A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dapson Mwendafilumba explains his success

Billy Sichone writes: "Greetings brethren, find attached, an interview write up with the late brother, Mr Dabson Mwendafilumba. I carried out the interviews in two parts, in 2000/01 & 2004. I often enjoyed our discussions on management and Strategy and has greatly influenced some of my management ideas. In writing my Strategic Horizon book (see introduction/acknowledgements page), I consulted him quite a bit. Thus, this writeup is exhumed from the archives and is now available to the public."

Interview with Mr Dabson Mwendafilumba, MA

This interview was carried out by Billy Sichone with Mr Dabson Mwendafilumba (with family in picture below), CEO of the Hostels Board Zambia, a chain of lodges dotted around Zambia. The objective of the interview was to discover how and why the said lodges were doing well under the Leadership of Mr Mwendafilumba, given a very dark background when the lodges once were not as good as they have suddenly become in recent years. Thus, this interview centres on strategic thinking, management, planning as well as quality issues.

Interview date: October 2001 & July 2004 Venue: Mongu Lodge & Nyati Close, Rhodes Park, Lusaka

1. What, in your own word, is management?

Ans: In my own words, I would define Management as the process of managing resources ensuring that there is no management crisis. In other words, I could say ensuring that all resources under your case are properly harnessed and used to their intended end.

2. What various styles of management do you know?

Ans: I know several but I will give some that immediately come to mind. I must state first of all that management styles depending on the context as well as the team/hierarchical structure is framed. Now as for the styles, I know the following:
a) Coaching management
b) Autocratic management
c) Laissez faire and lastly
d) Team building management.

I must also state that in Africa, management is quite different from that which you find elsewhere. It is a power distant type of management so that there is fear instilled instead of friendship in relations between supervisors and subordinates. As I have mentioned, this differs from the Western world where people are addressed by their first names, showing that they are colleagues and comrades.

3. Which one do you espouse or prefer?

Ans: Management is based on team building these days and to succeed, we need to depend on each other. Therefore, I prefer and practice this type of management.

4. Does team work or spirit exist or work in Zambia?

Ans: It has worked in the lodges that I am Director of. All our managers meet quarterly to discuss and create friendship by working together. When we meet, we have fun together and ensure we create a conducive environment where we are all at liberty. Every meeting, we begin in prayer which has helped unite us. In order to spice or enrich our meetings, we visit tourist attractions, engage in recreational team building activities like swimming which in effect create dependability on one another. After refreshing, we meet once again to brain storm and focus on one thing, ensuring there is a shared vision in common as well as buy in. As the leader, I ensure they all see the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ akin to what the Magi of old did.

5. How is the management today different from that of long ago? (What are the trends in management circles you have observed?)

Ans: Traditional Management wasted time on fighting each other and standards as such would start to decline. This cannot be tolerated now due to increase in marketing and competition. Furthermore, in a traditional management setting, new ideas are not encouraged or let to blossom but in the current context, you must continuously be coming up with new ideas which will be generated by different people contributing from within the team.
As for the trends, Management in Zambia is changing at a slow pace as top management still tend to hide information from subordinates that would enlighten and build them up. Information is still the private preserve of the few thus curtailing anyone one from effectively contributing. Furthermore, in Zambia, the power distance between supervisor and supervised is still large although some modifications exist in pockets here and there but by and large, things are still pretty much the same. In addition, management does not come with one mind but different individuals are busy pursuing their own things at the expense of organizational development indicating very little buy in and no shared vision. That’s the picture in Zambia as I see it. But the good news is that we are changing the picture in the Lodges and I am sure we are far ahead of the others although admittedly we have our own challenges along the way.

6. How has been the transition from Traditional to modern management?

Ans: It hasn’t been easy admittedly but there have been pockets of resistance here and there as people dread to leave the comfort zone. If we are to be successful, there must be willingness to change, though change is not an easy undertaking.

7. How long have you been in management?

Ans: Well! I have been around quite a bit!
Specifically, I have been in management circles since 1989. I have risen through the ranks and was executive officer but I am now the Executive Secretary or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Hostels Board in Zambia.

8. What about in the Hotel industry how long have you worked there?

Ans: Like I mentioned, I have been in the hotel industry as far back as 1989 where I have most of my professional life.

9. How do you manage as a professional running a Government owned (Quasi - Government) business? I am sure there is a lot of political interference. I would be interested to know how you play the balancing act.

Ans: It is a very delicate exercise I must admit because every move, decision or act that you do is meticulously watched but I am pleased to let you know that we do not run like bureaucratic Government. In as much as we have some bureaucracy but Government has graciously allowed the Lodges to somewhat operate independently by and large. This has enabled the lodges to make significant headway because this is viewed as a strategic institution to the Government as well. A balance must be struck in relying on the Government and at the same time implementing modern management principles.

As for the balancing act that you mention, so far we have no problem emanating from political interference, in fact, the Government has been very supportive, desiring that the lodges improve and become self sustaining.

We have challenges in running the lodges one of them being the delayed payments which makes it difficult for us to raise the lodge standards where they can effectively compete with others in the same industry. However we have put some strategies in place to ensure we get where we want to go.

10. How much interference from Government is there and how do you handle it?

Ans: An amount of interference is there but not so much and can be handled with some tact and wisdom by all of us. It is all about knowing who is who and what is at stake as well as how to respond. Strategic thinking is key.

11. Talking about survival of Hotel industry, just how do you survive, being a parastatal?

Ans: We have taken a number of steps to ensure we remain competitive. Here are some of them.
The first is that we have embarked on rehabilitating all our lodges around the country, I am sure you have seen the Belvedere and Long acres lodges, these are master pieces. For lack of resources, we are doing this piecemeal and in stages as we generate resources as well as funding from Government. Since we are 100% Government owned, originally all the money generated used to go into Government Treasury. This brought its own dimensions and challenges. However, now the lodges have their own account which they use for operations and reinvestment. This is a very positive step in the right direction.

The second is to plan at National level but ‘Think local’. We take all the variables into consideration such as place, target market and so on then set our pricing.
Our aim is to improve our service quality to world standards, if possible.

Therefore, in response to the survive question in the hotel industry, we must note that few lodges in our chain actually make losses at the moment (2004).In the event of a loss, other profit making entities offset that loss. Further, because of the Team work culture we have cultivated, it is paying dividends for us. In fact, we are actually making profits.

12. Hmmmm… this sounds good I am tempted to ask what place marketing takes in your organization since it is quasi Government.

Ans: Marketing is important in this economic set up we find ourselves in. We have been aggressive and use personalized marketing to satisfy our customers. For instance, we know our clients’ birthdays, send cards when it comes around periodically call them and keep the lines “warm”. In addition, our staff ensure they master people’s names that have lodged with us before and that has a bonding effect and fosters loyalty.

13. How much of the market have you captured?

Ans: We can safely say that many people prefer lodges to hotels because they are far more ‘homely’ and for the moment, the lodges in Zambia collectively place it at about 65-70% of the lodge market while others hold the rest. We are correctly positioned for the moment and one hopes we can improve on that record. To capture market, many use different strategies but we focus more on quality because it is the best competitive weapon rather than price. Treat customers well, provide for them and I am sure they will come round again!

14. I note you use the word “Strategy” quite often, what is strategy to you and what does it mean?

Ans: Strategy is the means of achieving your goals and objectives.

15. How do you apply it in your management skills?

Ans: Strategy cannot be applied once and then you forget about it. You must keep in mind what the competitor’s strategy is. Know how and when they are to apply their strategy and ensure you craft a better strategy that will outwit them. In other words, strategy should be kept fresh and organic so that it can remain relevant and effective as we know that competition is constantly rising. One such strategy that we have utilised in quality ensuring that everything that we do is as perfect as possible to more than please the customer.

16. Before I ask about TQM let me ask how your organization has used this weapon to survive the tough economic times in competition to other new industry entrants and other industry incumbents.

Ans: We have used it very effectively especially that we are a government entity. Our strategy is that they give a lifespan of assets by having a plan as well as lobbying for items we require in advance. In that way, we have beaten the bureaucracy and emerged victors in a ferociously competitive industry.

TQM! That concept entails having high quality throughout the organisation and tends to have a lot of advantages for the organisation that practices that. In the hospitality industry, one cannot evade quality because we just have to be the best at all times. At our lodges, we emphasize that every employee must put quality first in whatever they do because if we serve our customers well, then our business improves too. They will go out there and tell many others to come and lodge with us. We may not be TQM certified but we strive to be the best of the best among the lodges.

17. What is your strategy for survival?

Ans: Our survival plan is to always read the times and proactively respond before others do.

18. How do you motivate your staff?

Ans: It has not been easy at the lodges because the personal incomes are low but then, monitory gain is not the only motivator. To beat this, we make sure we recognise staff that are outstanding in their work as well as ensure that all members feel part and parcel of the organisational success.

19. I note you read a lot and have a lot of management concepts up your sleeve, can you recommend just one book for one to read so that they become as astute as you are?

Ans: I would definitely give you many titles but I highly recommend one...have you heard of or read a book called “The Seven Habits of Highly effective people” by Stephen Covey? Oh it is a marvellous book and deals with about everything any manager would like to know. It has impacted and changed my life a lot.

20. Does that explain the secret of your success.....?

Ans: It certainly has contributed! Covey brings out very important concepts such as having the end in mind as well as being proactive which concepts I have sought to integrate in my management. Every day before I start work, I sit still in my office chair and just relax while I think through issues. When I arise, I will have sorted out a lot of things. So, for sure, Covey has been a mentor and coach to me.

21. Finally, what have you studied and where? And what is the way forward for the lodges?

Ans: I have studied some hotel management at NIPA as well as other studies in house. Lord willing, I hope to pursue further studies in future in the same discipline. As for the way forward, we would like to be the best, far mush better than we were yesterday. People always want to see innovators and as such, innovation is very vital for success. Secondly, we want to embrace change and be never content for the dynamic times in which live will not permit us to sit still. We must constantly be improving. This is the silver bullet to success. Thirdly, we want to embrace technology as fighting competitors is more than just having cash but mental. We need to be thinking all the time as we exploit cutting edge technology in the industry. Lastly, we want our customers to be able to book without being physically present. In other words, technology will help us as we install online book services. In that way, we shall get ahead of the pack and be a resounding success.

Billy: Thank you so much Mr Mwendafilumba for according me this special interview realising that you are a very busy executive.

Ans: You are very welcome and I wish you well! Watch us in the press as we make inroads!!!

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