"She is the owner of the 7-storey building where our offices are located," a colleague said pointing at a lady who was having a chat with one of the security people at the entrance. She cut a simple posture and had no trace of sophistication expected of a woman worth her name.
In fact, as we walked passed her, the conversation took the typical stereotyping. "Are you sure a woman can own such multi-million dollar tall building?" a male colleague asked.
Days later, I secured an appointment with Eugenie Mushyimiyimana the owner of several commercial buildings including the 7-storey M&M Plaza located in Gishushu, a Kigali surburb.
Her office located in the basement of the building is a reflection of her simplicity. Inside her office, two small tables and two chairs are what stand out. On her table is a small note book and two phones. Dressed in a blue dress, she is engaged in a discussion with someone; shortly after she gives me a warm embrace and apologises for keeping me waiting.
My first impression of her is someone who carries herself with simplicity.
Mushyimiyimana is the owner of the new 7-storey building housing offices of several big organisations. But as I later discovered, the commercial building is just one of the many she owns in Kigali.
With the help of her mother, Mushyimiyimana has built a business empire from scratch. She owns three office buildings in Kigali and is now the second Vice Chair of the Private Sector Federation (PSF).
"This success didn't come easy; it was toil and hard work," she says before narrating the story of her humble beginnings.
Her journey in business and dreams that started when she was a child is not a fairly tale of someone born with a silver spoon.
Born in Ruhango District, in the Southern Province, Mushyimiyimana was raised in an environment that she says helped mould her into the woman she is today. Growing up, she was always by her mother's side, helping her run her business. Seeing her mother work hard every day to make ends meet nurtured her own business mind.
In the beginning she traded in foodstuff ranging from beans, millet, and palm oil among others. Her trade was within and outside of Rwanda. Years went by and as the market dynamics changed, she ventured into what was more marketable.
She later started dealing in petrol and cement business.
For over 20 years, she did well in her trade, however, at some point; she thought about the future. What would retirement be like? How was her mother going to retire? And this is how she ventured into real estate.
"I kept on thinking about new innovations, what would bring in more money but at the back of my mind, I also thought about the future. Retirement, that time when you can't run up and down and travel across countries, is how I came to the idea of constructing buildings," she says.
She also says that the initiatives by the government helped her make this decision.
"There was a time when the President called on people to construct buildings because they were few and people were working from residential houses. I knew this was the time to do it," she recalls.
The secret to her success
She says planning and proper accountability for every single coin she earned was her bedrock of success. She was able to save, but also, she adds that loans from banks facilitated her break through.
"You know in most cases when it comes to business, the biggest challenge is capital but for me I started with someone who was in the business already. Whatever amount we had we critically planned for. But we also went to banks for loans," she says.
Attention to detail is another aspect that helped her succeed in this field.
"When you are making an investment, you need to do research, get details and seek to learn from those who are ahead of you in that particular field. This has helped me a lot," she points out.
Asked if she didn't face obstacles accessing credit simply because of being a woman, Mushyimiyimana recalls a time when she wanted a loan, but the bank was hesitant to grant it at first.
She, however, believes that the hunch was caused by the bank's analysing team that hadn't understood the concept well.
She didn't give up. Neither did the lengthy process wear her down. She held her ground and kept on being persistent until the bank finally gave her credit.
Mushyimiyimana believes that women need to change; they need to be able to stand their ground, be confident and have faith that they can also achieve something.
"I don't think accessing credit is a problem for women only, men face this as well. The only issue is that women don't fully utilise their opportunities presented to them by the government," she notes.
She, however, says that they are working hard to see that women get a place in terms of business.
"Women find it hard to get market from certain institutions; we are working to solve this problem. We are focusing on mentorship as this helps a lot and we believe that it will make a difference, especially in building confidence in women.
Advice to women who want to follow in her footsteps
Networking is very important. Also, loving what you do and giving it your all is the best way to success, she says.
"Don't go into business just for the money or do it because it is profitable," she advises.
"Some people do business because it was profitable for others but this is not right. Also, for one to start a business there is need to do a feasibility study, you need a business plan. What you do or what you want to do, do people need it? See what the government requires. All this matters when you want a successful investment.
"The other thing I think helped me a lot is that I am always satisfied with who I am and what I have, this has helped me to be me and not someone else."
"Most people who don't know me get shocked when they find out that a woman owns the buildings I have," she says this with a smile.
"Yes people still have these stereotypes but I challenge this because I believe that when God was creating us, He didn't reduce our thinking capacity or abilities as women. It is only that men and women are different but they do complement each other."
Mushimiyimana attained a Bachelor's degree in business administration from Kigali Independent University and is now pursuing a Master's degree.
Her husband passed on early in their marriage and left her with three children that she raised as a single mother.