TN Holdings which was rechristened Lifestyle Holdings is the name that resonates with the general public and can easily be identified and recognised in a wide spectrum of people across all walks of life in Zimbabwe. The group is on life support like most businesses in this volatile economic environment. It would be criminal to mention this company without including the name of its founder and protagonist Tawanda Nyambirai, a lawyer turned banker. His story evoked nostalgic vibes of those fairy- tale stories of rags-to-riches folklore that we were told about rich people. He started the group with an advisory services unit, TN Financial Services which then morphed into a holding company comprising of TN Harlequin Luxaire Limited (formerly Springmaster Corporation Limited, the largest furniture manufacturer and retailer in Zimbabwe), TN Bank, TN Mart (a Fast Moving Consumer Goods business) and TN Grill (a Quick Service Restaurant business), TN Medical Aid and TN Pharmacies.

The group was launched amidst a cloud of pomp and fanfare, with some enthusiasts boldly claiming that this business would tackle traditional powerhouse Innscor head-on. Conservative analysts noted that the business was in its foetal stage and it was too early for anyone to make an informed investment decision. Seasoned analysts and investment bankers wrote TN off and confidently alluded to this promising business as “hot air.” The odds were stacked in their favour on paper. They had the backing of Econet, which logically meant their bank would not fail because of Econet’s massive deposits and at the same time they were at the mercy of Econet. They were also introducing a new concept of at least 3 businesses housed under one roof effectively reducing operating expenses. The bank was the flagship and it underwrote credit sales of TN Harlequin Luxaire and also benefit from the deposits from all group companies. The model was ingenious to say the least and this was compounded by the deal making exploits of Nyambirai, his name at the time was currency. It was officially reported that Tawanda Nyambirai sold the bank in 2013 due to failure to raise the new capital requirements of US$100 million, but on further inquiries made to Econet executives it was revealed that the bank had abused Econet’s deposits and that the transaction was a mere book entry with no cash exchanged.

The major problem was the execution, those close to Nyambirai (the deal maker) say that his biggest undoing was that he didn’t know how to delegate. He basically wanted to micro-manage all operations across the group. One example is that of the TN Grill’s he would literally be involved in the set up, tiling, the decor and choice of equipment and furniture. The cabal around him were “yes man” and no one could tell him a divergent view. So it became pretty clear with no checks and balances and a weak board, it was inevitable the ambitious plan to control all the important levers of the economy would fail. It is believed that their former first street office opposite Innscor they were paying an estimated $90k which was almost $90 a square metre compared to $14 a square metre that is being paid by Innscor. Against this background TNs business model was destined to fail.

Tawanda Nyambirai