When a Nation Lacks Pride!

Lulu had joined a Diploma in Education course at Kyambogo Teachers College, which he didn’t like. So, when the opportunity came and he heard the government of Japan was availing scholarships to study engineering he applied. He found his application needed to first be vetted and supported by his home district. However, when he presented his papers to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Embatta, a man who had seen him grow up, there was opposition.

“But we are expecting you to come back as a teacher!” Embatta protested. “Let those who are able to become engineers!” Lulu felt insulted; was it that the CAO didn’t think of him as engineering material! He started courting the support of councilors, but most who had seen him grow up and dropped out of school early were not enthused. “Why is that boy so ambitious,” so they queried. “I know he wants to go out and come back with big titles and boss over us.”

As a last-ditch effort, Lulu decided to appeal to a local white priest, Father Lourdel who had paid his school fees and of many district leaders. Father Lourdel was very excited. “We already have enough teachers,” he mused in the local language which he was fluent. “What we need here are engineers to fix roads and help improve the transportation of goods from the fields to the market. This will make our district prosper.”

Father Lourdel took up the matter to the CAO and because he had educated him too, he finally yielded. “After completing your studies make sure you return and bless us with your skills,” Father Lourdel prayed with a sign of the cross for Lulu before he jetted out for a four-year degree course. Lulu promised to do so.

True to his word, upon completing his degree course, Lulu returned to the country as a civil engineer. Immediately, he reported back to his district and applied to become a District Engineer. But the CAO kept throwing him off that there was no money for this job, even as he pleaded that it would be good for the district to have a homeboy as District Engineer. Discouraged, he turned to the central government which hired him. But he didn’t last there; he soon quit to join a French-owned company, Bozac. The country had a huge infrastructure development programme and it was Bozac doing most of the road construction. It was often said there were no local companies that could do such jobs.

For Lulu, the major reason in joining Bozac was pay, as he could hardly make ends meet from his government salary. Bozac, on the other hand tripled his central government salary. But as he would soon find out, it was not for nothing.

After the European owners of Bozac would snap up huge multibillion-dollar contract jobs, they would get back to their capitals, having spent a few days patronizing the five-star hotels. Locals like Lulu were left to sweat it out. He was always in the field, supervising construction. Sometimes, having spent much of the day out in the sun, he would drive across the country back to the capital to meet with his bosses in their rented air-conditioned offices. They would quiz and harass him, threatening not to renew his contract for whatever was amiss. Disgusted, Lulu started thinking of starting his own firm.

“It is our country,” he talked to fellow engineers. “Yet there are the ones getting the best deals. Can’t we start our own local firms, bid and get these jobs. “Try your luck,” Lulu was rebuffed to those he appealed.

Now back in school, Father Lourdel had always preached that to succeed in life one had to persevere. Recalling that, Lulu decided to quit Bozac and start his own engineering firm. However, whenever he did bid for major road construction jobs, rejection slips would quickly come his way, noting “lack of experience and capital.” Lulu was hurt that it was mainly his local people who were rejecting his company, and who were not willing to give him a chance.

“We have the expertise but our own people want us to be permanent slaves,” Lulu would be agitated each time he would face rejection. “All these conditions they create against us are to discourage the emergence of home-grown companies.” One day Lulu noticed a tender to build a bridge in his home district. Lulu applied proudly specifying in his application that he was a homeboy well-known to the district leadership.

This time there was a new CAO. Although Nkejje had gone to school with Lulu he presented Lulu’s tender papers with lukewarm support. “This Lulu we know,” he told members of the tender committee. “Can he do a big job like this!”

Lulu was invited to come and share a presentation along with another company that had a European name, Quimax. He arrived on time, quickly presenting his prior job contracts and going even further to share designs. After he was done, a man Lulu seemed to recall having met once asked, “we hear you never reached Japan but bought that engineering degree of yours from a Japanese supermarket as you were just doing kyeyo jobs.”

“I take exception to that line of questioning!” Lulu picked his papers, stood up, and stormed off. Quimax had sent a white manager with a black officer who came carrying bags. The white manager let him make the presentations. After they were done the tender committee immediately awarded the job to Quimax. “These people from outside know how to do these jobs,” the tender committee reasoned against Lulu’s bid. They have a muzungu on the team.”

Upon securing the job, Quimax demanded to receive half of the sum as an advance to start works. The district quickly wired off the monies. But after over six months there was hardly anything on the ground. After writing many letters Quimax sent a few trucks and bulldozers that commenced works.  But what eventually came of their efforts was some shoddy structures, far from the original presentation. In the meantime, everyone noted the muzungu had never shown up in the district again. It was rumored he had taken much of the money back to Europe and was sending a pittance back.

The bridge constructed was so poorly done that due to local complaints the Inspector General got involved. When a technical team was set to review the works, it recommended the job be retendered. Lulu did bid again and this time with a more technical committee formed of senior officials he won. Indeed, he was able to do the job at half the cost of what Quimax had quoted.

On the day of opening the new bridge, Lulu was given a few minutes to speak. Dressed in a rare black suit, he decided to use the opportunity to vent something that had long bothered him. “All you people here know me well as I grew up among you. But I fail to understand why you never support your own or wish them well. If it were not for Father Lourdel who educated most of us here, none of you was willing to support me.”

He paused, as guests nervously shifted in their seats. “When I first asked to do this job you questioned my education. But did you enquire into the muzungu’s education? I want to help us develop but until we people here learn to love ourselves and our nation, with each other well, have pride in ourselves, as I saw back in Japan, tell you what, we have a long way to go!

Lulu walked back to his seat. He loosened his tight collar and gulped down water from a mineral water bottle. Then he looked at the bridge he had just erected for his district. It filled him with pride.


The Manager and Quick Decision Making

As a result of the corona virus almost everyone knew the newspaper business could no longer remain much the same. The demand for print had been eroded and shifted to digital spaces where most readers now consumed their products. Besides, there was also the factor of demographics. A survey taken before the lockdown had showed the majority of readers fell in the 15- 35 age bracket unlike past instances of 35- 55! But what was even more striking was the steep decline of the 55+ readership age group. The survey had revealed many of those once trusted readers had left fulltime employment and shifted while at home to sucking in information from electronic channels, largely radio and TV.

“What this research shows is the importance of change,” Mpozza, the Research officer shared the findings with his boss, Kakeeto, the Head of Research. He nodded in approval. “I absolutely agree with you and will share when senior management team meets. I will recommend we invest more into digital and electronic media.”

Why slow decision making

Senior management met fortnightly. But sometimes meetings could fail to happen because of the absence of the chief executive officer, Kato, who insisted always to be the chair. It was after a month when a meeting finally occurred giving Kaketo an opportunity to share his research findings and pitch his recommendations. But to his shock what seemed to him like a simple and obvious issue that needed a quick resolution got boiled down in fierce territorial organizational politics.

Once the findings had been tabled the Head of Print media division, Ojok, shot up his hand in objection. He suspected the Head of the newly created Digital media division was behind the findings meant to etch away his dwindling power. Ojok had been observing with increasing concern how his budget was being whittled down with more attention moving to digital media. “I find the methodology of this survey weak,” he poked holes at the report. Eventually, a new survey was commissioned. It took six months to share the new report whose findings were much the same as the first.

Finally, management decided, against Ojok’s opposition, to scale down the print media division. However, before implementing the matter needed authorization from the full Board. Kato knew his Board was not easy to meet as it was composed of very busy people constantly traveling. Also, every management proposal had to first go through committees. It took three months for the proposal to sail through committees to the full Board. There it met opposition as one elderly Board member queried how the proposed changes would affect workers in print media division. “Let management first show us plans to retrain affected staff!” It took another three months before the plan was revised and brought back for approval by the Board.

Effect of slow decision making

By then Mpozza who had carried out the first survey had left the newspaper for another job. Kakeeto, the Head of Research, was also about to move to another after losing interest in the project for being accused of manipulating data.

Meanwhile, within that year of indecision, nearly half a dozen digital newspapers had come on board slicing away a big share of the market. Most of the new digital media companies were small and therefore had not many layers that could prolong decision making. Once they saw an opportunity they quickly latched on it and made the best out of it.

Decision-making is certainly going to be one of the defining edges for companies that are not only going to survive but also win in the new world order. The term “nimble and fast” is increasingly going to have greater meaning as it is those organizations with the ability to quickly reform, adapt and move along with changes in the environment, that will not only survive but win.

The Manager and Competition

“Can you believe it that we have got a new competitor on the block,” Naoeme greeted Susan her long time business partner. The two ladies run a restaurant that specialized in hot African buffets. For a long time, theirs was the talk of town as it attracted all the big wigs in town. Patrons loved Super restaurant for sumptuous African foods and the ambiance. But most importantly the charm of the two business ladies brought over customers from near and far.

However, over time competitors seeing the lucrative market in food retail service industry had started to attack. Super restaurant that used to be full to the brim was now on certain days half empty. What hurt most is that a number of customers were migrating to the competitors.

Naomi felt that the new restaurant was yet another uncalled for intruder to their business. Soon she started to fight off competition. One of her favorite tricks was to tempt staff away from the new business by doubling their pay. However, this had an effect of eroding her gross profit and with time Super Restaurant was struggling to meet payroll.

Meanwhile her partner Susan was proposing a different and more proactive strategy.  She offered that, “we save money and buy new furniture since all the new business have better seats.” Another was, “let us take out a loan and hire an expert Chef on contract to improve our menu.” But for Naome this was nonsense. There were better ways to beat competition.  “If you can’t beat them; well, kill them!” was her mantra. She went around and paid a bribe to the utility providers who inflated the bills of their competitors. She even talked to the tax collectors to fine a penalty against her competitors.

But these strategies failed to stop the decline. Even some of the new staff hired started leaving due to delayed salaries. Soon the business was seriously running out of cash and on the verge of collapse.

How to beat competition 

If you have something good and working be sure that someone is watching and get ready for competition. It is only a matter of time. How you react is also going to determine how you beat off competition. Whereas competition is a vote of confidence in one’s enterprise, quite naturally many people resent it. The attitude of Naome is typical of so many.

Coca- cola and change

Around 1981 in the Philippines, Coca-Cola, was lagging behind 2 to I in sales against Pepsi. There was talk of her shutting down and moving elsewhere. In comes Nevile Isdel, an Irish-born native of Zambia, who in his book Inside Coca Cola shares how he beat off competition. Simply, he modernized outdated plants, energized the sales team with better incentives, launched a new local advertising campaign, created more products to meet the different market segments and brought in new talent. And by 1983 Coca Cola had taken the lead, being one of the fastest turn around in the soft drink industry.

In brief, competition is not necessarily bad. It spurs innovation and helps bring the cost of products and services down as companies battle for customers. The one who hates competition is a monopolist but such is only buying time before it is all broken up.

The Manager and Business Revival

Once the lockdown ended Menvu decided to open up his hotel which had been closed along Bijanjaro road. As expected through the time of closure there were no customers calling. However, with lockdown over, it was time to get the business up and running.

During the first few weeks, Menvu noticed that only a trickle of customers stopped by. He waited for the next week and there was no improvement. A thought then occurred to him that perhaps it was best to call up some of the customers he knew. He was quite surprised with the response he got.

Some of the customers he found were not aware that the hotel had opened, but since they had heard from him now they would visit. There were those who were not sure of the SPOs in place. “If I come,” asked one customer. “Won’t I catch the dreaded disease? How are you going to protect me!”

“We have all the protocols in place!” Menvu assured his customers. He had put in place extensive arrangements such as sanitizers and gun temperatures to ensure the hotel was well covered. The seating in the dining was spread out to limit physical contact. “We have also hired a nurse to make sure none of our customers is affected by someone falling ill!”

“I will come,” several customers offered so, having been assured all was well.

However, Menvu found those who wanted to know if the hotel prices were still the same. “How much are the rooms going?” a customer asked. Menvu had had to increase pricing of his products to cater for the new social protection safeguards. Besides, he had lost business during the lockdown and needed to find a way to recover some of lost income. But then he found his customers were not ready to embrace the new pricing.

To get them back Menvu decided to retain price at the same level. “After all, I am not sure if they will come back!” he reasoned. “Best to first get them in!”

Under this strategy, the hotel recovered. Business started slowly but by the end of the year had fully recovered to previous performance level.

How to recover your business when it has been under closure is a question many business owners are now grappling with. Take the example of a school owner that has been under closure since March, 2020! Should the owner just sit back and wait for his former students to show up. Suppose they do not.

To recover a business one may have to be more ingenious than just assuming that your old customers will pick up from where they left. As we see Menvu has had to make adjustments in order to secure his clients and put also several measure in place. In brief, it is not business as usual.

A very important development has been the use of technology as one way to communicate with customers. In an age where physical distancing is the norm a business may have to incorporate new measures like having meetings online. New services like costumer delivery could help reach out to customers fearful of coming to company premises.