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Lack of regional focus denies Ugandan firms, CEOs respect

By Patrick Kagenda

How do East African CEO’s rate Ugandan companies? Not with much respect, according to results of a survey of about 300 CEOs from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda.

In fact the only name with a presence in Uganda that has maximum respect among regional CEO’s is the multinational telecom company, Zain.

The CEO’s East Africa’s Most Respected Company Survey was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and Nation Media Group of Kenya, which also owns The Monitor Publications Ltd, NTV, and Kfm radio in Uganda. The CEOs gave their opinions in interviews with Steadman Synovate. The winners were announced at a gala dinner on November 28 at the Kampala Serena Hotel.

This year, the industry-specific awards were phased out in a move that dramatically reduced the number of awards from 23 to seven””four country awards and three East African awards.

Regionally, the most respected companies were telecom giant, Safaricom, from Kenya which was winning for the second year in a row, Kenya Airways, and Zain.

In Uganda, MTN was most respected company, followed by Mukwano Group and Zain. In Kenya, Safaricom was again most respected, Kenya Airways again second, and Equity Bank third.

In Rwanda, which was participating for the first time, MTN Rwanda was most respected, Bralilwa Breweries second place and Serena Hotel third.

In Tanzania, Precision Air was most respected, IPP Media second, and Vodacom Tanzania was third.

Regionally, the biggest loser this year was East African Breweries Limited, which despite winning top spot more than once previous, has recently been knocked out of competition. Despite fielding 45, or about half of 108 companies that participated in the competition, Uganda earned little respect.

Apparently, Uganda’s problem is that the companies are small players without a regional presence. The Mukwano Group, which is the only local company that won, has a plant in Tanzania manufacturing soap, cooking oil and plastics and exports products to regional markets. The winners were chosen on the basis of the strength of their brands, market presence, product innovation, and expansion into new markets. As a result, companies that manage and own brands firmly rooted in the region, emerged as most respected in East Africa.

Regional presence this year was critical because companies were judged on their ability to spread their risk and tap opportunities across the region.

Majority of Ugandan based multinational companies are headed by non Uganda nationals. Ms Janet Kimani, the marketing and communications officer at Price water house coopers (Kenya), told the independent the survey is focused on business leaders from most of the influential companies in the region with a regional footprint, a market cap of a certain size and operating in a strategic sector.

A survey done by the independent on twenty of the biggest companies in Uganda revealed that very few Ugandan citizens head multinational companies as CEO`s.

Price Water house Coopers Uganda office said “It was CEO`s nominating their fellow CEO`s who they thought had performed well. It was an opinion poll of peers,” another official of the organization said.

One of the questions asked was: “Who do you respect and why? The survey was the 9th edition of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers organized awards for the Central, East African block.

The companies were judged according to market presence, innovation and market expansion and how the CEOs were dealing with risk and opportunities in a period of global economic crisis.

The other criteria, was innovativeness. Both Safaricom and Zain, which swept the most accolades, demonstrated significant innovation over the period; Safaricom by capitalizing on its platform to distribute airtime electronically during the January political chaos in Kenya and Zain for successfully rebranding from Celtel. Uganda Investment Authority Executive Director Dr. Maggie Kigozi says Ugandan companies do not earn much respect from regional peers because they have small budgets, operate small, and do not sell their products on a large scale.

The multinational companies have big budgets, exposure to international media, and big corporate social responsibility projects which make a very big difference between them and local companies.

Kigozi says the multinationals are able to do well because of the perception people have about them and their good branding methods.

Ugandans also fair badly at the CEO level.

Again Kigozi attributes Ugandans failure to occupy posts as CEO`s to lack of experience.

“In spite of Ugandans being highly educated and having the best education in the region, they lack experience. But we hope the situation will better as more and more multi national companies are established in Uganda,” she said.

Simon Rutega, the executive director at Uganda Securities Exchange (USE) said Kenyans are very aggressive so Ugandans need to pull up their socks to find a place in the competitive CEO`s world which is a jungle for the strongest to survive.

The USE was nominated but did not win any trophy. This year’s findings are critical because, for the first time, they will be on the agenda of the 2009 World Economic Forum in January in Davos, Switzerland as part of a global study of CEOs conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The World Economic Forum is a meeting of the world’s leaders in business, politics, intellectuals, and media that focuses on global issues.


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