Relieved at the chance to escape the searing November heat, I gratefully head for the escalator and moments later duck into the dimly lit interior of Rodizio, the Brazilian restaurant at Riverwalk.
It is hardly imposing from the outside, but it’s dimly lit interior offers a curiously sedate feel.
I make for the secluded corner table for two to get the mental gears in tune as I wait for my guest.
A jolly waiter welcomes me, oozing warmth and friendliness. I’m already in love with this place.
The restaurant offers an appetising Brazilian repast and some sea food. And, for meat lovers, there is a delightful house special that, at P129, tantalises you, whether you’ve long sold your soul to chicken or beef, with the opportunity to tuck in to your heart’s content.
I glance at the time. It is quarter to one ÔÇô and the restaurant is just beginning to fill out. It’s a tad slower over lunch, but the evenings are usually packed with merry diners and you have to make a reservation in advance. I feel a slight twinge of regret for not opting for the terrace, but let that feeling slide.
As I glance around at the as yet sparsely filled interior, I’m struck by the thought that this place is trendy enough to be comfortable with celebrity.
Mpho Moremong-Gobe phones me before she arrives six minutes later. She is held up by the traffic.
The restaurant’s staff usher her to the table and after the exchange of pleasantries, I give her the journalist’s once-over. Averagely built, if not slight, she is dressed conservatively, in skirt and matching top.
I quietly observe that she stays off the wines, and opts for lemonade, with plenty of ice. So both of us are off liquor; we start the chit chatting before ordering.
“These lunch dates are meant for us to profile personalities who have for one reason or other been consistently in the news,” I inform her. “But I’m inclined to occasionally veer off into other directions and look at people with specific achievements. You happen to be my first victim in the latter category.”
The ice is broken and she laughs, suitably charmed.
“But MG Properties has been in the news. We had a major launch only in June,” she retorts.
How does it feel to be the first woman citizen to score more historic firsts that any other woman in the real estate business? As I pose the question, I’m almost inclined to think that in her position, she probably has every right to preen.
After all, she is the first citizen Chartered Surveyor, first female chairperson of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors of Botswana, first woman to run her own property firm with the potential to become an international brand. This is all in addition to sitting on several boards over the last 14 years. But her genteel, down to earth personality completely disarms me.
“I believe in God,” she says, making no apologies for her deep spirituality. “So I believe everything I do and everything I own belongs to God.”
Rare are the moments when you meet successful business owners or corporate types who ascribe their success to anything other than their own sweat and smartness.
And she has come some way since graduating with a BSc (Hons) in Estate Management from Oxford Brookes University in 1996, the same year she started working for Knight Frank as a graduate trainee, eventually rising to the position of Associate Partner.
By 2005, she was running the Pam Golding franchise in Botswana, and in between managing to complete her MBA.
“Would you want to order?” I break her train of thoughts and the reflections on her life trail off as we study the menu. We both eventually end up choosing sea food, prepared in some delectable sauces. As the order is taken, we both comment on the excellent service.
“It’s why I chose this place,” she says simply. “Apart from the excellent cuisine, the service is always good. Today it’s even better than the other times I’ve been here.”
And why the switch from the Pam Golding franchise to her own venture?
“I feel I had fully reached my growth potential there,” she muses. “You see, while a franchise is in terms of ownership potential a step above regular employment, it still restricts you because the business is owned by other people.”
So on June 1 this year, MG Properties was launched. The initials are a combination of her name and that of her husband, Kethlaotswe Gobe, who is a director in the firm.
Considering her achievements, I wonder aloud what it is that drives and motivates her. This the first woman chartered surveyor; first woman chairperson of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors; first woman chairperson of the Real Estate Advisory Council; first woman vice chairperson of the Real Institute of Botswana.
She also served as representative on the United Kingdom based Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, travelling to the UK every quarter for board meetings. On top of that, she has been on the Labour Advisory Council, Tertiary Education Council, and on the first board of the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).
A focused determination is her driving force, she says. And a huge dose of discipline.
It is, she believes, something that young would-be entrepreneurs can learn. Focus. Dedication. And the willingness to start small and doggedly pursuing your vision. Most importantly, she believes you become what you are today because of the sum total of your thoughts and the choices you made yesterday.
MG properties, she says, is in the top tier of Botswana’s property companies. She ranks it among the top three. The clientele includes nearly all the major banks, Debswana, Botswana Development Corporation, Botswana Insurance Fund Managers, and Botswana Power Corporation, among others.
At age 40 today, where does she see MG Properties 10 years down the line? “We want to grow it,” she says bluntly. “Apart from an office in Francistown in the medium term, we are looking to go across the border in the long term.”
“I’m very traditional and believe the man is the head of the home,” she says, in reaction to the question of whether she, as other successful women have, face the ‘feminist’ label. “I’m not a feminist.”
So why the double barrel surname then?
“The name Mpho Moremong, moving from Knight Frank, through Pam Golding to now has become a sort of brand,” she explains. “For business reasons, the element of recognition would have been lost if I had dropped my maiden name.”
At this stage, the plates are cleared up and we start winding up. As we head out of Rodizio, I reflect on the fact that this is one interview where, apart from the personality of the interviewee, the food has left a favourable impression. It usually gets in the way.