Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes in Uganda: his pearls of wisdom on day one here

Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo plc. - Photo by Simon Kaheru
Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo plc. – Photo by Simon Kaheru

The fact that the Global Chief Executive Officer of Diageo plc. is in Uganda should not be treated lightly by any measure, and I am duty-bound to share the following with you.

Ultimately, I have transcribed the comments he made on Friday at the residence of the British High Commissioner to Uganda, Alison Blackburne, who hosted a cocktail in his honour.

If you know protocol you will understand why she did this and how important he therefore is as an individual, even though he is not British by origin. You see, Diageo is a British company, and as the head of the company he is more or less entitled to that kind of near-royal, and state-like treatment.

Menezes was cornered to deliver ‘Words of Wisdom’ to those present, mostly top-notch Ugandan business leaders and influencers, besides those at work at the event in one way or another.

He did so quite neatly, and I won’t force you to take the lessons and thoughts I did; instead, read for yourself and take what you will, regardless of how big or small your own business enterprise (or employer) is:

Alternatively, you can catch the full recording here: https://soundcloud.com/simon-kaheru/speeches-at-ivan-menezes

It starts with the UK High Commissioner stating why Uganda is such a superb destination for tourism and investment, and Menezes himself declaring why he chose Uganda as a holiday destination, and ends just after the Minister of State for Industry, Dr. James Shinyabulo Mutende, begins his own set of remarks, but that was a result of a recording snafu.


Ivan Menezes:

I am thrilled to be here. This has been one of my dreams – to visit Uganda. I am delighted because I get here before my family, so I can brag that I got to Uganda before them!

A few words on Diageo and how we view East Africa and Uganda:

The future of our company is going to be determined to a huge extent by Africa. We are very privileged because we have an amazing history, tradition and business in this region. Within Africa, East Africa is a real jewel for us, and within East Africa, Uganda is an amazing market for us.

We’ve been here a long time. Bell Lager was introduced in 1950 and is an absolute jewel of a brand. It’s the market leader in the premium beer market. Another jewel, my personal favourite, is Uganda Waragi, UG, and we are celebrating 50 years of UG.

So when I think about our business here, we have an amazing tradition, long heritage, strong commitment to this beautiful country. We have been investing here substantially in the last few years and we will continue to invest.

Someone asked me in Singapore yesterday, ‘What is it that concerns or worries you?’

I have been in business 34-35 years, worked all over the world, seen all the ups and downs, seen companies and corporations, and economies develop and grow.

I think we are at a point in time in the world where business has a huge role to play in building its reputation around building for the long term, building a business in a sustainable way and being a force for good in society.

The days of just coming, making money satisfying your shareholders, and that’s what you are about, I am convinced, are over. You will get no trust, no respect, and you will be out of business if your model is all about just making money

And at Diageo I am proud we passionately believe that, ‘Yes! We have got to perform and do well’, but we have to earn trust and respect from communities and stakeholders at large where we operate.

I can use what we are doing in Uganda to bring this to life. I take a lot of inspiration from the direction we are setting in a market like this.
The starting point is that it’s really important to have good values and codes of conduct in organisations. In today’s world there are so many pressures and so many places you can take short cuts.

But I am proud that the culture we building across the company – we have about 36,000 people around the world – is that ‘Do business the right way, there is no right way to do a wrong thing.’

It doesn’t matter if you can’t get your business done because we will be around, just like Bell has been around for 65 years; Johnnie Walker has been around since 1820. We have faced revolutions, we have faced famines, we have faced World Wars, and we are still around.

That’s what I say to my colleagues in the business: ‘Always do things the right way; never feel under short-term pressure to cut corners. Live your values.’

There are four or five things I am proud of our team at Uganda for. It is not about our business performance which is strong and continues to grow.

The first is the impact we can and will have on having alcohol play a more positive role in society, and indeed reducing the harm that alcohol plays in society. Underage drinking and drink driving are real in Uganda.

People ask me, ‘Can you have a successful business and reduce misuse of alcohol?’ And the answer for me is that there is no trade-off. We are here to build a sustainable business; we are a strong company with good talent. We can be a force for having alcohol play a responsible, positive role in society through some of the programmes Nyimpini (Mabunda – Uganda Breweries Managing Director) and team are doing around drink driving and underage drinking.

We have got to stop underage drinking; i know we can’t eliminate it but we have to play a force to really reduce it. Responsible drinking is really an important element for me.

The other component is what are doing around local sourcing of raw materials. It wasn’t too long ago we had been importing most of our cereals and grain; now 70% of our cereal requirements come through small farmers here in Uganda.

We are working with 17,000 farmers in Uganda.

From grain to bottle we want to build value chains that will enrich local communities!

If you asked me five or ten years ago could I ever see this happen, I would have probably say I couldn’t imagine we would have gotten this far. Today, 70% of our needs come through local materials.

We have a programme called Water of Life in Africa, which is all about providing drinking water to communities and people who don’t have clean water.

Nyimpini and the team here last year did well. ONE MILLION Ugandans got access to water because of the work that our team did here, in one year!

I was astounded!

On average every year we have been doing about 400,000 people a year but last year we did a million in Uganda These water programmes are essential but are just an example of how business in the future needs to build sustainability.

We are in the top five of the tax contributors and I hope we can get back to the top three or two but we have other industries ahead of us.
When I look at the contribution we make to the exchequer and indirectly to the economy – we employ over 300 directly at the brewery and about 500 total employees, but the multiplicative effect of this employment is far, far greater.

The final thing I would say is that we really want to be one of the star employers in Uganda. A company that grows talent, exports talent, provides a great place to work, provides an opportunity to learn, builds skills, provides good economic support to individuals and talent in this country.

We have had great success in exporting wonderful people in this country to other parts of Diageo and I hope we can continue to make Uganda a great source of talent for the company.

I don’t know how wise this wisdom is but we are a lot more than selling beer and making profits; that stuff is boring, quite frankly. It is!
Because I think our impact needs to be much bigger because I always say that the only job I have is to come in and make a brand like this greater when I leave

The only way that happens is if you truly build a sustainable businesses and your contribution goes much beyond the economic value you create for your shareholders; it’s about how you do that sustainably.

That’s my ‘pearl of wisdom’ in the pearl of Africa!

the rain and the children

There is a certain number of children beyond which one is not guaranteed that continuous deep sleep under heavy rain and thunder.
Study that statement carefully.
Basically, the logic is that if you have one child then you have a 50:50 chance of having your heavy rain deep sleep interrupted; anything more than just that one child decreases your chances of sleeping drastically.
In general, most of the children will take advantage of the rains to also enjoy some deep sleep, but there will always be one who departs from the script under ordinary circumstances. In a worse case scenario, you might even have more than one doing so, taking turns to send you for water, toilet tours, entertainment and so on and so forth.
Last night after the first major peal of thunder, I was summoned to the presence of only one of my brood and presented with a classic heavy rain problem:
“I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud.”
She was quite right about the volume of the rain, and I immediately acknowledged so then told her to just close her eyes and try to sleep.
“I did that and it didn’t work,” she responded, in a tone of voice that signalled frustration and anger at science in general.
As usual, I started a discussion about the science of rain and lightning and thunder, hoping the dullness of the topic and depth of my voice would bore her to sleep. Failure was complete, as I started nodding off in mid-sentence myself and she had to wake me with:
“I still can’t sleep. It’s really too loud.” This time in a tone of voice so hard that I realised I had to be more careful approaching the problem.
I suggested prayer, story-telling, and a couple of other tactics but she had tried some and rejected the rest.
Eventually, looking out of the window at the torrents of rain, my mind went to the Bobi Wine song ‘Singa’ (“Singa, nze Museveni…Singa, nze Sudhir omugagga…”) and I tried to imagine what those two would do in these circumstances.
We would have fallen draw-draw, as some would say.
This was a problem no money or power could solve.
But I needed to look on the bright side of the issue and, first and foremost, stop the conversation from going any further. You see, the problem statement was one that I could possibly tackle: “I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud.”
If we went on talking there was a chance that we would get to a demand such as, “Make the rain stop” or “Decrease the volume of the rain.”
These are fatherhood nightmare statements, in these situations, because they put our hero-status to a direct test held under stressful conditions invigilated by a hyper-alert young one with very high expectations.
Those are the kind of demands that make fathers create entire dramatic productions backed by nonsensical stories that they pray will be forgotten before the children enter into their teenage years. Acceptably embarrassing options in these extreme circumstances include phonecalls to so-called ‘Rain Offices’; the use of imaginary remote control devices to decrease the rain volume; and even positioning oneself before windows and using some mind-force energy to push the rain away.
It is very embarrassing but can be highly effective if timed right and the elements of nature comply within reasonable measure. The only problem is that eventually you get asked to “decrease the heat” during the hot dry seasons and whereas the solution is switching on a fan, the act is not as heroic…
So “I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud”, needed to be managed and for the moment I was the man for the job.
If she had been of age, this problem would have been fixed by a double measure of a wide range of tonics from various bottles kept in the relevant cabinet.
Sadly she was above the age where moving to our bed was a solution to any problem from “My stomach is hurting” to “I had a bad dream”, and so my options narrowed down even further.
I couldn’t dare, meanwhile, curse the rain; we’ve waited for it long enough and will be forever grateful for it.
The solution: wait out the rain in her room while ensuring conversation does not get to “Make the rain stop” or “Decrease the volume of the rain” levels.
So I transferred the failure to sleep and took it on in full measure. That’s me here. Being an insomniac on behalf of my daughter so that she can get enough sleep to manage a few hours of school tomorrow.
See; all I have to do during the day is go out to work so I can afford their school fees, the mortgage, their food, clothes and so on and so forth.
I will sleep when they are old enough to get their own house.

Social Media & Radio Katwe: what’s your source and how seriously do you take it?

THIS week two ‘stories’ filled up the online conversation on Twitter and Facebook in Uganda, and both made me think of the Katwe area at the start of Entebbe road.
Actually, referring to the two as ’stories’ is to elevate them to a level that used to be respectable, reliable and trustworthy.
Back in the days when we relied only on traditional media, a story was something you read in a newspaper or heard on radio or watched on TV and had the confidence to discuss, analyse or even repeat.
If we heard about a story from a third-party we tried our best to go and read it ourselves, or to catch the next radio or TV bulletin. Such was our need for story validation that libraries stocked newspapers for people to go and refer to, and there was even a thriving business enterprise behind Uganda House that sold old newspapers.
I remember checking with that business enterprise to establish whether the old newspapers were mostly being sold as kabalagala and mandazi wrapping, and the proprietor telling me they weren’t. Many of them were bought by people who had missed their personal copies or needed to double-check one story or another.
That was then.
Back then, you were respected if you could hold a conversation about current affairs or a topic on which you had knowledge and withstood any challenges to your quantity of knowledge. I even recall quiz games played in school corridors in which people showed off their knowledge of different topics and current affairs – one such game was called ‘Bwino’, which in some vernacular means “ink”, further testimony to the level of respect we had for print as a concept. The participants, school children, took themselves quite seriously and dreaded taunts such as ‘Radio Katwe!’
The term ‘Radio Katwe’ meant you had just made up a fact in your head; it originated in the days when the official media was forced to go underground due to the politics of the day, and we relied on unofficial information – the grapevine or rumour mill – ‘akatwe‘.
The name was a play on the Katwe area of Kampala where ingenious artisans fabricated things locally out of metal and other materials. In those days of scarcity and shortage, it was impossible to find new Katwe Workersdevices, gadgets or implements such as we needed in homes and even offices, and that led to the rise of Katwe. Similarly, with official news sources being scarce, we were forced to rely on word-of-mouth as a medium, ergo Radio Katwe.
And in Katwe they fabricated these things quite well without any professional training, it seemed, but just by looking at or studying an original and then copying its parts or altering it.
But that absence of professional training is an important factor, because whereas you could get a locally fabricated machine that did the basics of what it was intended to do, because of a small omission such as earthing you could kill yourself while making popcorn or ironing a handkerchief…
And that’s why I was thinking of Katwe, because that absence of professional training is what differentiates a journalist from any character with access to a Facebook, Twitter or blogging account. Professional training that gives a journalist the ability and skill to double check facts and present information in a clear, lucid, accurate manner, for instance.
Which is why anybody who gets their news from only social media sources should be as careful with it as the person who buys a popcorn machine fabricated in Katwe. A nail could come loose and shatter your teeth while you munch away at your salty snacks.
It may be accurate, and might work just fine, but there is a high likelihood that it’s not all safe.
Both of the stories that caused excitement this week contained major inaccuracies that didn’t make sense right under the surface, but the chatter on social media was torrid, angry and spread like a wildfire amongst people who didn’t even read them fully but just took the headlines and developed strong opinions.
And this is not about the media; rather, it’s about the consumers of media. Radio Katwe should continue fabricating stuff, but when you buy a device fabricated there, please use it carefully.

shoeless in Kampala while wondering: exactly how do other people afford these shoes?

I am not pessimistic but I find it hard to believe that there are people in the towns I live in who save up money over a period of many months in order to buy themselves a new pair of shoes.
The thought first occurred when a few months ago, having saved up what I thought was enough money to buy a pair of my own, I went over to the Bata shop nearest to me and tried to convert my money into leather cladding. I didn’t expect it to be a complicated affair, since I had easily done it before with relative success a number of times – each a few years apart.
For years, Bata has been my first choice of call because they seemed to be Ugandan, having been here through thick and thin – and even when I discovered that the company was Czechoslovakian in origin I stuck with them.
There was a time when their products were drab and depressing, and the butt of our school-day attacks on one another; in our stupid ignorance, we looked down on anyone who wore the canvass cloth, rubber-soled shoes we called ‘Sekatawa’.
The name arose after a legend that told of how the heroic Issa Sekatawa once ripped up his rare soccer boots during a game and opted for a nearby pair of Bata canvass shoes with which he scored a crucial game-winner.
Rather than pour accolades all over the shoes, silly schoolboys regarded them with scorn because they were cheap and easily attainable in the days when imported products were a sign of affluence and importance.
Safari BootWe regarded Safari boots in similarly low, if not lower, stead and woe betided (for real – you can google it) any young man who turned up at school in these boots.
Early into my adulthood, I bought a couple of imported shoes in Kampala then only bought shoes when I travelled to places that offered them affordably in plentiful variety, until somewhere along the way Bata increased their menu offering of shoes. I deliberately changed policy and began buying shoes only from them (the Czech angle aside).
They seemed to always stock the sturdy type of shoes and boots that my feet felt comfortable in, as opposed to the dainty, pointy-toed styles most coxcombs went for, at sensible prices.
Until a couple of months ago, when I found myself in the third Bata shop in a row, in Kampala, before realising a pattern in my failure to spend money on shoes.
Under intense interrogation, a shop attendant in that shop buckled and revealed that the company “no longer” stocked shoes larger than a regular size 10. Feeling guilty of having feet larger than necessary, I slunk off to a nearby shoe shop and tried to dispose of my earnings there, but failed to find the style of shoes I needed.
Pointing at a pair closest to my preferred style, I asked to try them on and as the attendant retreated to the stock room to find my size I enquired about the cost and was rattled.
Eight Hundred Thousand Shillings?!
“Not the entire shelf,” I attempted to joke, “just this one pair!”
The remaining shop attendant didn’t get it, and the indignation in my voice raised the attention of a lady at the high table who could only have been the imperious shop owner.
“What’s the problem?”
“These shoes are too expensive! Eight Hundred Thousand Shillings?!” I charged.
“Hmmm! People buy them,” she said, and turned back to her business. I left the shop at that pace one does when expecting that bargaining callback but none came my way.
For the next three hours I visited a number of clothing (and shoe) shops in malls and arcades through the city just to confirm that, indeed, people were buying shoes at these prices and by closing time in the evening I was soundly flabbergasted.
I even found shoes going for one and a half million shillings! And the shop attendants were incredulous over my astonishment.
“What was the big deal?” they generally retorted, “People buy them!”
I was licked. The mathematics involved in spending Ushs1million on a pair of shoes required one to earn much more money than I considered to be ’normal’.
And the number of shops comfortably selling shoes at these rates seemed to be much more in number than the people that I expected to be earning such amounts.
I have made many enquiries into the matter and have found very few people willing to confess that they spend so much on shoes in Kampala, so who is buying these shoes? How much do they earn per month, and how much of that do they save up before making their purchases? Do they also invest in things like pre-processing plants in rural Uganda? Is the money spent on shoes the left-overs of their purchases of stocks on the Securities Exchange? How does it work, this economic cycle, and why am I shoeless in all of this?
The investigation continues, but in the time being the people at Bata are losing out in not bringing in shoes in my foot size at prices that people like me can comfortably afford and fit our feet into using our normal monthly earnings.
But everybody else is losing out on a major opportunity to make massive profits turning hides and skins into shoes. The market out there is rich!

don’t worry about the heavy rains; the government has got this!

NOW that we have gotten the Cabinet reshuffle out of the way, I expect this week we will see a Press Conference addressed by the government on one key issue that we were all aware would arrive and have certainly been planning for as certainly as we have purchased umbrellas, rain coats and gum boots for it.

The rains are here!

The President and Vice President are busy going amongst the people, so they won’t be available for this event; besides, they have a Cabinet of Ministers working under them to implement things within the Executive according to their specific dockets but working in synchronisation:

The Prime Minister, leader of government business in Parliament, will by now (months ago!) have reviewed everyone’s proposed plans and gotten them together into one comprehensive approach by the government to the impending rains.

This being the main season of rains, on which our entire economy is practically hinged, the matter will have been taken with such seriousness that not even the reshuffle of positions will thwart the actions planned. Ministers arriving fresh into their dockets next week will align themselves to the plans so painstakingly put in place by their predecessors, in order not to cause delays – because nobody can stop the rain from falling.

The Ministers of Agriculture, Animal Industry & Fisheries will continue (or start) a drive amongst farmers and wannabe farmers like myself on what to plant and when, and will issue tips on growing food crops during the rains.

Our Ministers for the regions – Karamoja, Luwero, Bunyoro, Northern Uganda and Teso, will tag along fully to champion both the agricultural objective and solutions around long-term water catchment and the possibility of channeling water from places such as Bududa to Karamoja so that instead of landslides we have improved agriculture.

Announcing that last innovation will be the infrastructure Ministers – Works and Transport, Lands, Housing and Urban Development, as well as Water and Environment – because their dockets will have collaborated on this work. Of course, they will also tell the nation about other stuff done in preparation for the heavy rains; such as road maintenance works to avoid damage caused by water run-offs, housing maintenance to avert rain damage, and more against the other environmental hazards occasioned by unmanaged heavy rains – for instance, landslides and flooding.

Their planning will have been backed up by the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, teaming up with the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Affairs to put some of the refugees to work (those not incorporated into food growing programmes by the Agricultural guys working with the Ministry of Lands to allocate large tracts for the refugees to engage in large commercial programmes). Of course, the Ministry of Health people will have already gotten in there first, to ensure that nobody picks up or spreads diseases – which are known to spread rapidly in wet, humid conditions – but more importantly because a healthy population means we have a strong workforce.

Speaking of the Ministry of Labour, their interest will stretch beyond just providing agricultural labour; the Minister will detail to the world (not just Uganda, of course, since we are also in the business of process outsourcing these days – google that – and the Information Communications Technology people will see to that) all the work it has on its plate. This Ministry will outline the steps it has taken to help employers keep employees at work in spite of the rains – including initiatives conducted jointly with the Ministry of Trade, Tourism & Industry people to subsidise the cost of umbrellas, raincoats and gumboots so that “Rain” is not used as an excuse for late arrivals at work. (And they will have the Ministry of Public Service on a tight leash here as well).

The same tactics will be deployed, no doubt, by the Education and Sports people in ensuring that children don’t miss school with the same excuse; but they will also tell us that they have liaised with the infrastructure ministries to get all schools to do maintenance work on their structures so that rain doesn’t get through buildings or blow roofs away, if not worse.

Productivity will be at such an all time high; even the Tourism people will be promoting features enhanced by the rains – the waterfalls, lakes, flourishing floraBodas In Rain and fauna, rafting, fishing and adventure in lush, tropical forests, all the way to adrenalin-filled boda-boda-in-the-rain trips!

Productivity will be such that the Minister of Energy and Minerals will be relieved to announce that the additional supply of hydro electric power occasioned by increased water supply due to the heavy rains, is available and being consumed by all the industry and commerce taking place.

While all this is being unveiled, the Ministers with the widest smile will probably be that of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. You see, having seen the potential of this weather situation a long, long, long time ago, these will obviously have planned it to smithereens and helped coordinate all their colleagues into this well-oiled machinery that we are visualising now, in such a manner that the budget to be announced at the tail end of the rains will be boosted quite considerably!

And, on the sidelines but prominent, will be the ones assuring us that all is safe – Internal Affairs, Defence and Security; right from ascertaining the situation is so under control that burglars won’t be allowed to use the rain as cover to break into our homes, to covering the borders so well that people can focus on their agricultural activities without fear of terrorists sneaking through.

The task of revealing all this, neatly packaged in formats to be circulated by print, broadcast and even flyers and posters and mobile phones, will be happily undertaken by the Information and National Guidance Minister.

After that, the ball is in OUR court, we ordinary people.