Ubuntu will boost your busi­ness

CityPress - - Business - Muzi Kuzwayo busi­ness@ city­press. co. za Kuzwayo is the founder of Ig­ni­tive, an ad­ver­tis­ing agency

Ire­cently bumped into an ex­ec­u­tive who is in the food busi­ness. He was squint­ing as if the glare of death was hurt­ing his eyes. Beer in hand, he spoke in tongues, spew­ing busi­ness gib­ber­ish, such as “core com­pe­tency”, as if his com­pany had just wo­ken up from the deep slum­ber of core medi­ocrity.

“Times are tough,” he said to me, “and we ex­pect the se­cond half of the year to get tougher when in­fla­tion caused by the weak­en­ing of the rand starts to bite.

“In­fla­tion­ary growth is not what we want, al­though re­tail­ers love it. We don’t want that kind of growth. But what can we do? We are in an en­vi­ron­ment of value con­sump­tion.”

His big­gest worry, I found out as we con­tin­ued to chat, was a Tan­za­nian milling com­pany that has opened its doors on our shores. Yes, a JSE-listed busi­ness that em­ploys hoards of grad­u­ates is quiv­er­ing be­cause of a com­pany that was started by a man who left school at the age of 14 to sell potato mix.

Sto­ries of un­e­d­u­cated peo­ple start­ing suc­cess­ful busi­nesses are noth­ing new, but what makes this one dif­fer­ent is that it was started by an African who is most com­fort­able in his own skin, cul­ture and all things that make him who he is, Said Bakhresa.

He be­longs to that ex­clu­sive band of en­trepreneurs who started from hum­ble be­gin­nings, worked and watched their busi­nesses grow. Such peo­ple have be­come a rare breed in­deed, es­pe­cially in th­ese days of end­less bor­row­ing and the fi­nan­cial crises that fol­low.

Bakhresa started with a small restau­rant in Dar es Salaam, Tan­za­nia, and now turns over more than $800 mil­lion (R12.6 bil­lion) a year.

Bakhresa Group, my ex­ec­u­tive friend com­plained, was a fam­ily busi­ness, and so was happy with a 2% or 3% growth mar­gin. Listed com­pa­nies en­joy no such lux­ury – the share­hold­ers want 10 times that.

If he fails to de­liver that con­sis­tently, he has to find al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment. It was all un­fair, he said, as he rapidly ut­tered ex­ple­tives and blamed his com­peti­tors for not be­ing greedy.

Bakhresa’s mis­sion is “to in­crease and sus­tain the liv­ing stan­dards of peo­ple by pro­vid­ing them with es­sen­tial prod­ucts and ser­vices of global qual­ity at af­ford­able prices”.

Nowhere does it talk about the in­vis­i­ble share­hold­ers who want prof­its, no mat­ter what it takes. When this com­pany talks about its val­ues, it puts em­ploy­ees first.

“We treat our em­ploy­ees as our as­sets, not an ex­pense item in a profit-and-loss ac­count. We recog­nise that keep­ing the em­ployee morale high is the key to achiev­ing our suc­cess. Team spirit and syn­ergy are the hall­marks of our work cul­ture. Our em­ploy­ees have a sense of own­er­ship in what they do.”

This is Har­vard-speak for ubuntu, and it is at the foun­da­tion of our suc­cess as African peo­ple. Ig­nore it at your peril.

We have to in­fuse it in our busi­nesses if they are to suc­ceed, and dis­cour­age the ram­pant seeds of cor­rup­tion, as well as greed and un­bri­dled ex­cesses, where peo­ple spend as if there is no to­mor­row.

We have to learn from the struc­tures of our or­gan­i­sa­tions such as African churches and tra­di­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions such as stokvels. They are all de­cen­tralised and the branches work as au­ton­o­mous units. Cen­tral plan­ning, whether by govern­ment or head of­fice, does not work in Africa.

As a peo­ple, we are too re­bel­lious for that. So it is im­per­a­tive for the lead­ers of the or­gan­i­sa­tion to give di­rec­tion – the dream – and then leave it to the em­ploy­ees to make that a re­al­ity.

Com­pa­nies can only do that if they trust their peo­ple, which is a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive from the usual polic­ing men­tal­ity that most South Africans have grown up with.

De­cen­tral­i­sa­tion has an added ben­e­fit – it creates fu­ture lead­ers for the or­gan­i­sa­tion, which is im­por­tant for the sus­tain­abil­ity of the busi­ness.

There is some­thing that we Africans do all the time at gath­er­ings – we recog­nise some­one: “Stand up, let them see you.”

Mass pro­duc­tion has taken this away, and re­duced work to a fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tion. It’s no won­der em­ploy­ees are al­ways on strike – de­mand­ing more money be­cause there is noth­ing else for them.

Now that com­pa­nies such as Bakhresa strike fear in the hearts of high-pow­ered ex­ec­u­tives, it means the dreams of the found­ing fa­thers such as Mwal­imu Julius Ny­erere and Kwame Nkrumah are fi­nally be­ing re­alised, and it is up to us to fan the flames so that they spread through­out the con­ti­nent.

Team spirit and syn­ergy are the hall­marks of our work cul­ture. Our em­ploy­ees have a sense of own­er­ship in what they do

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