Private Equity

Last weekend I spent a long day in rural Yorkshire in the North of England. Tramping the fields, we had plenty of time to chat and I met a man in Private Equity.Car no engine

It’s an interesting profession. Investing in enterprises with potential for growth. Persuading others to invest. Taking an active role in the Board. Pushing for performance. Supporting initiatives that drive success. And then exiting with a tidy profit.

Sounds easy, but isn’t. Along with Financial Skills you must have an appetite for risk that modern bankers lack. You must quickly understand sector dynamics. You need a working understanding of a many disciplines, from Sales and Marketing to Production and Procurement. And if you get it wrong, your prospects of return and, perhaps more importantly, your reputation may be diminished.

I asked my new friend what steps he and his colleagues took to understand the companies that they bought into. He waxed lyrical about various aspects of Due Diligence. He was extremely confident on matters financial, as you might expect. When we came to brand value he seemed to be on shakier ground. A strong brand was ‘a good thing’. But how to measure brand strength was more of a puzzle. Continue reading

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Toxic brands

While I was in South Africa last week, President Zuma unveiled a new statue to the late Oliver Reginald Tambo, former President in Exile of the ANC during the Anti-Apartheid Struggle. O.R. Tambo was the legal partner and lifelong friend of Nelson Mandela. He would have been 100 years old this year. Quietly spoken, consultative and clear thinking, one of his many achievements was to lay the foundations of the country’s new Constitution.Blog pic Zuma (1)

Quite what he would have thought about being unveiled by President Zuma we cannot guess. One person who watched the ceremony told me she was surprised the statue didn’t melt. The ANC under Zuma is now so far adrift from the vision of its founders that Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Sello Hatang recently commented, “We should honour these two great South Africans (Mandela and Tambo) by accepting that the struggle is not yet over. We should all continue to strive for a truly non-racial, non-sexist and equal society and to vigilantly guard our democracy and our Constitution.”

Grassroots opinion against Zuma continues to build and there are hopes that December’s Elections for ANC President may trigger a change process. The ANC itself is not yet a failed brand or a toxic one. But the same cannot be said for a growing number of prominent businesses that have unwisely chosen to serve the Zuma-Gupta axis. First to go poisonous was British Public Relations group Bell Pottinger, reviled for using their skills to promote racial discord while working for the Gupta’s Oakbay Capital. Clients deserted in droves, senior heads rolled and the firm was condemned by the industry’s governing body for bring Public Relations into disrepute.

Global consultancy firm McKinsey has also lost some of its lustre after being hauled up in from of parliamentary committee in South Africa for its work for the Zuma and company. Continue reading

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Retail success requires relationships

One of the greatest retail success stories in the world, that has prospered for over a century, is now facing down new retail giants. Very soon, online shopping portals Amazon, Alibaba and eBay will command 40% of global e-commerce.


Like every retail operation, the John Lewis Partnership is assessing how much emphasis to put behind traditional channels (stores) and online. Marketing Director Becky Brock believes that it is human interactions, not just a focus on digital, that will help her brand to stand out. She told last week’s UK Festival of Marketing that John Lewis faced “irrelevancy” if it failed to live up to customer expectations.

While John Lewis is upping its e-commerce game and offering customers more digital personalisation, this will “count for nothing” if the retailer doesn’t still offer great human experiences. That of course has always been the foundation of the John Lewis brand – one of the first businesses to turn all its employees into shareholders. Since then, their staff, or ‘Partners’, have always delivered careful service and impartial advice to customers.

Here in East Africa, any retail growth we have seen has been driven by attempts to scale-up physical presence. E-commerce is relatively new; but may have high potential among our young early-adopting consumers. But the hard truth, witnessed both by highly public retail failures and by behind-boardroom-doors disappointment, is that we have not yet mastered retail on a large scale. Continue reading

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Fit for work

The other day, a very senior PR practitioner in Uganda asked me a very good question. Why was it, he asked, that in a column about Marketing, I frequently strayed away from hardcore issues like branding. Why talk about HR and management and leadership?Old skier

The answer is relatively straightforward if you agree with me that Marketing is too important an issue to be side-lined and delegated to the Marketing Department alone. The way a CEO leads a business; the way managers organise business process; and the way the senior team relates to their staff are all factors that impact on the marketing of brands and businesses.

Last week I met with colleagues in London to further develop our initiatives on two important groups in the global workforce. You won’t be surprised to hear that one group was the much-quoted Millennials. The other was the Treacle Layer, about whom I wrote recently. This is the layer of older employees who hold a great deal of institutional knowledge, but are often resistant to organisational change. As you can imagine; these people can play both positive and negative roles in brand delivery.

Although the Treacle Layer is a bigger issue in ageing Western economies, they are definitely present in our region. Look around you in your own workplace and you’ll see plenty of people who have been in the organisation for many years. They know a lot, and have firm opinions about how everyone should behave. But suggest changing something, and you’ll soon experience tooth-sucking and head shaking. Continue reading

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Not different enough

There’s a lot of loose talk about differentiation these days. Most of it happens in Marketing Departments, and not enough at the Boardroom table. Frankly, we need to get better at it if we hope to build our regional economy.11073647703_40c7b41016_b

The ability to recognise differentiation and understand its implications was a very early part of human psychological evolution. As hunter gatherers, we had to recognised different fruits, plants and seeds and understand their impact on our digestive systems. There were no ‘warning, may contain nuts’ labels in the primal forest. Similarly, our ancestors had to know instinctively what to do when they met a browsing herbivore or a hungry carnivore. And nature quickly deleted those who were slow on the uptake.

So, recognition of differentiation and its implications is hard wired into modern consumers. It makes them quick to evaluate brand promises versus product performance. And now, thanks to the Internet, they can trumpet their opinions far and wide in an instant – sounding a digital alarm call. Calling their social network to try this new wonder, or warning them away from that hazard.

As a business leader, you already know that differentiation is the start of any sustainable enterprise. Your venture must stand out from the crowd. And do so in a way that is relevant to a consumer need. It’s not enough to launch yet another pharmacy chain and thereby hope for a share of that category. You know that you must identify gaps in product, service, accessibility and value proposition if your business is going to attract customers. Continue reading

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The human voice

There’s nothing quite like the human voice, is there? As our primary means of communication, nothing can engage us quite like it. It can enrapture or enrage; inspire or oppress. The composer Richard Strauss noted that the human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but also the most difficult to play.Find your voice

I have the privilege of hearing many leaders address their staff, in many different contexts. In time of success and failure. At the beginning of the many chapters of corporate life. And at the close. And the observation I must make is that one voice does not fit all.

As a leader, one must learn how to adjust voice timbre, not just volume. Many Chief Executives think volume alone is the key to personality projection. Perhaps they learn this from watching African politicians. But that’s a far from good example. Shouting loudly; and chopping their messages into clauses that bear no relation to human speech. Letting sentences tail off so that their audience is coerced into finishing them. That kind of stuff only works with the lowest common denominator audience – the kind that gathers because there’s a jamboree in town, not because they intend to consider what you have to say.

Recent research by Quantified Impressions, a communications analytics business in Austin Texas, used a panel of ten experts and one thousand listeners to evaluate the impact of various speaking styles. They found that voice quality delivered twice as much impact as spoken content. And that passion, knowledge and humility were powerful enhancers. Continue reading

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Last mile delivery

With the continued development of the Standard Gauge Railway, East Africa can look forward to big changes in the way goods are imported and exported, and indeed delivered to customers.Developing_Delivery_Drones_hero

My understanding is that two container trains per day will be able to carry 90% of what is currently transported by road. From Mombasa to Nairobi; and in due course on to Naivasha, Kisumu and over the border into Uganda.

The first implication of this change will be that Nairobi will become a port. The second is that logistics companies and transporters will need to find a new use for their trucks. This is already beginning; with far-sighted plans for modern distribution centres being brought to fruition around Greater Nairobi. A model that towns and cities further North and West should also be contemplating.

All kinds of businesses are considering new options for what is known as last mile delivery – the final steps to putting a product onto a retail shelf or into the consumer’s hand.

Irish investor Ion Equity has already launched an ambitious end-to-end solution to securely supplies genuine pharmaceuticals to patients. The NGO community estimates that currently the percentage of counterfeit medicine in East Africa is over 50%. These counterfeits are not generics, but fakes. Drugs with expensive active ingredients removed and some of the savings put back into making the packaging look world class. How dangerous is that? Continue reading

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Marketing leaders needed

moi-quan-he-ky-la-giua-2-con-nguoi-vi-dai-bill-gates-steve-obsWe live and work in a region where there are still relatively few Marketers at Executive Board level. In fact, there are fewer Marketing Directors than HR Directors. This may reflect the perception that HR – in its traditional role of controlling the workforce – is more deserving of a seat at the top table than those charged with promoting the business. If so, both parts of that perception are wrong. Companies need HR leaders attuned to the company’s promise to the market, and able to recruit and develop staff to deliver it. But they also need senior marketers; able to represent the consumer point of view at Board level.

When I talk to Managing Directors in Africa, their biggest criticism of the Marketing fraternity seems to be a lack of commercial acumen. Marketers have a reputation of being good act activity, but not so hot on productivity. Happy to spend money; but not too keen to be held to account for it.

The issue is not local. Commenting on the global profession, Professor Mark Ritson of Melbourne Business School is forthright: “I remain convinced that most marketers don’t really understand gross margin and variable costs. They live in a bull***t bubble.”

So how can Marketers rise to greatness? What skills and attributes do they need to develop on the journey?

I must admit that looking for answers in Marketing Week’s ‘Anatomy of a Leader’ research study was unrewarding. Perhaps because 600 UK marketers were sampled; but no opinions sought from senior colleagues in other disciplines. Continue reading

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Customer Experience for Tourists

7996864-african-traditional-jumps-masai-mara-warriors-dancing-kenyaIt’s all change on the regional tourism front with Kenya emerging largely undisrupted (we hope) from its Election process. Tanzanian tourism is delivering much less value for money thanks to ill-considered Presidential interference in taxes and levies. And in Uganda, an entrepreneurial sector continues to develop adventurous holiday options while battling with underdeveloped infrastructure.

All these macro-economic factors impact on the visitors’ perceptions of the tourism experience. It’s hard to address them, because tourism operators are limited to lobbying. And often they find themselves talking to stone deaf politicians and public servants.

But there are many aspects of the customer experience that operators can address. And I don’t just mean making sure the tea is hot or the sheets are clean. Customer experience in a marketing sense – the delivery of brand against promise – is now becoming a top priority.

No wonder, as many companies in the travel industry, particularly airlines, consistently rank in the lower levels of customer satisfaction league tables.

Many tourism brands are generic, following category norms. (Have you ever seen a Safari website without the obligatory leaping Maasai?) If your promise is generic, then it’s difficult to deliver without disappointment.

Poor customer experience on arrival and during the stay does significant damage to tourism brands. Social media has shifted power to the customer enabling them to hold any business to a new standard of performance. Tourist expectations are not static but change due to the broader influence of online properties like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb. Continue reading

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