She may not be a familiar face to most, but Tinah Puskus is counted among a handful trailblazers in the country’s hospitality industry.
A proud owner of some of the best lodges in the country, namely The Big 5 Lodge in Mogoditshane, Palapye’s Majestic 5, the former Toro Lodge in Kasane now Big 5 Chobe River Lodge, Cumberland in Lobatse, The Big Valley Game Lodge and Majestic 5 Metcourt Inn in Palapye, the astute business woman has no qualms talking to Voice Reporter, Sharon Mathala, about her journey up the ladder of success.
Suavely dressed in an all black ensemble which looked mighty expensive and covered by a little fur coat with designer shades, the fashionable Puskus looks like she has just jumped out of the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ as she warmly welcomes The Voice team for the interview at The Big Five Lodge in Mogoditshane.
Q. How did your journey in business begin?
A. I have always been into business, even from a younger age during my times in school I was selling sweets, biscuits and all that.
But school was never for me.
After completing my studies at Lobatse Senior Secondary School I opened by first BnB (Bed and Breakfast) and I have not stopped since.
I started in the industry by turning the house I stayed in into a profit making enterprise.
Q. This place, The Big Five Lodge, was officially opened in a lavish ceremony by the then President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, tell us more about that.
A. It has to be one of my most proud moments.
Mogae opened the Big 5 exactly 10 years ago.
But let me start from owning my first BnB in Lobatse, I then turned my house into a rest in and moved here in Gaborone.
That is when my husband and I seized the opportunity to open Big 5.
Then followed Majestic 5 in Palapye, then back to Lobatse where I took over Cumberland and opened the Big Valley Game Lodge.
I then heard Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) was selling Toro Lodge.
I expressed interest in buying the property and was successful.
Next month I will be launching the Majestic 5 Metcourt in Palapye.
Q. Can you share with us how you were able to acquire all those plots and the funds to have all these lodges in a space of 10 years?
A. Well my first big break came with the Big 5, I came to know about Toro Lodge through the papers and I went and bid on it and won, the same thing with Cumberland in Lobatse and Metcourt in Palapye.
I am also working on a similar procurement regime in Maun but I cannot share the details now.
Q. Were you ever met with any difficulties or hurdles that tested you in all your procurement?
A. With Majestic 5 in Palapye, I almost did not go ahead with it.
I trusted my instinct and at the moment of all of the lodges, it is the one that is doing extremely well.
Q. But how were you able to own and develop all of the property in a short space of time and at pivotal places?
A. It is mainly because my husband is into construction; he is the one who built the Big 5 and all the others so expenditure at times is reduced.
And also Bank Gaborone was generous to believe in us and our dreams and they assisted us financially.
Q. Have you not considered using one consolidated name to your empire, so as to assist in the event you decide to franchise in other countries?
A. I have not, I have never thought of it like that especially franchising to other countries because the hospitality business is a risky business, but I am not ruling out any possibility of the idea in the future.
Q. Because your lodges are miles apart how are you able to keep tabs and make sure business is doing well.
A. If I can tell you almost every day I am travelling between Palapye, Gaborone and Lobatse.
I go to Kasane every fort-night.
If you have a dream you cannot sleep, you basically do not have a life, but again I have my children managing Palapye which makes it a lot easier.
Q. How much staff have you employed countrywide?
A. I will put my head on the block and say a little less than 800.
I contract cleaning companies for the housekeeping duties so I do not have a definite number of employees at any one given time.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in your business?
A. I would say it has to be the mushrooming of small shoddily operated Rest Inns.
I mean every corner you go there is some sort of house that has been turned into a smaller lodge.
I mean where we are now in Mogoditshane there are countless lodges, almost one in every 10 houses there should be a lodge within a yard.
Q. How do you deal with that reality?
A. I guess it is how you stand out from the rest that you beat the competition.
Q. Are you involved in any charity work outside your business?
A. I cannot say for sure that we take care of a particular charity organisation but we do donate and assist many underprivileged families.
Q. What was your last charity engagement?
A. Recently in every place where I have a business, I identified a few women and took them in for the Mother’s day celebrations.
But from time to time individuals come to us for sponsorship and we assist where we can.
Q. How do you balance between yourself, family and work since you are always on the road, earlier you mentioned that “you do not sleep”?
A. I live in Phakalane with my husband. I have six children in total.
When I am home I am usually spending time with them and travelling the world with them.
Q. You look like a fashionable woman, are you a shopaholic since you said you travel the world?
A. I am not much of a shopper although every woman has that trait of spoiling herself and owning the finer things in life.
I buy good things as and when I find them.
Q. Thank God is Friday, how will you be spending your weekend?
A. I will most probably be at the farm if work does not demand my presence at one of the lodges.