Award winning CEO and insurance luminary Chomi Makina is the co-founder and brains behind Moonlight Funeral Assurance & Services, a leading funeral assurer which commands 40% Zimbabwe’s funeral assurance market.
A largely ebullient character, Makina is a teacher by first training who after finding the noble profession unfulfilling, dumped it for the more lucrative insurance industry after only one year.
Raised amidst grinding poverty in a family teeming with twelve siblings, step brothers and sisters, Makina eschewed deprivation.
In 1995, without any money but armed with a good business idea, he co-founded Moonlight to become the first black funeral service firm that challenged white dominance in the funeral business market.
Since then, MoonLight has grown to become the leading funeral assurance company boasting of up to 40 branches dotted around the country’s major cities.
Makina is also famous for establishing the Philanthropy Institute of Zimbabwe in 2013, an organization whose mandate is to recognise and reward philanthropic work by Zimbabweans.
Though he would not share his net worth with the People of Zimbabwe Handbook, Makina who is soulfully passionate about funeral assurance has quite a stimulating story to tell.
Here, the insurance magnate talks about his remarkable transformation and the extraordinary journey to success.
Who is Chomi Makina?
I was born Chomi Makina, 53 years ago in Marondera, where I did my primary education and secondary school. After high school, I trained as a teacher Marymount Teachers College and afterwards at the University of Zimbabwe. I taught for one year and quit to go into the insurance business.
What was your upbringing like?
I had a very difficult childhood. I grew up in a family of twelve children that comprised my own direct siblings, step brothers and sisters. We were poor; it was not funny. Getting one meal a day was a struggle let alone a decent meal.
You started Moonlight without money, how did that happen?
My first job after college was as a teacher but behind me I had this idea that you cannot be a businessman when you are an ordinary teacher. I did not take me long in the teaching profession, I only taught for one year, and then joined Zimnat Life Assurance as a sales person. This is where I got my insurance skills, and some qualifications in insurance. Later, I worked for Progressive Insurance Brokers, where we wrote life and funeral business for Doves Funeral Services.
In 1995, I co-founded Moonlight. I did not have money but had an idea. They say the graveyard is the richest place on earth because people die with their ideas and dreams. Sometimes people have ideas but they don’t want to share their ideas with other people and they die with them. But I was able to share my dream and idea with somebody, who had money and is now my chairman – Mr Grant Nakozwe.
I went to him and I shared with him that we could venture into the field of funeral assurance and make money. At first, he was hesitant but later bought the idea. Then, to us Africans, starting a funeral company was stigmatised. But I convinced him that it was a plausible idea and he bought into it.
That’s how we evolved and came into being and since 1995, we have not really looked back. Death is a by-product of life, you live first and die later, so in the interim whilst you are still living we need your premium, if you die, it’s a breach of contract. We are not interested in people who die but we are interested in people who are going to give us a premium.... (laughs).
In 2000, Mashfords was being sold. Its owners, the Gruenthals were relocating to Australia, and they sold Mashfords to us, and that’s how it became part of us. We have a factory in Mutare called J.Davis Manufacturing and another company called J. Davis Funeral Parlour in Mutare, which are all part of Mashfords.
We also bought Harare Funeral Services and Joseph and Samson, and all these companies became part of Moonlight.
Since then and ever since Nyaradzo went to the life department, of the eleven funeral assurers, in terms of premium income, Moonlight is the biggest and that’s according to the 2014 IPEC report.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
As a business, the hyperinflationary era took a toll on us. We did not know what to do or where to go, and we almost closed shop. We accumulated a lot of arrears in rent, and service charges from local authorities - remember as a business we have an extensive branch network totalling 40. When dollarization came in 2009, we had to start afresh.
At a personal level, I lost my wife in 2007 and that was a great setback. To anybody, if you have lived with somebody for 19 years and they pass on, that’s is a great handicap.
What are some of your biggest achievements?
I have accomplished a lot...
I would actually start with my own children before I go to other people’s children. The first graduated with an MBA in finance last year. I have been talking to these guys concerning business. The second is at Cambridge, where he is also doing business and the third is in Canada where she is studying medicine. I have been talking to these guys that it is possible you can do it. As parents we should let our children sit on our shoulders and enable them to accomplish more than we did because they can’t go back and struggle the same way I struggled and travel the same road I travelled.
The best thing to teach people is by doing.
What is your greatest weaknesses?
I strive to excel such that when I don’t achieve what I set myself to do I become so disappointed. I set my goals so very high.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be successful?
If somebody wants to be successful in business or life when they dream they should do so in colour - not in black and white. Dream the very best. Have the best goals and aim high. Some people think that someone is going to come and push them off the run way. You must take off on your own and propel yourself because if you change your attitude you will get some altitude according to Donald Trump.
So keep on aim high. It’s possible it can be done, if other people have done it you can also do it and anyone else can do it. I remember Strive Masiyiwa used to come to our church years back, driving a car we used to call a poor man’s Pajero. I remember it was bashed on the side but he had a dream to connect people and he persevered until he achieved his dreams. Now he drives jets or moves in jets.
It is not going to be a bed of roses. They say Thomas Edison failed 10 000 times to make the electric bulb but he kept on. So perseverance has a huge part to play in people’s lives. Sometimes, it is the times when we want to give up when the tide is going to turn.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as somebody who built legacies especially for the younger generation. To help people do better than myself. I believe that we should encourage the young to take over and do well than we have done. I’m a philanthropist at heart, I don’t want to see any human beings suffer.