Sam King is an entrepreneur, an enterprising Sierra Leonean who isn’t scared to put his money where his mouth is, much so that he is often accused of spreading himself thin.
Long before he built Kimbima Hotel (which has been taken over by the Social Security Trust – NASSIT), he had made a name for himself running a successful stationery shop in downtown Freetown. Today, it feels like he has come full circle as this is where he spoke to Visit Sierra Leone.
Following on from Kimbima Hotel, he proceeded to construct a building on Lumley Beach which he had hoped would be taken up by the UN. Unfortunately, this fell through and as a result Taia Resort was born. Convinced he had a winning formula, he built another lodge in Taiama which he marketed as a retreat for individuals and organisations. It was after this that the idea of constructing a chain of hotels around the country must have struck him. They were to be called “Leone Lodge”.
He set out to get financial backers and at the same time commenced construction of the lodges. After all financiers want to see that you are putting your own money into the venture. Sadly, the financial backers he had relied on opted out of the deal, leaving him with incomplete lodges dotted around the country and interest rates to kill any business with little income. “I couldn’t believe it” he said. “My plan was to build quality lodges all around the country. This was to serve professionals, corporate visitors and tourists. I really wanted to help with tourism development”.
He had been facing challenges before that. There were operational issues, “we must have gone through ten generators since 2009”. With no power on Lumley beach, business along that route have to generate their own power. There were management issues – finding quality management proved difficult. He couldn’t and never planned to have to micromanage the hotel’s operations. And of course, there was the 28% interest rate on loans. He was to go back and try to renegotiate with the banks.
As if that was not enough, Ebola struck in 2014 and after a couple of months, similar to some other establishments, he decided to close his hotel. “Operational costs were too high and there were times we were almost at 0% occupancy.” The tourists were gone, the events were gone, no more conferences or banquets, so Sam King was forced to retreat, consolidate and rethink. This is not an uncommon occurrence for entrepreneurs. He went back to focus on his stationery business which he felt he had neglected whilst chasing the hotel chain dream and is now plotting a way forward.
With Ebola significantly reduced from what it was a few months ago and life slowly returning to normal, he has reopened Leone Lodge on Lumley Beach. Having heard some rumor that he was looking to sell off the hotel, I put the question to him. “I am always open to partnership opportunities from Sierra Leone or outside, a good management team. If it so happens that as a last resort, I need to sell the hotel then I will do so. There is no emotional attachment that will stop me doing that. I am a businessman, I build businesses but it doesn’t mean I have to hang on to them”.
Leone Lodge is back open for business. Good luck Mr King.