THIS month, Nyaradzo Group, which has become one of the most influential funeral service providers, celebrates 20 years of existence. Our reporter Ronald Muchenje (RM) spoke to Nyaradzo Group CE and founder Phillip Mataranyika (PM) to trace the journey the company has travelled. Below are excerpts of the interview:
RM: You are celebrating your 20th anniversary. Walk us through the Nyaradzo journey.
PM: In March 2001, together with some colleagues we formed Nyaradzo with the sole objective of providing funeral services that are in sync with the perceived African culture.
At that time, we were a no-name brand, a company with an indigenous-sounding name when all others had or chose Caucasian-sounding names to satisfy the insatiable appetite of compliance with a colonial past that regarded everything indigenous as inferior.
Since then, we have evolved, resulting in the creation of a combined Nyaradzo Group which encompasses Nyaradzo Life Assurance Company, Nyaradzo Funeral Services, Calundike Exports, Nyaradzo Asset Management, Sahwira Events and Lifestyle, Sahwira Bureau de Change and Eureka Insurance Brokers.
Undaunted by the weight of colonial baggage, we chose to take the bull by the horns and called ourselves by the name Nyaradzo.
We knew then as we do now that the name would someday become our biggest asset as more and more people discover who they really are and identify with their roots.
Today Nyaradzo is the name that invokes so much pride in our fellow Zimbabweans anywhere in the world not least because of our name but also because of the way we have conducted ourselves over the past 20 years, bringing convenience and excellence to an industry that not only deals with the dead but was dead itself.
RM: As you reflect, what does this anniversary mean to you?
PM: We owe this special milestone to our customers who have stood and continue to stand by Sahwira Mukuru. We are grateful for the support they have given us over the past two decades.
This anniversary is a reminder of an exciting journey that our clients, Sahwira Mukuru and all its stakeholders have travelled.
It was on March 1, 2001, that we opened our doors to the public as Nyaradzo Funeral Assurance Company (NFACO).
Looking back at the two decades gone by, it has been a thrilling journey so far, filled with as many highs as there have been lows, all of which have helped shape us to be the organisation that we are today.
We are eternally grateful to our customers as they have faithfully supported us through it all.
RM: What challenges can you recall that you had to battle with then and how you managed to overcome them?
PM: We faced some challenges just like other businesses, but we managed to sail through because our customers supported us through thick and thin.
We are of the strong conviction that any lows in the journey provide lessons for the future.
Our drive to meet our customers’ needs with relevant and cost-effective solutions and our united, vibrant and dynamic team saw us overcoming the challenges we faced.
We are blessed to have a bunch of young, talented, hardworking and caring people with a heart for service that has grown over the years to become a family in many ways, standing together through the good and bad seasons.
RM: What can you say have been the key strengths that saw the brand grow despite economic challenges that continue to bedevil the operating environment?
PM: Our key strengths are derived in the principles, values and traditions we have upheld as an organisation.
What was fundamental and will remain so as we look ahead to another 20 years plus of service is our focus on customer needs.
As an organisation, we have made it our business to listen to our customers, sought to understand them and, in turn, adapt our service delivery to best suit their needs in their varied tastes.
Being able to provide a service that serves a need and is relevant truly makes all the difference. It is in this regard that we will continue to dedicate our best efforts to deliver exceptional service to all customers.
Our focus on the customer is what kept us going when the chips were down when everything looked bleak and doors were shut right in our faces. If there was any Holy Grail in business, this has been and remains customer focus.
RM: The Covid-19 pandemic has not spared anyone in every sector but its toll has been particularly felt in the funeral sector. What is your comment and how are you managing the situation?
PM: Indeed, we have not been spared. The pandemic tested our systems, tested our capacity and our resolve was put to an even greater test.
Despite the Covid-19-induced challenges, our resolve remains to keep our promise and deliver to the clients that look up to us in their time of need.
We managed and continue to maintain decency and dignity despite the cause of death. The Covid-19 peak period gave us the chance and opportunity to explore new ways of managing bereavements and we are happy to say we managed to adopt to the new normal.
RM: There has been a lot of misinformation around the pandemic-related deaths. Can you give us an insight of the death toll on your part?
PM: Whilst I am not at liberty to give specific figures, I can tell you that we saw an exponential increase in the death toll that is unprecedented in our 20-year history. A lot of families bore the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic and we were on the frontlines, seeing the ravaging impact of the pandemic.
RM: Despite these challenges, what can you say about your vision?
PM: In spite of the challenges the economy is going through, Nyaradzo remains rooted on solid foundations and has the agility to respond to the exigencies of the obtaining environment.
Having set our sights on being a high-tech business, our philosophy will not veer from satisfying the customers’ needs, taking care of the environment and cementing the fabric of society over profit.
RM: You have also diversified into several other businesses over the years, most of which are related to your core business. How has this added value to the group?
PM: The diversification of our business has been about bringing convenience to our customers through the one-stop shop concept and unlocking value as well as sweating our assets for the benefit of all the stakeholders.
You have already alluded to the fact that most of our other businesses are related to our core business and that is indeed so.
The convergence of different but related business units helps us to meet the need for providing additional services and products to our clients, thus advancing our one-stop shop concept.
RM: What is the long-term plan for the group towards diversification?
PM: I would not want to pre-empt the strategies our teams are working tirelessly and quietly on. But I can hint that focus is on opportunities locally and globally. The thirst to become a global player with Zimbabwean roots has taken us into South Africa and the United Kingdom and will not end there. More is in the offing…watch this space!
PM: As a business, we have invested in infrastructure and equipment for the benefit of our policyholders.
RM: Can you share your efforts around value preservation for beneficiaries’ funds?
You will appreciate that the Nyaradzo funeral policy is largely premised on guaranteed funeral services that are defined.
Our investment in infrastructure and equipment makes is possible to dispense the guaranteed benefits to beneficiaries when required. There is no better way of value preservation than investing in enabling infrastructure and tools of the trade that directly benefit the policyholder.