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Zimbabwean tycoon Ken Sharpe graduates from Harvard Business School

MAVERICK Zimbabwean businessman Ken Sharpe, who is executive chairman of property development company West Properties, has graduated from the Harvard University’s Business School, a development he described as both pleasing and humbling.

The 49-year-old serial investor: “I studied at the Harvard Business School for 3 years, 32 months, 300 hours of class, 75 hours of group discussion, 300 hours of reading and prep for over 120 case studies (and in the middle of a global pandemic).

“I’m pleased and humbled to say that tomorrow I will graduate and be an HBS alum. It’s been an incredible journey that is both life changing and beyond my wildest dreams!

“Thanks to my wife, daughter, family and team West Properties Zimbabwe who have supported me to get here. Together we will build Zimbabwe one brick at a time and make our people proud again. The future is bright.”

Ken sees ‘hope and a bright future for Zimbabwe’.

The prolific business magnate, who is described by media in Zimbabwe as a serial entrepreneur and a visionary for business in Africa, believes there is hope for Zimbabwe’s economy which has suffered decades of decline over a number of factors, including Western sanctions, economic mismanagement and policy inconsistencies.

“I see hope and a bright future for Zimbabwe, I know we can build Zimbabwe and we are doing that brick by brick,” Sharpe previously said.

Ken believes all honour and glory be to God

“Africa is a continent of enormous but untapped opportunity. Mostly the news from Africa is negative, about corruption, inept leadership and mediocrity but that is not the whole story.”

Ken believes it is not himself who has made this all possible and gives all honour and glory to God. His story and journey is an arduous and tumultuous one filled with adversity and challenges.

He hopes to write a novel some day about how his tenacity, determination, resilience, perseverance and gut to never give up and trusting always in God is what brought him in the end victory and success for himself and others he continues to assist.

Early life: Rhodesia, South Africa and back to Zimbabwe

Ken was born in 1973 in the then Rhodesia where he spent a part of his childhood. Ken was 5 when he was forced to depart for neighbouring South Africa when the liberation war in 1978 got violent. The stay in South Africa lasted only two years, as Ken returned to Zimbabwe at independence in 1980.

Ken was to then grow at a gold mine which his Dad owned in Mazoe near Christon Bank. His Dad bought another mine outside Bulawayo and the family moved there when he was 5, attending Khumalo Junior school.

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His dad’s appétite for more mines took the family to Shamva where the elder Sharpe had bought another mine. It was in Shamva that his parents got divorced.

In 1988, Ken left for the UK but was to return in 1990 to bereave the death of his auntie. It was at this funeral thaf Ken met the love of his life, Ludmila, aka Joanna, who was from the Ukraine (Soviet Union at the time).

It so happened that while Ken was smitten with love for his newfound Russian sweetheart, his dad would not support him on that adventure. Still, that didn’t stop Ken from having his way and marrying Lumila in 1993.

“I had no option but to follow my heart to go get my future bride from Moscow and start a life together in Zimbabwe,” Ken recalls.

A year later, the couple welcomed their only daughter, Tatiana Aleshina.

Ken meets love of his life, marries

In 1991, when he was barely 20, Ken began to see business opportunities as the Government of Zimbabwe was then opening up markets under the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). He set up a confectionery and food distribution business.

The business operated for 20 years, leading to the birth of Ken’s holding company, the West Group. The group holds companies such as: West Food Distribution, West Beverages (bottling), West Agencies, Intercrop (Agri Inputs), West Sanitary Pads Manufacturing, West Tech, West Oils (edible Oils), FellowGold Mining, West Star Cash n Carry (formally Red Star), and West Properties and Augur Investments Ltd (Real Estate Development).

These are invested in the SADC region with operations in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa. Ken has also established operations in Ukraine and Europe, earning him the title “serial investor”.

Seeing opportunity within chaos: The 2007 hyperinflation

In the period 2006-7, hyperinflation choked Zimbabwe’s economy with prices of goods and services changing several times a day in some cases. But Ken did not stop seeing opportunities amid the economic meltdown.

Sometime in 2006, Ken together with his business partner Oleksandr Sheremet started buying property in Zimbabwe. They also started several companies including partnering with the City of Harare in a 2007 deal that birthed the West Property Group.

West Property is today the largest privately owned property development company in Zimbabwe. It boats a land bank and pipeline that Ken says will outlive his lifetime and last several generations.

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Ken counts his family is his number one priority and main source of hope, inspiration, courage and love.

Ken’s spiritual encounter with God

In 2007, Ken had what he calls a spiritual encounter with God which altered his perception and perspective on life, where we come from, why we are here and where we are going.

On 16 January 2007, the young businessman was on a private family vacation in Canada when he survived a life-threatening ski accident in which je his head into a tree, suffering a possible permanent brain damage and memory loss.

Doctors put his chance of survival at only 2% and said they had a 100% certainty that he be in a permanent vegetative state with no memory or faculties. Ken says thanks to surgery and prayers from friends and family, he miraculously woke up after five days in a coma; ironically on his daughter’s 11th birthday.

His brain functioned perfectly and on waking up he was able to remember everything up to the moment he lost consciousness. The incident left Ken with “an immeasurable passion and gratefulness for just being alive and enjoying the simple blessings of being able to see, breath, walk, talk and hear; especially after he was given a second chance to live?” Ken reckons.

Ken says his purpose and mission going forward is to make real lasting and sustainable changes in his personal, family and business life.

As part of “paying back” what God gave to him, Ken actively participates in charitable and philanthropic activities in and outside Zimbabwe. He had interacted with the Zimbabwe Government multiple times to alleviate poverty, create jobs and bring in FDI (foreign direct investment).

Ken has given numerous presentations and speeches on these his experiences in business.

“My vision now is to consolidate our property assets into the most prominent real estate development company in Zimbabwe with high-quality prestigious properties making an impact not only in the Harare but also to make a difference in the overall social-economic growth of the country,” says Ken.

Ken and his wife set up a foundation called “Kusimbisa Trust” (Kusimbisa means “uplifting the people” in Shona) using family resources. His wife Joanna is the patron of the trust.

“Our hope is to help communities throughout Zimbabwe access funding through the Trust. We believe this is possible through micro-finance; we can invest into home and cottage production based businesses that can be produced using local materials (agriculture, clothing, wood products, stone products and the like).”

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The trust offers loans to ambitious entrepreneurs in amounts – US $100 to $1000 (but no more than $5000) as loans. Preference is given to young adults and women who bring projects to Kusimbisa.

Ken explains how the capital in the trust rebolves: “The profits of these businesses are split 50% to the entrepreneurs and 50% to the Trust. The 50% that comes back to the Trust will be used to feed vulnerable, impoverished and needy children; taking care of orphans, giving them clothes, food, medicine and education; like a perpetual fund, as well as investing further into the needs of women.

“The more we invest the more profits that come and hence more income we will have to give back. In order to be long lasting, unless in emergency situations, of course, every form of charity we do must be sustainable.”

Ken Sharpe: Recognition, passion and awards

In November 2021, Sharpe won the Leader in Real Estate of the Year 2021 Platinum Award at the Megafest National Leadership Awards ceremony held in Harare.

He also won big at the Forbes Best of Africa Awards. The awards went meant to celebrate important personalities who continue to have significant influence on the business, political, leadership and economic landscape of the continent.

Accepting the Forbes award, Ken praised the remarkable resilience among Zimbabweans which he attributed to his ever expanding success.

“I am humbled to have been honored with The Forbes Best of Africa’s Innovative CEO Award. The first Zimbabwean to ever receive this award and this recognition, but certainly not the last!

“As Zimbabweans we are a remarkable and resilient people and this award just proves that. It is my hope and dream that we as a people can build a better Zimbabwe and develop great cities that are as amazing as any other global city out there like Dubai which I will bring to Harare.

“Together by investing in our future we can do it while creating jobs and eradicating poverty. Our country is as bright as the hope that shines within us,” he said

Ken’s other passions include traveling, cycling, theatre, skiing, outdoors, adventure sports, his faith and philanthropy; or simply just relaxing with friends and family enjoying a good meal. He describes himself as a devout foodie who loves to cook.

He is also a senior leader at church. – Scholarly Africa/Ken Charpe profile

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