Inutu Zaloumis-Kalumba is the co-founder of Pam Golding Zambia. She has been in the real estate business for over ten years. I took time to talk to her about her journey and what she has to say about setting up a business and empowerment.
Despite being a well-established leader in the corporate world, as a Chief Executive Officer, being a wife and a mother is a role in which she finds her greatest fulfilment. Having such close family ties from her childhood the importance of family is something that she has continued to cherish with her own family.
Born in the Copperbelt town of Kitwe her earliest childhood memories are of Lusaka where she was raised. Having an elder brother two years her senior and being the only girl of her age made her a tomboy by default. A lot of fun was to be had playing on the streets of Roma and playing soccer with the boys. The carefree way of life where everyone knew each other in the neighbourhood and the freedom to walk around anywhere is something that she regrets today’s generation can’t do. Inutu does admit that she had a privileged childhood and because of her parents’ hard work the family was able to take annual vacations to various places over the years. Some of the countries include Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mauritius, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and the United Kingdom. The beauty of travelling is that you see how other people live and get enriched by experiencing other cultures. As a little girl being an air hostess seemed like the perfect job for her. Their poise and confidence appealed to her. The uniforms were smart and they made travelling seem so glamorous.
In the Zaloumis household, playing hard went hand in hand with working hard. Her parents always demanded the best of her academically and believed in the value of education. Her father always told her that genuine success is the result of hard work. The end of the school holidays was marked with a summoning to the dining table to discuss the previous term’s report. All reports were discussed with her and she had to explain any drop in grades and give reasons for it. One incident that comes to mind is when her grade dropped drastically in one subject. Her defence was that she didn’t like her teacher. Having none of that her parents sat her down and explained that people have different temperaments and personalities and not liking someone was not an excuse for performing badly.
With such a strong support system Inutu excelled academically both at Nkwazi Primary School and later on at Mpelembe Secondary School. More importantly perhaps is that she also learned that she had to be responsible for her actions and be held accountable for them. “There are expectations and one has to understand what those expectations are and why they are there.”
Graduating from Mpelembe with good results Inutu went to the University of Zambia with the intent to study medicine. Knowing their daughter very well her parents didn’t think the career choice was right for her. Having no doubt in her intellectual capabilities her Mum thought her personality would not allow her to thrive as a doctor. She was convinced that she would be unhappy. Taking a radical decision she dragged her to the University Teaching Hospital to see where she would train from. The reality of the conditions she saw taught her two things that day. Firstly that being a doctor was not right for her. Secondly the trip to the hospital made her appreciate more the training and the work that doctors go through. She has a deep respect for medical doctors and the work that they do.
It was only after talking to her late Uncle about her change of mind and looking at her options that she really appreciated the foresight her parents had in making her rethink her career choice. He prompted her to answer questions about what she wanted to do and where she wanted to be in life. After some reflection and soul searching she applied to and was accepted to the Copperbelt University to study Business Administration. Even after the change of mind her parents insisted she finish her year at UNZA before enrolling at CBU. Her switch to the Copperbelt University was a good choice and thoroughly enjoying every single course, she never looked back.
As the sponsor of her studies she worked at Meridian Bank during the school holidays. The liquidation of the bank mid-way through her studies led to her as a new graduate competing with former employees of the bank for the same jobs.
Her first job was as the personal assistant to the Managing Director of Japan Direct, a used car business. Over the next 3 years she rose to the position of General Manager. She left work when she was expecting her second child to take time out to spend with the family and find herself.
She stumbled into the real estate industry almost by accident when a friend asked her to manage a property for his father. The idea of collecting rent sounded simple enough and was the beginning of her love affair with real estate. Over the years she would learn that there’s so much more to real estate than just buying and renting houses. She worked with several real estate companies before she co-founded Pam Golding Zambia as the first black woman Chief Executive Officer in the Pam Golding group to do so in the region.
The Horseshoe restaurant hosted us for lunch. The casual restaurant is tucked away at Lusaka’s polo club. Known for it’s steak and polo burgers, the restaurant also has a number of vegetarian options. Every meal is served with a selection from the complementary salad bar. Ms. Zaloumis has a very diverse pallet and can eat anything as long as it tastes good. Bread and rice are her staples but her all-time favourite meal is roasted chicken with roast potatoes. A meal that always brings back fond childhood memories. She also confesses to having a sweet tooth. ‘I can skip the main meal and go straight to dessert. She loves to cook not only out of necessity but also therapeutically as a means to relax.
Away from the boardroom, she also listens to music and reads to unwind. Books that deal with empowerment and transforming the mind are her inclination. Biographies and autobiographies about business and leadership are also a must have on her bookshelf. On leadership she feels leadership is not about achieving great success. You can lead from wherever you are. When you are a leader you are able to empower people. It’s important to look at how the lives’ of people around us can be impacted in a positive way. People are empowered in different ways. Be it through a conversation that changes the mind-set and thought process or perhaps an opportunity such as internship that helps someone learn new skills. Empowerment of girls is a good thing and should continue but there is a danger of leaving boys behind. There has to be a balance.
‘We aren’t where we should be when it comes to empowerment of women. When every single person has the opportunity to be educated and have the platform to excel in any chosen field then we can say we’ve done enough.’
With her experience her advice to anyone starting out in business is to write down their dream. Ask yourself the following questions and write the answers down explicitly: What do I want to do? How do I want to do it? Why do I want to do this particular thing as opposed to something else? When these questions have been answered you can begin to put flesh to those bones and begin looking at the investment you need. There’s nothing wrong with starting small. In fact its better to make mistakes on a small project than it is with a project that has gobbled up a lot of investment. Every business is a risk to a certain extent because what is perceived. If you a birthing an idea begin to fund your dream personally. No one wants to invest in someone who doesn’t invest in themselves.
Don’t be an imitator. You can only thrive in the things you’re passionate about. There’s enough pie for everyone. If you are passionate about something and good at it create a niche for yourself and people will come to you. A competitor should not be viewed as someone coming to close your business down. A competitor is simply evidence of the fact that there is opportunity and room for growth in that particular sector.
At the start of her career being a woman was sometimes a hindrance I being taken seriously. People tend to expect women to be highly emotional and fly off the handle now and again. Making a conscious decision to quietly assert herself with the confidence of knowing that she is a talented person who knows what she’s doing helped her get ahead and build a reputation for herself individually and as a corporate entity. While there are women engineers and architects they often aren’t brought to the negotiating table.