It is difficult to contextualize business excellence in Walvis Bay or Namibia at large without considering one, John Savva, whose influence spirals from the supermarket and retail sector, property development and hotel industry has spread his business tentacles across the coastal part of the country and a mere engagement with him shows off a man who is humble, passionate about business and also very engaging to all age groups. He is a firm believer of service delivery, a requisite he believes will breed success for the country in all sectors if well implemented. The following is a full interview with him.
Question: Can you give us a brief overview of who John Savva is and where it all started?
Savva: I was born in Cyprus. My dream was to buy an American car. They were smart and powerful. I saved money and bought a Pontiac Persian 1970 model – six metres long. I sold it because it was too expensive to run when fuel prices sky-rocketed in the early 70s. I always want to remind young people today that they should learn to grow bit by bit and they should not rush to buy powerful cars if they cannot afford them. The most important aspect of business is to invest your energies and beliefs into it. Understand that the business needs to grow bit by bit.
I had three children. My eldest son, Yianni, died in a motor car accident near Walvis Bay in October 2010.
Question: How do you describe being a close friend of one of Namibia’s most powerful and respected men including the Founding President, Dr. Sam Nujoma, former President, Hifikepunye Pohamba and even the current President, Dr. Hage Geingob?
Savva: They are good people. Every good citizen loves them. They fought and sacrificed their lives for Namibia. They spent the best years of their lives in exile; moving from one country to another, from one mountain to another, leading the struggle so that we can have freedom and peace. Who doesn’t want to be friends with leaders of this country? Every Namibian is their friend. We can see it from the rallies, how they pull the crowds. My friendship with them is open and respectful.
Question: Do you believe money can make friendships?
Savva: No. Money cannot buy friends. We know money is a powerful thing. Nothing can be done without money. It can affect real human feelings such as friendship or love. It can make you enemies. Some people can become jealous because of your wealth. Jealousy can change attitudes. It is quite easy to notice. Some people, calling themselves businessmen, knock at your door and offer business ventures. In fact, they can be cheats who want to take the opportunity to get easy money. Money can’t make friends. Be humble, be yourself and recognise everybody around you. Money must never define your personality. At all times, be a philanthropist - in Greek ‘philos’ means a friend and ‘anthropos’ a human being. I have believed in that since I was young.
Question: How then do you know who your real friends are?
Savva: My wife and I discuss this matter often, because we meet people all the time. For example, can he be a good friend? Can we trust this person? Is that person honest? It is very difficult to tell who your true friends are but they are the ones who will see you through thick and thin, the good and the bad, the ups and downs. It is very important for friends to discuss their lives. A true friend will admit fault, ask for forgiveness when wrong and extend forgiveness to you when you are wrong. A real friend sticks up for you whether you are there or not. Someone who does not stand up for you with things you care about is not your friend. My wife is my best friend, because there is a mutual trust and understanding between us.
Question: How did you start your business?
Savva: The beginning was very difficult. It was surely a long journey. You make mistakes and learn. I started as a personal assistant and started my business at 25. I started in retail and ventured into other different businesses I have a passion for. I want to see Walvis Bay becoming Namibia’s biggest city in the near future.
Question: What is your advice to those that have dreams of becoming successful businessmen in the future?
Savva: Don’t spend frivolously. Don’t buy a car unless you can afford it. Don’t trust anyone coming to sell you nice stories about investments. If you are in debt by more than 10% of your annual income, this is a red card. Track your spending, make a budget. Self-discipline is more important now than ever. Get in the habit of making smart choices. There are no gains without pain. Successful leaders in business often demonstrate attributes such as an ability to effectively communicate their vision, honesty and openness with their dealings, skillfulness in planning and developing strategies, clear vision of business goods, positivity, reliability, pro-activeness and self-awareness and self-direction. I understand my processes and know how to direct myself.
Make decisions quickly when necessary, but also slow down to consider all the options. Decide on what is important to you and pursue that. Good work habits can pay enormous dividends. Most wealthy men are self-made. They may have studied hard in school, took some calculated risks, worked even harder on their business and reached their goals. They know what it’s like to be poor or middle class. Good times cannot last in business, so keep on working to ensure your business is protected and never take for granted what you have.
Question: What is your biggest success in life?
Savva: To choose the best girl in the world to be my wife, Roulla. There is nothing better than to have a good partner. That was my biggest success that no money in the world can buy. She is my partner and companion who understands me. Caring is not a matter of convenience, it is a commitment of one soul to another.
Question: What is your secret to success?
Savva: Success is simple – it comes through hard work 24 hours a day. Love what you do, be motivated and determined. My shop was the size of two rooms; that’s how I started. I tightened my belt and ate brown bread. No wine and dining out; no expensive things. It was just to keep on moving; that is how successful people start. You start from the bottom and learn the nuts and the bolts. To set out on the way to wealth and become a self-made entrepreneur, you will have to develop many qualities at a higher level than you ever before. You will have to become an exceptional person. You will have to become more than you ever imagined possible for yourself. You must develop the virtues of integrity; courage and persistence. You will have to practice the qualities of clarity, competence, creativity, concentration and continuous action until they are as natural to you as breathing.
You will have to accept complete responsibility for your life and everything that happens to you. The entrepreneur is one who undertakes the risks of a new venture in pursuit of profit. The majority of people don’t have sufficient courage to launch a new venture, to start a new business, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
You need, first of all, the courage to begin, to move out of your comfort zone in the direction of your goals and dreams, even though you know you will experience many problems, difficulties and temporary failures along the way. Second you need courage to endure, to hang in there, to persist in the face of all adversity until you finally win. When you develop these twin qualities – the ability to step out in faith and then to persist resolutely in the face of all difficulties – your success is guaranteed.
Question: What are Namibia’s biggest problems?
Savva: We must combat unemployment. We need skills development. We must maintain the peace that we inherited from the Founding President and continued by President Pohamba and I am sure will continue to have under President Hage Geingob.
I also want to urge all Namibians to support the current President Hage Geingob and his policies. It is only then that we can manage to achieve our goals. It does not help us to just criticise and criticise just for the sake of it. He is doing very good to manage the country and his policies are very good so they need support.
Our political structure is correct and Swapo proved that they can do the job. The skills development affects everyone, because it is so closely linked to Namibia’s growth and development.
The quality of education becomes a joint responsibility of the private sector, society and government and it is therefore essential that a partnership between government and the private sector be supported to improve training in all sectors of the economy.
Service delivery should remain at the core. We must engage the business community, municipal employees, government employees [irrespective of which sector we are working in] to establish a culture of the good service delivery so that people receive what they deserve.
Service excellence is an attitude that should be engrained in every department from the ordinary teller, office clerk, hotel receptionist, bank employee, house keeper, painter, refrigeration, technician, petrol attendant, taxi driver, police officer, teacher, municipal councillor, member of Parliament (MP) to the CEO or owner of any organisation. Let’s build a nation of service delivery.
Question: What message do you have for the new president?
Savva: My message is very clear. He’s an experienced man who has been the Prime Minister for many years; he gained vast experience in administration and politics. He must keep the legacy of President Nujoma and President Pohamba alive; based on the principles of peace, unity, stability, development and keep the people of Namibia together. I firmly believe Namibia will continue to prosper under him. Foreign investors must invest now and not leave it too late.
I also believe that he has the ability to take Namibia to prosperity. He recently launched the Harambe Prosperity Plan which is an exceptional economic blueprint. What is needed now is for all Namibians to contribute their part in making sure that the Harambe Prosperity Plan is achieved. People should always support the President and his management is very good.
Question: Tell us a little about your consulship?
Savva: It is an honour to be appointed as one. I have two portfolios: Consular of Cyprus and Consular of Greece in Namibia. It does not come easy to be appointed by the country where you were born; therefore it’s a big honour. It’s worth more than money.
Question: People say you are a generous man – with your money, time and person. Do people take advantage of you?
Savva: Yes, some people take advantage of your kindness. I have a passion to help people who are honest and have good intentions. That way I am also investing in the economy of our country by creating entrepreneurs. We were designed to seek and discover happiness in loving and caring and we have been taught from an early stage in our lives to respect and be kind to others. However, in some cases, people take advantage of your generosity and kind nature expecting more than is fair or right. Such people may repeatedly ask for favours and cause you to feel obliged without showing you any respect. If you feel people are taking you for granted, protect yourself by setting boundaries.
The unedited version of this interview with Walvis Bay business mogul, John Savva, first appeared in the Namibian Newspaper. Although there have been alterations and updates made on the interview above, Prime Focus gives full credit for the interview to the Namibian newspaper for the original interview.