How our attitudes can undermine business
John, not real name, recently visited a bank for an urgent overdraft. Seeing the credit manager was more than a sinner meeting a priest for the holy sacrament of penitence. John spent about three agonizing hours waiting to see the ‘big man’ of the bank.
Finally, when he was ushered in by the apparently disinterested secretary, he was informed that the credit manager had just gone through ‘the other door’ for lunch! It was a case of the familiar cat and mouse game. John was then advised to return late in the afternoon as the credit manager would be attending an urgent meeting in the early afternoon. Just before John left the bank, he suggested to the secretary that the next time he visited the office of the credit manager he would have to carry a packed lunch for any unforeseen contingencies. She seemed to approve of this idea, for throughout John’s ordeal, he had not been served with anything, not even a glass of water or a bottle of Inyange or Huye for that matter.
Finally, when John did see the credit manager, sometime about 17hrs, in a matter of three minutes, he was informed that the application for the urgent overdraft was going to take no less than a week to process! It is now eight long days since that memorable ordeal at the esteemed bank and, according to John, no word has come from the manager’s office yet.
You are bewildered when the manager’s secretary gives you that bizarre look of someone least interested in your business. The Secretary or Executive Assistant has no idea that your visit is strictly business: How to increase the volume of business which would, in turn, yield higher returns for the business for which the said secretary works. Her next monthly salary may depend on the business that you intend to bring in. She has no idea and neither does she care about the business of the bank clients’, for after all, her boss is equally disinterested in his clients’ business. All he cares for is the pay cheque at the end of the month. Is this business?
Let me say this: We have little or no customer care. And I mean it. Visit shops, shopping centres or restaurants and you will tell me your experience.
There is something fundamentally amiss with our attitude to work and how seriously we take our tasks. Equally wanting is the way we conduct our business. It is possible that African culture does not support modern business and the entrepreneurial spirit that we constantly speak about and laud. We need to carry out research to get to the root course of all this. We seem to be in the habit of advancing those traits and tendencies that are inimical to business. Our business meetings are un-businesslike.
Paul Barthram has observed in his “emerging Africa”, that ‘‘sub-Saharan Africa has always been a difficult market to cater for. Barriers faced have included political instability, fluctuating currencies, economies based on volatile changing industries such as oil and agriculture, erratic geographical changes when it comes to areas of business and other problems ranging from terrorism to bouncing cheques’.
Elias Boughost paints a rather gloomier picture when he observes that ‘it is hard to find a country that has been stable over the last twenty or even ten years’. I would not doubt the incorrectness of this observation especially when one considers that, the aid agencies, including the hundreds of thousands of NGOs that litter the entire length and breadth of our continent, are in the business of exaggerating Africa’s crises. You know the reasons. What about the unfriendly media that are controlled and manipulated by those who wish to keep us in a perpetual state of dependency.
There are others like Sakant Mishra who agree that the financial difficulties of doing business in Africa often throw up some interesting challenges. Banking as a business, he says, is a very open business. So it is very difficult to develop trust in a bank. There are so many banks that are fighting bankruptcy, it makes it very important to get backing from an international bank for third party bank confirmation, Mishra concludes.
At the risk of sounding pedantic, I would say that in the absence of serious business acumen and entrepreneurial dynamism, Africa could remain in a state of dependency. It would be unfair if I did not pay tribute to the young men and women and all those working hard to make our country and indeed the continent a better place for our posterity. We should always remember that we are living in a world different from that inhabited by our forbearers. We live in a fast changing world in which competitiveness and enterprise are the order of the day. And the good news is that for entrepreneurs, Africa represents, interestingly, the last great open market.
Contact email: oscar_kim2000[at]yahoo.co.uk