Buying Businesses

Over the last Heroes Holiday I spent the long weekend with my family at Leopard Rock Hotel in Vumba just outside Mutare, Zimbabwe. It was a great weekend when the Zimbabwe Dental Association held its Continuing Education Annual Conference. The venue was excellent as the hotel is built alongside a small densely populated hill. It’s an explosion of civilisation in the midst of the African jungle. Leopard Rock boasts probably one of the most renowned golf courses in Zimbabwe.

One of the few very special places in the world, Leopard Rock Hotel is a tranquil haven just a three hour drive from the capital city of Harare. Nestled in the magnificent Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, Leopard Rock offers unparalleled views of the Vumba’s most spectacular mountain scenery.

Leopard Rock Hotel, Zimbabwe’s most exclusive Mountain Resort set among beautiful trees and forests of the Vumba Mountains, is a place of breathtaking grandeur overlooking Mozambique. The Hotel is luxurious and elegant, combining the old-world charm with every modern convenience.

Leopard Rock Golf Course is a spectacular spread of fairways and greens carved out of the “Mountains of the Mist”, with some of the most magnificent scenery in Africa. The course is built to international championship standards, and has already been adjudged the finest course in southern Africa.

The standard of Leopard Rock’s fittings and facilities is incomparable, with 45 luxurious double rooms and 12 superbly styled suites. All the rooms are sumptuously furnished with the finest period furniture yet provided with the modern essentials of international colour television, private bars and 24 hour room service. All the bathrooms have hairdryers and heated towel rails.

This mountain resort’s charm is enhanced by the elegant harmony of its two lounges – The Windsor Lounge, with its original stone fireplace and wooden beams, and The Regency Lounge, with its tasteful display of opulence. They invite you to while away a few hours during those slightly misty, cooler days when one might like to curl up in front of a roaring log fire with a good book.

As a corporate venue, Leopard Rock understands the importance of running a convention centre which will provide a stimulating environment for a successful conference. The conference room at the hotel is equipped with the most up-to-date and sophisticated communication aids. Whether it is 12 for a partners’ meeting, or 120 for a convention, Leopard Rock is the ideal location.

Imagine an 18-hole golf course that winds its way through undulating hills and lush sub-tropical foliage, past sparkling dams and lakes. This is Leopard Rock’s Championship 18-hole golf course – a new generation golf course with some of the most sophisticated maintenance systems. The pristine condition of the tees, fairways and greens provide an exceptional golfing experience.
Breathtaking views of the plains below the mountains and onwards into Mozambique enhance the enjoyment of playing on this superb course. The design and construction of the course have been carried out with the environment in mind, and the natural vegetation has not only been preserved but hundreds of indigenous trees have been planted. Leopard Rock Championship Golf Course has been built to United States Golf Association standards and specifications.

The History

In the early 1930s Mr. Leslie Seymour-Smith, a prospector and gold miner from the Bulawayo area, came to the eastern highlands with the intention of buying land. He and his wife Anne fell in love with the beauty of the Vumba area.

In the valley below the rocky hill called Chinyakwaremba (The ‘Hill of Tired Legs’) they camped and having explored the section, decided it was suitable for fruit farming. They put in 37 acres of apple trees and started to build a farmhouse. The house was to be built just below the Rainbow Pool, overlooking the magnificent Burma Valley.

When World War II threatened in 1939, Leslie joined the Southern Rhodesia Recce Regiment, leaving Anne and his daughter alone in the big homestead. They therefore filled it with friends, who suggested it be turned into a guest house. There were plenty of servicemen on leave and R&R at the time, so the guest house, which could only take 10 guests at a time, helped to keep the farm going.

When Leslie was invalided out of the volunteer forces, he decided that the hospitality trade was a better prospect than fruit farming, and applied for a hotel licence. This was initially refused by the authorities, who wanted ‘proper’ hotel amenities to be installed. It is said that initially Seymour-Smith used his military guests at the homestead to clear the trees on the new hotel site, usually by bribing them with one or two bottles of beer!

The rather rough design of the original hotel was carried out by Callum McKenzie, a mining engineer and friend of Leslie’s from the old days in prospecting. The idea was to have three tall rondavels joined in the African style. The result however, looked a little like a Norman keep!

In the wartime period there was difficulty in obtaining all kinds of materials. Equipment for the new hotel – baths, cutlery, glassware and suchlike – could not be obtained new, and had all to be bought second hand at house sales.

Some of the labour was provided by Italian prisoners of war, who made and carved many of the wooden doors and windows (the use of indigenous woods can still be seen in the hotel to this day). The colossal wooden beams were also all cut on the site, and the actual brick-laying was done by Mr. Seymour Smith.

In all, the hotel took two years to build. It was decided to name the hotel after the leopard seen sunning itself on the rocks where the family house is now situated. The family house resembles a small castle, having been built on and around an outcropping of rock.

In 1946 the Leopard Rock Hotel was formally opened by the then Prime Minister, Sir Godfrey Huggins, who later, as Lord Malvern, came back to open the Drawing Room and Playroom wing.

In 1953 Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the young Princess Margaret spent several days at the hotel while on a holiday tour of the British ‘dominions’ in Africa. It was Her Majesty who said of Leopard Rock, “There is nowhere more beautiful in Africa and it is clearly one of the special places in the world.”

The hotel became a favourite spot for colonials eager for a short respite from the heat of the African summer months – indeed, the altitude and lushness of the mountains attracted many homesick Europeans who were ‘out in Africa’ on imperial business.

In the 1970’s, political upheaval brought the entire area to a standstill and the hotel (which had been severely damaged by rocket fire from liberation forces, and subsequently repaired) finally closed down after Independence due to a severe fuel shortage.

In 1983 a church organisation that I was a member of bought the Leopard Rock Hotel for its own conference centre. However due to bureaucratic wrangling and probably due to lack of foresight the church traded off the hotel for a piece of undeveloped land in Glen Forest Harare and an incompletely developed hotel on a farm in Marondera. The challenge for investors here is that the church organization did not see the potential of this place as a business. They bought a conference centre and traded it off too early. One wonders if the church had though as an investor would it not have kept the investment as a business but reserve the times they needed a conference facilities. They had bought the hotel at a time just after the war at a cheap price since it was non functional. They should have developed it better before selling it. They would have collected better returns if they had sold it as a functional unit.

Mr. Tony Taberer, a tobacco merchant and international businessman, bought the property nearly a decade later and set in motion his plans for a new beginning. The complete refurbishment, starting in 1989, took several years and in 1993, on May 19th, the new-look Leopard Rock Hotel was re-opened.

Unlike the church Tony Taberer later sold the hotel and reportedly priced it premiumly to LonZim who currently are the operators. When one compares the decisions of the church organization and Tony Taberer, it becomes evident that one had an investor mindset and the other did not. The one who viewed the hotel as a business generated better revenue out of the investment. Review the fact that even the Seymour Smith after returning from the war noticed the business opportunity presented by converting the place into a hotel. But the discovery of the opportunity was almost accidental or could we say a God-incidence (and not coincidence).

Someone wisely stated that, “Opportunities of a lifetime should be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.”

In August 2010 my visit to Leopard Rock reminded me of my initial visit in 1983 during the time when the church organization had just purchased the place. In my mind I could not but bemoan the lost opportunity. Investors are marked out by their ability to see and seize opportunities. What opportunity is staring you right in the face? Seize it during its lifetime or else you lose it.

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  • Reply Busi August 11, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Wow it is amazing how our ability to seize the moment when it is present versus the opportunity to procrastinate and “think about it”, pray endlessly about it (not really praying but just scared to make the move) and all those other excuses can change destinies, individually and corporately. Thank you for sharing the back ground to this lovely place. I am encouraged that when the first request to make the farm into a hotel was denied Leslie did not quit his dream and vision was clear and he kept at it, I needed to read this story today thank you, champions do not quit!

    • Reply nurturingchampions August 11, 2010 at 9:21 am

      Indeed it is amazing. Investors seize opportunities and refuse to give up because of temporal obstacles. What obstacle threatens your opportunity? Navigate past it.

  • Reply Emmanuel August 11, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for this reflection Sir! Amazing insights so beneficial across cultures and boundaries.

    God Bless,

    Emmanuel Khisa

    • Reply nurturingchampions August 11, 2010 at 11:33 am

      Thanks Emmanuel. I trust that it will inspire you to seize your own opportunities during their lifetime. I was just thinking that that investment the church had done is now worth millions of USD in value as well as probably more millions in revenue annually. Indeed investors need to have foresight.

  • Reply nurturingchampions August 11, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Debra Malandu
    Interestingly sad! Today I seize my opportunities to the fullest! I have the mind of Christ and I see and seize opportunities at the right time!

    I know and have personally met the guy who bought waste dumps from Iscor (now called Accerlor Mittal) in RSA , reclaimed those dumps and re-sold them at over 500 times initial value! He saw opportunity in reclamation of mine waste dumps, seized the opportunity and went out full throttle now he has a private jet, a diamond mine and a host of other things. Reclamation of mine dumps not my piece of action but will look and seize opportunities!

  • Reply tb mpofu August 11, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    excellent recital doc!i love the deep understanding you have of the business opportunity inherent to this can i scope out Godincidents from commonplace incidents?

    • Reply nurturingchampions August 12, 2010 at 7:41 am

      Dear TB. Great question. It takes a combination of both common sense and spiritual sensitivity. Both of these require experience which is obtained by following your insights. You may start by making mistakes. Go for it. Do not over analyse.

  • Reply Body Workout 101 August 12, 2010 at 3:27 am


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