In the business of funerals and family

Edwin Anderson, the founder and CEO of Zororo-Phumulani, discusses funerals, finance, and helping the people during one of the most emotional periods of their lives

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Anderson was born in Harare, Zimbabwe in the early 1980s to a driver and a janitor. Life wasn’t easy and his parents struggled to afford schooling. Anderson says that university was worse as he couldn’t even afford notebooks but would make his notes on used paper. This didn’t stop him, in fact, it motivated him to work harder and he became the first in his clan to have a university education. “Education is the only way to escape poverty,” says Anderson.

Whilst growing up, he was given the opportunity to work in his uncles’ small to medium businesses in Zimbabwe. Due to Anderson’s work ethic and dedication, he was slowly but surely given more important roles and duties. He says: “I was given more responsibility because my uncles knew that I would get the job done without grumbling or moaning.” In addition to the hands-on experience, Anderson is grateful for the exposure to the various elements and departments in a business.

The move to South Africa

Following Anderson’s move to South Africa in 2009, armed with a business degree, the only job he was able to secure was that of a waiter. Raised by entrepreneurs, Anderson, too, has that spirit. In 2010, he started a clothing company with very little capital, however, the shop was burgled and, thereafter, Anderson gave that up.

One of the most valuable lessons he learnt whilst waitering was that of customer service. He explains that in Zimbabwe, due to the shortages, the supplier was in control, yet, in South Africa, the customer is king. This was a milestone in his personal and professional journey.

Noticing how people struggled after the death of a loved one, Anderson was thinking of ways he could assist his countrymen and women living in South Africa. Taking action, Anderson started Zororo-Phumulani.

The business of death

Anderson started Zororo-Phumulani as a means to assist in the desperate times, following the death of a loved one. He started as a sole proprietor and, following about six months of research, he realised that he needed a license to operate this type of business, which he rented until 2015. As the business grew, Anderson realised he would need to change his strategy, thus, he sold some of his shareholdings and registered Zororo-Phumulani as a full business entity.

The journey continued when, whilst selling policies, his customers continually asked him what would happen to their policies, should he decide to go back to Zimbabwe. He found a partner in Zimbabwe to honour these policies in order to ease the minds of his clients, but this partnership was dissolved due to trust issues. He then managed to secure a partnership with Doves Zimbabwe. This partnership ensures that clients who return to Zimbabwe are still covered by their policies.

In 2016, Zororo-Phumulani used sub-contractors for the repatriation process but in 2017, they brought this in-house and registered with the Financial Services Board in order to become a financial services provider.

From a sole proprietor, Anderson has grown the business to include a partner in Zimbabwe, as well as five branches in five provinces of South Africa.

The key to success

Anderson has simple views on how to reach success. He says it is all based on reputation and relationships, whilst delivering on promises.

Zororo-Phumulani was grown through Anderson’s tenacity and strong work ethic—building trust amongst his client base, building the reputation of the business and developing and maintaining strong relationships is what drives the business. He says that money is secondary, building relationships is the primary driver behind human behaviour and, therefore, consumer behaviour.

One element that truly sets Zororo-Phumulani apart from the bigger companies in this space is the cultural understanding of its client base. Having been founded by a Zimbabwean, the Zimbabwean cultural requirements are not new to Anderson. Tailor-making products to suit these requirements is a unique selling point for Zororo-Phumulani. The funeral policies and repatriation services offered might not be the cheapest on the market, says Anderson, but they are able to react to the changing needs of their client base swiftly, they deliver on promises, and value customer service immensely.

Anderson is not one to back away from a challenge and his vision is to grow Zororo-Phumulani to become the leader in funeral financing and repatriation. Further down the line, he envisions the business becoming a listed entity, taking over from Cape To Cairo, and owning residential and commercial properties.

Anderson’s view is that you can’t be in a business if there is no passion. “Our business is emotional and we need to be sensitive to the needs of our customers,” and in this respect, Anderson firmly believes in politeness. Zororo-Phumulani is also very focused on eradicating patriarchy and employs more females than males.

Another aspect, which Anderson is adamant about, is that of not taking failures, complaints and suggestions for granted. He believes that they enable us to identify our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. He says that when a person identifies something as a strength, the natural progression is to continue building on it. In the same vein, he believes that being made aware of threats and weaknesses provides an opportunity for growth. For example, only focusing on the Zimbabwean market was limiting, and he noticed that other foreign nationals were having the same issues, and they are now broadening their customer base. In addition, the South African market has needs that aren’t being met. As Anderson explains, in Zimbabwe, the supply of buses for the mourners is the norm, and now Zororo-Phumulani is able to provide this service to the local customer base.

Receiving feedback post a funeral or repatriation is where Zororo-Phumulani finds these insights. They are one of the few funeral companies with a Customer Experience Officer, and this alone shows the uniqueness of the business model.

Anderson is very proud of two major milestones in the business’ journey, one being that Zororo-Phumulani was the company who repatriated the body of the Zimbabwean Morgan Tsvangirai from South Africa, and the most recent is that they were named Business of the Year 2016 in the Zimbabwe Excellence Awards.

Challenges

Anderson is quite candid when he explains that, although social media is responsible for 60% of their client base, social media is also the biggest challenge. He says that everyone is a publisher and misinformation spreads quickly. Therefore, managing a company’s reputation online is very difficult, especially one in the emotive field of loss.

Another challenge Anderson has faced is that as the business grows, it becomes difficult to know what’s going on at all branches, at all times. His solution was to manage this growth through committees. He doesn’t chair them but when he is available, he attends the meetings. This gives him access to the day-to-day information, as well as the opportunity to meet and interact with junior staff.

Great leadership

Anderson says that his leadership is based on delegation and trust. The more his business grows, the more he has had to delegate. He also believes that by delegating, a business owner is not giving up power, but is learning from others. “Most people think they have a monopoly on ideas but when tasks are delegated, they might find that the other person knows how to perform the task more efficiently,” he says.

A strong team is the backbone of any business. Anderson says that he is only as strong as his team and he can only guide them, but they do most of the work, while he can focus on the strategic vision of the business. Quoting Jack Walsh, Anderson says: “If you hire compromised people, you get compromised results.” 

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