Watching the Shire River make its way through the western valleys of the Shire Highlands is a marvel. Setting one’s eyes on the gigantic water body from any vintage point, sets in a gash of reality through the mind that Malawi is indeed beautiful and well-endowed with vast natural resources. Sizing up the meandering river, you are reminded of the adage that “water doesn’t flow against the tide”. The wisdom in this old saying reminds you of the tides that the youth of today struggle against to ‘flow’ upstream towards their dreams.
The gradient taken by the Shire River towards the Zambezi River in Mozambique reigns a hailstorm of reality of the thousands of cubic liters forever lost to the people living along the river and the entire great nation of Malawi. As the water flows irreversibly down the valley, it regrettably depicts lost hope by many young men and women who think the future is bleak.
But from the Lower Shire district of Nsanje District comes a young man by the name of Dan Elias Chale of DEC Construction who decided to break the course of nature by flowing up against the ‘tide’ to reclaim his dreams from the valley of despair. His story is an inspiring piece worth telling repeatedly and make the young generation once again believe that where there is a will, there is a way.
For a man who just recently graduated onto the fourth floor of life, his story is indictive of someone who realized at a tender age that life doesn’t begin at forty as most people believe; but it begins when you discover your purpose in the great mystery of life.
Having completed his electrical engineering training whilst in his twenties, it quickly dawned on Mr. Chale that he didn’t belong to the working class. A strong entrepreneurial voice inside him pushed him to register DEC Construction, a business name after the initials of his name, in 2008. He started small in the then National Construction Industry Council’s entry building category of 5 million Malawi Kwacha.
Mr. Chale confided to this magazine that he quickly realized that with discipline, he could make it in the construction business. “You need to be disciplined in this business. For instance, when a client gives you funds to implement their project it is not time for you to fly to places of your dreams to enjoy life nor is it time to buy some luxury personal artifacts. It is rather time to deliver on the project and impress”, he said.
From the small steps DEC Construction grew and diversified into Civil, Building, Electrical and Borehole drilling. “Construction pays, but you need not put all your ‘eggs’ in one basket”, he added. This philosophy made him to engage in multi-trading to cushion his business from ‘cloudy business days’.
From the humble beginning, DEC Construction continued to grow steadily and now employs an estimated workforce of around 1,500 across the country. Additionally, the company owns more than 100 (one hundred) plant and machinery including graders, excavators, drum rollers, tippers, low beds and many more.
Housed in its own office complex downtown Limbe, Mr. Chale told us that it is important for a construction company to own property because most financial institutions need collateral for them to provide financing (bank bond) which is usually required in contractual arrangements in projects.
On staff; DEC Construction boasts of highly qualified staff in finance as well as in the technical department. The company has qualified accountants (some with master’s degrees), Civil Engineers and Quantity Surveyors. He told us that it is important to have staff who know what is expected of them and have the self-drive to produce results. He further indicated that there are many times when he simply tells his staff what needs to be done and the staff explores the ‘how’ and gets things done. If it is about project financing, his highly competent finance team runs around to financial institutions and get the much-needed financing and get projects going. He observed, “they are a remarkable team, that every entrepreneur would want to have. They give their all to the success of the company and the delivery of projects”.
Mr. Chale gave this magazine a catalogue of the projects that DEC Construction has implemented overtime including schools, hospitals, stadiums, banks and offices. The Thyolo and Zomba stadiums, the Mbelwa District office complex in Mzimba and the Mponera Rural Hospital are some of the on-going projects under the company. The company also built Reserve Bank offices in Area 47, at a place popularly known as Bwandiro.
DEC Construction singles out the Mangochi-Malindi police houses as one of the projects where it showcased its efficiency. “We built those police houses in a record eight months period instead of the twelve months that were allocated to us”, said Mr. Chale with pride.
Every turn of DEC‘s story made us stay glued to his husky voice as he narrated it. Mr. Chale told us of one management principle which he takes rather seriously; “you don’t milk a cow that you don’t provide straw to”, he said. He told this magazine that he believes in staff empowerment.
For instance, he encouraged his staff to form a corporative which buys construction material from local and international material manufacturers and supply to the company. He said this not only helps the company get the materials on time, as the staff know the project schedules and appreciate the need to adhere to timelines; it also helps the staff to benefit from the business endeavors and enhance ownership mentality that is inculcated in them.
DEC Construction subscribes to corporate social responsibility. In this regard, the company has a standing memorandum of understanding with Samaritan Trust from where the company gets thirty students every year on an internship program. The company also gets twenty students from the Malawi University of Business and Allied Sciences (MUBAS) on a similar program. Mr. Chale added, “I even used to share my knowledge in electronics with students through lectures at the Samaritan Trust for free, but I am now time constrained”.
A walk around the company’s premises reveals that the company is a climate friendly entity as it manufactures cement blocks, interlocking blocks and other construction materials by itself. This creates extra employment and saves the company from lead-time on material supply.
Mr. Chale indicated that the operating environment has challenges ranging from inadequacy of artisans to delayed project financing. He pointed out that as a company, DEC Construction actively trains its own staff and ensures that it retains them and has overtime built strong business relationship with financial institutions as mitigation measures for the operating challenges.
‘Take it to the Lord in prayer’; is what you would think is the company’s last resort in surmounting business challenges as you can’t finish a conversation with Mr. Chale without him bringing in a spiritual dimension. The company has, in fact, an upper-prayer room where staff assemble regularly for prayers about business and even for their personal challenges. “We believe in a wholistic approach, a man comprises of the body and soul. All these must be in harmony if you are to achieve good performance”, he philosophized.
“The Malawi construction industry has huge potential and we need to do all we can to realize this potential in its fullness”, he concluded.