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Creating NWSC’s Vision

By Agnes Asiimwe

Dr William Muhairwe became managing director of National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) in November 1998 and has since turned the formerly rundown organization into an efficient operation providing consultancy services to water utilities on the African continent.

How did you transform NWSC into an efficient organisation in a short time?

There is no set rule for managing any enterprise but there are common things every manager should do. The day I set foot in this corporation, I started doing a situational analysis of the organisation. We had 1,800 employees and I believed that out of those we needed 1,000 to do the work. The staff was good and highly qualified and only lacked motivation and the vision. I found that our customers had the money and were willing to pay. We had to work out the means and mechanisms of delivering a timely service and at a cost that would be affordable to everyone. We held customer as our king and served with a smile. That helped us to get the money. Our stakeholders; the government and the donors at the time wanted to privatize NWSC. We promised to deliver if government promised not to interfere. We got the go-ahead. Knowing my staff, my customers and knowing our stakeholders helped us.

What’s your management philosophy?

Transparency. Your staff should see you as a colleague and should trust you. Dependable. Your staff should depend on you and you should be able to trust them to depend on them. You must not want to do everything yourself because you will not manage. Predictability. They should be able to understand you enough to predict your reaction.

What has been your biggest management challenge?

Dr Muhairwe’s tips on successful management

  1. Be yourself, know what you want, create your vision.
  2. Respect customers.
  3. Know the environment you operating in; learn how to work with people.
  4. You are not going to change things in a day. In the NWSC case, it was a bit easy. When I got here, we set a vision for ourselves and targeted that in 100 days we would transform how national water worked at the time. I encouraged my staff to work day and night. Within three months we could see where NWSC was heading and forged a vision ahead. We were lucky, the environment wasn’t hostile and customers were willing to pay. But for those who are beginning afresh, give yourself time, two to three years.
  5. Family is important. a manager who forgets his family will forget his workers.
  6. Motivate your staff. We don’t have a culture of late coming. There are performance bonuses and performance incentives. All our work is based on targets and the corporate vision to be the best in the world. If you want to be the best in the world you can’t attend all the funeral ceremonies in your family. [But] we are very strict, we have just suspended senior staff member for failing to come and do a test. NWSC holds [in-house] paper tests regularly on improving service.

Trying to balance the technical part and the commercial orientation of it; when I came in, the commercial side of the business was neglected. I had many highly qualified engineers. They were talking of building big plants and lines. Now we have focused more on the commercial side and the engineers are now becoming commercial and forgetting the technical part of it. As a manager I should be able to balance, and bringing the balance is a challenge I still have.

Secondly, this is an unpredictable environment and you get surprises, for example, the behaviour of our customers. You get influential people stealing water yet water is very cheap. When big consumers like a factory, a hotel get illegal connections it makes me wonder. Some staff members get engaged in illegal activities. May be it has to do with the way they were brought up, the culture.

What innovations are in the pipeline?

Our vision is to be the best in the world. It took us eight years to work towards being the best in Africa. Time has come for us to balance the technical and commercial aspects of our business. The number of our customers is increasing especially those on the outskirts of Kampala. Our pumping capacity to long distances is minimal. The farther you are, the less pumping pressure you have. To resolve that, every hill in Kampala will be provided with a tank on the over 50 hills.

We have $60 million funding from African Development Bank and the government of Germany. We want the sewage system in Kampala to be revamped and refurbished.

We have plans to produce our own power of biogas which will produce about 3 mega watts, enough to drive sewage and water facilities, and the project starts within three years.

We are building our mineral water plant and by next year we shall be producing mineral water.

We are starting a leadership academy in Bugolobi where we shall train managers and leaders from around Africa, especially those working in the water sector.

About NWSC

It’s a utility parastatal owned by the government. It was established in 1972. It was initially in the three towns of Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe. It’s currently in 23 towns.

About Muhairwe

He starts his working day at 4.30 am. He swims and visits the gym regularly. He’s worked as the general manager of East African Steel Corporation (1990-1995) and as Executive Director Uganda Investment Authority till 1998. He is credited for implementing a series of innovative performance initiatives that have propelled NWSC as a model water organisation in Africa. The World Bank has described Dr Muhairwe’s leadership as ‘passionate and driven by short-term results that lead to long term impact’.

 

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