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!

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