Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hard to scale when trust and competence is lacking...

Happy Christmas everyone! Hope everyone is doing well wherever they are reading this from. First apologies to all those 2nd round applicants who have been trying to contact me to help them on their applications- timing is just not good around now, when I am trying to get a break from all things GSB, not to mention how infrequently I come online (internet connection is very scarce in Tanzania).

One thing I've been doing in the past week is observing and listening to some of the problems the family have had in running businesses here. It seems one of the big issues in trying to scale any business here in Tanzania, which may sound obvious, is of trusting employees and thus to effectively delegate. Or put another way, the lack of educated and competent middle managers to enable any business scale past more than a dozen employees. Its the sad truth when it comes to any high value, people intensive business. What ends up happening is that these professional/ or service orientated firms such as law, engineering end up having to bring in foreign or expatriate talent. The downside of hiring expatriates in Tanzania is that they often cannot thrive in the business or even living environment in Tanzania (power shortages etc...), not to mention fully understand the local markets. Inevitably, what ends up happening is that many CEOs or entrepreneurs are limited to organizations of no more than 20 employees with strict micromanaging and continue to doing basic tasks. Its crazy because when you try to offer any sort of long term strategic advice, these managers just rightly turn away- "I have enough issues just dealing with the day to day running of the business...". I suppose this sort of problem exists in the western world, although when the organization is at a much larger level- the need for such special projects outside the day to day running of the business is obviously met by management consultants.
The big limiting factor in Tanzania for the expansion of small businesses ends up being more of an issue sourcing local competent and trustworthy employees who can grow into middle managers rather than, as some would attest to, lack of available capital or market opportunities.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Homeward bound...

I'm heading home... Sounds like an obvious enough thing to do since its the x-mas break after all. The GSB is still alive and kicking however, there are plenty of exciting study trips- India, China, Guatemala, Japan and Scandinavia amongst places. Opportunities lost since I am not going on any of the great trips, one might think- but after 18 months of being away from home, something has to give- this is by far the longest extended period of time I've been away and I'm anxious for family contact. And it's not like I'm not going to be learning anything when I'm in Tanzania- this provides the perfect opportunity to evaluate some of my ideas in context, I'll also be meeting up with a GSBer who is traveling the region. My life already spans 3 continents, cultivating relationships across these geographies is becoming difficult- an although I see the value of study trips, I'm not so keen to stretch myself in that direction until I have a firm grasp of the US. I'll probably head to Asia in summer. Interestingly enough, friends and family in Tanzania are largely approving of my efforts here in the USA- they see the value the education brings and always have and can tolerate me being away for such a long time. This is in sharp contrasts to my European/UK friends- who now label me as "too hard working with no time to enjoy life"- this shocked me a bit. I'm sorry, being in California surrounded by smart people around the world with access to wise professors, entrepreneurs is the most fun I've had. Sure, its tough at times, but clearly the interpretation of my European counterparts of how I feel about my time here needs some clarification.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It saddens me- probably the toughest management challenge...

I'm ramping down towards the end of the quarter with only a week to go until I fly out to Tanzania. I am spending this weekend in Los Angeles and Vegas meeting up with some friends from the UK who happen to be in the area.

As I prepare to head back home for the first time since I came out here 18th months ago, I have been reading up more closely on the news there. The chronic power rationing as result of a combination of drought, corruption and mismanagement, vandalism and theft of equipment, lack of accountability (the list goes on...) the state owned power company undergoing privatization is causing big headaches back home. The power rationing continues to grip the country and seriously hinders economic progress- latest developments, the company put on a 6% price increase in the midst of 12+ hour black-outs.

The CEO/MD of the troubled power company was so stressed with trying to bring order to the company that he apparently suffered a stroke and is currently in hospital. Tanzania seems helpless and I think the situation is probably the ultimate management challenge- there is a CEO opening currently on the website
More info on the troubles is recounted by frustrated fellow Tanzanian blogger

Friday, December 01, 2006

Recruiters, please don't do this... How NOT to recruit MBAs

I just started the last series of interviews with a company that did not impress me with regard to their recruitment process.
One of the things that one gets very used to in MBA recruiting is meeting outstanding individuals from companies- at least at Stanford and I'm sure most business schools, there is significant management level involvement in recruiting. After all, if you are serious about recruiting top talent, going to business school is the reason you go there- to access top talent. Some companies will go through On Campus Recruiting, or insist that you actually beat down a path to their door- either way, when you finally end up landing an interview, it is normally with a manager or associate of some sort within the company.
Now I have very little against using recruiting agencies to help screen candidate resumes etc... i.e. do the manual work of matching job requirements to skills, proving basic company/division information etc... It can can reduce costs, and let one focus on more important things and all those great things about specialization. but when I realized that my 1st round phone interview with this company was actually still with a recruitment agency (in effect outsourced or delegated the 1st round), I was shocked beyond belief. The exchange went something like this:

INTERVIEWER: "So do you have any questions for me about SMARTCO?"
MBWANA: "Great- I just wanted to ask about what you do and what your day is like at SMARTCO?"
INTERVIEWER: "I don't work for SMARTCO, I work for RECAGENCY..."
MBWANA: Pause... "In that case, I have no questions as I'd like to ask someone who actually works at SMARTCO"

Never mind if I offended the recruiting agent- it just came out and it was honest! In the end I asked some questions about timing of calls for second round, how many people the company hope to hire this year and other mundane questions that recruiting agencies would be aware of. But how the hell am I meant to ask questions about things like company culture and what its actually like to work in the organization? Talk about outsourcing or contracting your most crucial function in the process. Sorry- but Round 1 MBA interviews, including phone interviews, should be with a member of your organization! Talent is too precious to leave to a recruiting agency when it actually comes to assessing competencies and skills (and responding to questions) at this level! What if I asked, what was the company's last quarterly performance? Would the agency know that? Maybe, maybe not- but why take the chance with someone not from your organization... If I get through to the next round, I hope its with an actual member of the company- but more importantly, this sends negative signal to me about how effectively they can actually bring on great talented people and hence maintain the quality of the organization.