How a Single Visit Led to a Million Dollar Investment in Rwanda


RWANDA FOCUS

06. August 2013

by Kenneth AGUTAMBA

One of the company’s elaborate tents. (photo Bruno Birakwate)

The story of JKK Holdings and how it came to invest in Rwanda reads like a fairytale, a tribute to Rwanda’s attractive investment environment. JKK Holdings Rwanda is a subsidiary of Dubai based JKK International, specialists in events and Interior Design. Although you may not have heard of them, if you have been to this year’s PSF 16th expo at Gikondo, then you have seen their beautiful work on display.

On the immediate left when walking into the Expo, JKK has constructed more than just a tent; they have built a house on fair grounds. The first floor has a wide room fully designed like a living room complete with side drawers, a working water sink, and a huge flat screen TV on the wall.

At the far side of the expansive room, comfortable leather sofa chairs are arranged and the floor fitted with sparkling silver tiles. Upstairs, the bungalow has a single bedroom complete with all the features found in a five-star hotel, including wide windows with a small balcony.

JKK puts all this work into a temporary structure, one that will be disassembled after the Expo. “As you can see, this is what we do, it’s what we are exhibiting, our expertise is events and interior design and what you see here is what you get, the best,” said a middle aged easy looking gentleman.

This man was John Koshy, the managing director of JKK Holdings himself. It is rare to find Rwandan MDs manning their exhibition stalls; most feel they are too important for that, and entrust the task of meeting clients and explaining their businesses to volunteers with very limited knowledge. “Our motto is ‘trust who knows’ and that says it all about our approach to business,” says Koshy, a Dubai citizen.

Finding Rwanda:

Koshy says prior to coming to Rwanda, he had always wanted to work in Africa, specifically in a young economy, one that offered great potential to grow. “So I read and researched a lot about the continent and economies here.” It was not his research, but a visit to a friend in Kigali that finally provided an answer to Koshy’s questions. In Rwanda, he had finally found the country to invest his fortune.

“It happened in 2010 when a friend of mine invited me here for a four day visit. After just one day here, I already liked the place – the geography, the weather, safety and the cleanliness of the city,” recalls Koshy. That was the turning point and he expressed his feelings to his friend, who quickly told him about RDB’s easy process to register a business.

“So I used my four days here to register JKK international Africa Ltd and the journey began,” tells Koshy. Today, he employs 11 Rwandans, 1 Ugandan and 3 Indians and he has invested over $1million. He is also considering to open an amusement park in Kigali.

JKK’s first deal in Rwanda:

During his four-day visit, Koshy was introduced to a PSF official who told him about the annual expo, an event directly in line with JKK’s expertise. He submitted a proposal that PSF liked and was told to compete in the 2010 tendering process to design and construct that year’s expo. He did, and he won.

He designed PSF’s exhibition center and four other stalls including Orinfor, Bank of Kigali, Mineac and Minicom. His impressive work on these stalls caught attention of many other corporate firms. JKK’s popularity took off, and it went on to design and organize the 2012 Guma-Guma finals venue as well as the RPF’s 25th anniversary.

This year, JKK designed stalls for over fifteen corporate firms including PSF’s own exhibition center. “Our experience and expertise is priceless. We guarantee quality work on time, regardless of challenges,” he says. It is no surprise that this professionalism comes from a man who has practiced for over 30 years in Dubai, the world’s shopping centre and home to thousands of exhibitions in a year. In Dubai, competition ensures that companies adhere to higher standards of quality and timeliness.

“For instance, we didn’t make any profit in our first assignments in 2010; we had to import everything, paid a lot in taxes, lost a lot in theft but we delivered nonetheless because that’s paramount to us,” he recalls.

Today, Koshy says the situation has improved. JKK can now find 50% of their supplies locally. But still, lack of proper skills remains a huge problem. For three years he has trained his local staff, but poor attitude stands in the way of learning. Currently, he would like to hire at least two Indians from Dubai to enforce his team here, but he has struggled with emigration rules that limit investors on the number of foreigners they can bring into the country. He feels this prevents him from growing his business.

Nonetheless, JKK has confidence in Rwanda and is ready to invest more money here. He only wishes for more cooperation from the authorities.

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