manage.
Already we’ve had to give away some routes to make the business manageable. Our head office is in Serowe because it is where our heart is; we started long distance service there.
Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?
The next thing on the agenda is to increase our operation on the A1 route so that in five years we should be the leading transport company on the A1.
I had to suspend plant hire to concentrate on buses, but now that I have three managers I feel I can activate that aspect. The rest, watch the space.
Q. How do you find balance between work and family?
The little time I have I spend with my family. Sometimes I go with them on business trips so that we can spend time as a family.
My wife is also involved in the business. I recently completed a nice family house in Serowe and that’s where we spend most of our time.
Q. How do you unwind?
I watch Tv, mostly documentaries telling African stories and attend social functions where I meet people and spend time with older people.
Most of my friends are older people and we talk about history and experience. Being with older people helps me grow and reap some wisdom.
Q. What does it take to be where you are today?
Public transport is tough and time consuming, so you need to be dedicated, disciplined and be a hard worker.
You also need money discipline because there is a lot of trafic during holidays and month end but there is very little mid month.
Waking up at 5 am each morning is not for the faint hearted.
A lot of people who want to start bus service after retirement,but it’s a big mistake.
You are just too old to be running after buses and you don’t have enough time to learn about the business.
Q. Lastly; are you going back to TV any time soon?
I wish I could go back, but I need the business to be stable first.
I invested heavily in the transport so I have to be hands on.