Luul Osman on her rise, fall and rise again of her empire

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By Special Correspondent

Childhood passion in business has seen Luul Osman Shire become a successful entrepreneur. To crown her achievements, she was named best woman SME of the Year at the Somali Annual Business Awards [SABA] held in Mogadishu recently. 

When she rose to pick her award as the winner of Best Woman SME of the Year during the Somali Annual Business Awards [SABA] held on 12 January, 2017, in Mogadishu, Luul Osman Shire paid tribute to hundreds of Somali entrepreneurs who despite sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges keep going.

She particularly acknowledged women who work tirelessly to lift their economic status against all odds.

“Somali women are enterprising and flourish with the right support,” stated Luul, the owner of Carwo Nayruus Furniture who honed her business skills as a teenager growing up in Jilib District in Southern Somalia region. The 40-year old began by selling foodstuff and clothes in 1988 after she completed her intermediary studies.

“It was my first lucky break and since then, I have never looked back,” says Luul, who was married as soon as she left school. But just when she was thinking of expanding her business, things took a turn for the worst after the country plunged into civil war forcing her and her family to flee to Kenya where they settled in Eastleigh in 1993. Even as a refugee, Luul says she was yearning to do business and after months of talking to locals and relevant authorities, she set up a textile business in Nairobi using some savings and additional capital from her husband.

 Luul says she has the ability to sniff opportunities. As her fabrics-selling business flourished, her eyes were set on the construction sector in Kenya, which in the late 2000 had started picking up as demand for housing and business premises grew.

After acquiring the necessary paper work, with her husband, she set up a construction company that after years of false starts picked up and gave her the impetus to look beyond the Kenyan market.

As a clothes seller, she often travelled to Dubai and Turkey for her merchandise. During her trips to Dubai, she established extensive networks and got a whiff of the real estate boom which was being experienced in the country in 2006. Several visits and inquiries later, she set up shop in Dubai to cash in on the demand.

“I expanded my business to United Arabs Emirates against the advice of many people but I am not the one to shy away from opportunities no matter how far away from home they are,” notes Luul.

“I expanded my business to United Arabs Emirates against the advice of many people but I’m not one to shy away from opportunities no matter how far away from home they are,” Luul Osman Shire.

Luck was on her side as the business picked up fast, but the crumble was as swift in 2008 when the real estate bubble in Dubai burst.

“I lost a great deal of money, but what is business without such experiences? She poses.

Luckily, she was able to fall back to her businesses in Kenya and after dusting herself from the losses in Dubai, she went into the transport business.

She laughs at this point because many of her peers thought she was biting too much than she could chew.

“You cannot be successful in business without taking risks,” she says adding that her appetite for new ventures is the reason she relocated to Somalia and now runs a furniture and a construction company in Mogadishu.

She first set up shop in Somalia in 2011 after 14 years of living in Kenya. By this time, she was remarried after her first husband died when she was only 21. She decided to return to Somalia since there was relative peace then where she started off by selling food and later opened the furniture shop followed by a branch of her construction company. Her transport business in Kenya is still running.

Now and then, during the interview at her shop, she stops to receive phone calls as she is required her to sort one thing or another.

“When I look back, I am glad that I followed my gut to return to Somalia. For the last four years, things have been looking up and they can only get better,” says Luul looking at the trophy she won with pride.

Her pride, she says, comes from the fact that she is contributing to the reconstruction of Somalia and also because she has created job opportunities mainly for young people. She began with 14 employees in both her businesses but now she has over 60.

The businesswoman says that although she never went to a business school, she has over the years acquired vital skills through workshops mainly organized by non-governmental organizations and Somalia’s Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Luul is confident that she often mentors other women in business. In addition, she also holds mentorship sessions for her employees every Monday.

“Knowledge is good when it is shared and I am happy when I see people I have mentored succeed in business,” she says.

Luul laments that lack of technical training in Somalia forces her to import most of her merchandise.

To address this problem, she is planning to open a showroom where Somalis can learn necessary skills, which eventually will reduce her importation costs and also create more employment opportunities. She is also putting up a six-floor building to headquarter her furniture business in order to cut on rental costs and also grow her business empire.

Luul is also unhappy about what she terms as lack of cooperation between businesswomen returning from diaspora and those who stayed back.

“There is a feeling that those coming back from abroad despise us because they think we are not trained on business management. That should not happen since we are all looking to play our part in the reconstruction of our homeland,” says Luul adding that despite learning on the job, she can teach business management with ease.

One of the features that endeared her to the assessors of the award is the fact that she has an integrated information management system that enables her to track the goings on in her businesses.

She holds her win in high regard and views it is a challenge for her to keep getting better as an entrepreneur.