Patrick Bitature is the Chairman Uganda Investment Authority and the CEO of Simba Group of companies.
As a businessman with interests in banking, hotels, insurance, telecom, energy and other fields, how did you find 2010 as a year of doing business?
The Year 2010 was an interesting and challenging one. It saw the advent of mobile money in the telecom industry, which has created more revenue streams for businesses and largely revolutionised the payment systems in the financial sector. It was challenging as it saw the depreciation of the Uganda Shilling against the US Dollar by close to 25 percent, which led to inflation of most imported products hence increasing the cost of doing business in Uganda. The agricultural sector also faced unpredictable rainfall patterns, which led to poor production for those who did not use modern farming methods.
As the chairman Uganda Investment Authority, how do you rate the level of investment in Uganda compared to our East African peers?
Uganda has been the highest Foreign Domestic Investment earner in the region for some time now, so we are near the top of our game largely because of the predictable, stable economic policies set up by our government. We were at the forefront of liberalisation. We lead and others follow.
Many people still insist that the government’s private sector-led growth strategy is not the best?
I will ask these people to think again. The private sector is currently the largest source of employment in the nation and largest contributor to the government coffers by way of tax revenue. The growth in the last 20 years has been phenomenal by any standards; from Shs 5 billion to Shs 5 trillion (in taxes) per annum.
But there must be areas where the country needs to improve to attract more investment.
Government needs to invest in infrastructure that will encourage investors, including Ugandans living in the Diaspora to invest in Uganda. There is a very big untapped pool of potential investors who are looking for investment opportunities here but fall short of identifying the opportunities. We have to bridge this gap.
You have ventured into regional markets, what do local businessmen need to know to succeed in those markets?
To operate in these markets, you need to identify a team of people you can trust to run the business while you are away; the right people doing the right things at the right time. One has to empower your staff and give them the authority to match the responsibility.
More foreigners have been venturing into retail and petty trade here, what do locals need to do to keep their edge?
Locals need to sharpen their business and entrepreneurial skills by improving their customer service, service delivery, business systems and be more innovative and creative by looking for ways to expand to other niche markets. You retain a customer for as long as you can, but if he has moved on to a cheaper or better supplier, the best you can do is win another. The little story of `Who moved my cheese’ comes to mind.
Business success such as yours calls for certain tenets. What is your management style?
My management style is very simple. There’s a saying that “iron sharpens iron” so I hire managers who I think are more intelligent than me. Otherwise I would not need to hire someone who is not bringing value to the business. I hope they can do what I do as just as well as I do or better than what I can do
You have quite a number of roles, how do you juggle them?
Delegation; I have a team of young, dynamic and energetic youth who help me organise my schedules, research, meetings etc. I also read a lot and put in a lot of man-hours. At the end of the day, there is no shortcut to hard work for me or my team.
What lessons were there to pick in the year?
Businesses need to diversify from having import-based inputs to local produced inputs in an attempt to hedge the forex-risk and manage headline inflation. Furthermore the private sector should embrace ICT to be more efficient in their goods and service delivery. The agricultural sector should seriously consider irrigation to maintain production capacity during very hot and very wet weather patterns. The use of fertilisers is inevitable with the fast growing local and regional population and demand.
What are your projections for 2011 in terms of doing business?
I intend to embrace a 3P approach; People, the planet and profit. I will focus on businesses that will lead to development of the community; I mean to have a real social impact on the local communities, conservation of the environment- this is often understated, and profitability of the enterprise for sustainability.
Where do you see Uganda’s economy in five years time?
In five years time, Uganda will be an oil producing country and it is known that we will then be able to finance our public expenditure/national budget from these revenues. With regional peace from Sudan to Burundi and regional integration and cooperation, I see us becoming a much stronger economy with much better infrastructure, health and education services and invariably higher standards of living for all the nationals. There will better healthcare, primary and secondary education. This all depends of course on good Management with a capital M, and leadership with a capital L. That’s the silver bullet.