“Dream big but at the same time leave room to appreciate and learn to value small beginnings,” is the advice from Zambeef’s payroll manager Matthews Mbasela as 2017 winds down and many sit down to make their Yew Year’s resolutions and take stock.
Matthews, who is celebrating his 40th birthday this year, joined Zambeef as a “garden boy” in 1999 after previously working as a ‘daka boy’ or an errand boy for a builder.
He attributes his career progression at Zambia’s leading food retailing company to sheer hard work and determination – something that the payroll manager has in common with the enterprise’s secret to success.
Through his dedication and perseverance, he was first promoted to be a butchery assistant.
“My first role was actually cleaning the butchery, offloading and other things; the lowest rank of a butchery that you can actually think off,” said Matthews.
After a short time, he was transferred to the head office as an assistant cashier before moving up to the position of chief cashier in 2002.
The new job involved collecting cash around the butcheries for banking and although unknown to him at the time, Matthews had started on a path that would lead to a career in accounting.
“My responsibility was actually cash collection itself, producing daily reports of cash that was collected from the outlets and ensuring that the cash deposits reconciled with finance, were also being deposited at the right date and also reflected the right date,” said Matthews.
It was his promotion in 2003 that he sees as pivotal to his career progression: “Now, that was a bit interesting because I never saw it coming.
“I was doing my collections somewhere in Chelstone when I received a phone call from Dr Irwin, Zambeef joint chief executive officer, but he didn’t tell me the details. I was informed to report to the head office whereas the normal routine was after collecting the cash you were supposed to go straight to the bank for deposits.
“But that day he told me, ‘Tomorrow, don’t go to the bank, come to head office.’
“That actually excited me but I was also a bit scared, not knowing that I was actually being given another responsibility, which was helping with the payroll.”
From day one, it was very much hands-on training for Matthews in his new role and helped by his superiors, he was taken through the various aspects of running a payroll.
Matthews said: “At that time, the person who was doing payroll, James Chipepo, needed an assistant because he was overwhelmed, so we had to work overtime to ensure that we paid all the employees.”
Zambeef then met the cost of a payroll course for Matthews who at that time was studying for a Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) qualification.
He was further charged with setting up a new structure to cater for the growing employee base: “Around that time, I think we only had 1,000 to 2,000 employees – today there are more than 7,000.”
He later switched from CIPS to pursue an Association of Chartered Certified Accounts (ACCA) qualification in 2016.
“Today, I am a chartered accountant and I am head of department, overseeing a team,” said Matthews.
Asked about his stance regarding education, Matthews was quick to note that learning should be the goal of every person who wishes to improve themselves.
Matthews said: “Formal education is of course one of the means and no doubt the most recognised.
“However, learning and education in their true sense is an everyday and moment to moment thing.
“A lot of people discouraged me from continuing with school, but I finished my grade 12.
“When I joined Zambeef, a lot of people that I found in Kiyundu at that time didn’t go further in education.
“At the farm, I was one of the few who had a grade 12 certificate. You could hear some people talking about it, ‘A grade 12 is digging – a grade 12 is doing what?” recalled Matthew.
But this only motivated him even more as he sought to prove otherwise by working hard because anything that is good is bound to come with some challenges.
And this ‘go-getter’ attitude did not go unnoticed by his superiors as he later came to know.
“That was a bit hard but for me but was also an encouragement because I needed to show that you can start from anywhere; you can be a cleaner, you can be anything, you can become something in life as long as you are focused and know what you want,” he noted.
The seasoned accountant takes a unique approach to life regarding human interaction, taking both the good and the bad in good stride: “The ones who tried to pull me down actually helped me a lot.
“It is when you encounter obstacles in life that you often come out of your shell to overcome them. For me that worked to my advantage because every day I needed to prove a point.
“We have different backgrounds. In my case, my father died in 1987. I was young, just 10 at the time.
“I met with a lot of challenges, but I was also being trained to actually overcome obstacles.”
Having started his accounting career by ‘default’ Matthews had this to say about his journey: “The environment in Zambeef has really made me focused and also made me realise that nothing is impossible.
“There were a lot of things that I had to learn along the way that one only gets to know about when they are fully involved in the field. Zambeef actually prepares you to become a hard worker.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a cleaner, you’re a butcher block man – if you have the qualifications and you have the discipline, are hardworking, you can actually find yourself in any office, you can be at any level as long as you can actually show that because Zambeef actually gives leave, it gives opportunities for people to actually go and study.”
On a lighter note, Matthews said: “My favourite Zambeef product is Zam Sip.
“It’s very good and very nutritious and when you take it, even if you are feeling very weak, you just need maybe a 750ml of water and you are okay.
“It’s very easy to make, it just takes a few minutes. I buy it for myself and I buy it for the children as well – I have two girls and a boy.”