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01.11.2008 Feature Article

Vodafone: A good multinational?

Vodafone: A good multinational?

I am at the moment looking through my old photo album. I am holding this nearly faded passport size photograph of myself as a young man. I had this picture taken in triplicate, two of which were fixed to my Personal File when I was employed as a management trainee after going through interview that included personality profiling and psychometric tests.

Over the years, this file bearing my pictures was a repository of evidence of my successes, failures, reprimands and words of encouragement. It also contained notices of figures which were supposed to reflect my worth to my employer when salary reviews were carried out.

In the first few years, the salaries were no better than starvation wages. It was one of the ways that Kwesi Broni, used to test the new employee's hunger for the job.

I am now looking at another fade picture. It is that of my Departmental Manager, a rough-hewn man with a beautiful heart of cut diamond. George the Irishman gave me light in my darkest hour of bungling and despair. He was the best, manager I ever served under, black or white. George learned his job through old time pupilage.

He started his career as a cleaner in the Personnel Office, graduated to coffee boy and then, to messenger. From there he launched himself at astonishing speed to Filing Clerk, Assistant Foreman, Foreman and Assistant Supervisor. This happened in a series of departmental transfers.

He whizzed past all his mates and several seniors to become an Assistant Departmental Manager in Production and was posted to their subsidiary in Ghana as Departmental Manager where our paths met. I am not sure what words this man penned on my file but I suspect it might have read like, "a young man with potential; to be developed for responsible positions."

He was a good listener and loved to coach. He was an apostle of hard work and a great disciplinarian but he did not drive the subordinates like a slave rider with a whip. He insisted that no corner be cut when it came to rules and regulations. Like an Irishman who loved words, he would exhort, "Be punctilious. Go strictly by the book."

George's recommendations saw me off to Ashridge, Sundridge Park and Oxford for short courses. There were also some long attachments in sister companies in the UK and when the Japanese Management Style became the marvel of the business world, he made sure I went there twice to learn Total Quality Management (TQM) and Just-In-Time (JIT) in Kirin, Toyota and Hitachi.

Today, the names of such institutions on my CV invoke feelings of pride. There were of course some colleagues of mine who did better or far worse than I did by way of career progression and therefore earned better or lesser salaries. It was a performance culture of stretching targets.

Your salary was proportional to your level of stretch. No envy If you did not like the situation, the door was behind you .My employer invested in people. She invested in technologies as well. From manual work our company changed to automation with all the training that went with it.

I am now looking at a group picture of eleven black-suited gentlemen with the bearings of sages. There were six Whites and five Blacks. Standing in the middle of the back row is this scribe. This is the photograph of the Board of Directors in AD 1990 and the occasion was my first board attendance as a director. I have parted company with my employer a couple of years ago but my feeling as an ex-director of a multinational company is always overwhelming.

My former employer has become big and quite rich through organic growth and some significant acquisitions, including former competitors. She must have been doing something extremely well. She loves telling her success story to new employees that there had been a time when this company had to struggle it out for survival. This happened in an era of raw material shortages due to import restrictions, unavailability of letters of credit, flagging sales due to cut-throat competitor behaviour and trade union militarism. That she did not back out of the market demonstrated her faith in Ghana.

The term, "multinational" may sound vulgar when pronounced with a nasal inflection. True, there are "good" and "bad" multinationals. A good multinational does not make a swoop on a distressed enterprise, milk her through over invoicing and transfer pricing, practices facilitated by an arrangement that makes the parent company technical directors, procurement officers, marketing experts and quality advisers.

This in itself is legal but can be abused. It places the subsidiary in a situation where she has to accept all quotations without questioning. With a conspiratorial wink, the bad multinational can arrange a takeover from his home country. The bad multinational is quick to resort to bribery to gain an advantage.

Eastern Europe where there have been some easy pickings from divestitures is now reeling under such bad multinational sharp practices. Vodafone's acquisition in Ghana being her first foray into Sub Saharan Africa makes a lot of people stop and watch. By her fruits we would know their character. However, the fact that she is world player should give us some assurance. More so, when she has made her intention of setting up a Vodafone Foundation for social development has been made known.

Vodafone has raised high hopes for employees who responded by ripping GT T-shirts of their backs and donning the red and white livery to symbolise an identity change. Many of the current employees may have undergone change in management under the Malaysian and Norwegian, but this one will be drastic. Nobody shells out $900 for business as usual.

There are bound to be conflicts arising from downsizing of headcount or infusion of new talents. The negotiations for redundancy can be hard. The Head of Human Resource and the Company Solicitor would at a point become the double-sided punching bags for the Union and the management but if cool heads prevail, there will be no "blood on the wall." As for the very senior Ghanaian Managers, a golden handshake and retirement is assured.

The Ghana Telecommunication Market is overcrowded with MTN, tiGO, KASAPA, ZAIN AND ONE TOUCH. Sooner or later, consolidation would be necessary. Who goes into whose belly?

Vodafone who prides herself of a deep pocket should start dipping her hand into the pocket because she is the only one of the lot with an additional land line burden with its attendant costs.

I am looking at the board photograph again. Here is the chairman. He was a short indefatigable Brit with a scowl on his face. He was always turning a Plan B in his mind. Nothing spurious went past his nose. He had served on several boards in the UK, Lagos and Johannesburg. He jetted down every quarter to chair our strategy meetings and the preparation of our .annual budgets.

By his left is Mr D, a government nominee. He could not tell a spanner from a screw driver or an expense item from a capital item. But the man knew how to network. He was always running errands for the board, lobbying this and that agency. He regularly updated the Board on his perspectives of local politics in as far they impacted on business operations. He was always right.

On the other hand here is another government nominee, a respected chief. He was always late for meetings and gave the impression that he had no time for board papers, and was fond of asking for favours. No wonder he never chaired any of the board's sub-committees. If she would pack her 30 per cent board seats with only that calibre of director, the government would be woefully under-represented and remain only a sleeping partner. The point is that quality representation on a board is very important.

I have now put away the album. I am looking through the Annual Report of my employer. I hold some token shares. The returns look good and I am happy, and so are other stakeholders. Can Vodafone Ghana make the shareholders, clients and the employees happy?

(Joe Frazier)

Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic, © 2008

The author has 236 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: DailyGraphic

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