Tuesday July 22 2014

Overlook warning signs at your peril

A vendor arranges tomatoes for sale. Business

A vendor arranges tomatoes for sale. Business people should always spot the signs of a business at the brink of collapse and respond before it is late. File photo 


The last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions; I am a diehard Brazil supporter. How does one recover from a humiliating loss to smile again and better still to win again? Surely, we shall need more than four years to heal from this, I am not sure I will even have recovered sufficiently to watch the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia.
On July 9, the day after that semi-final match as I was trying to get to grips with the shocking performance of the Brazil team, I happened to watch the Independence Day celebrations of The Republic of South Sudan. This country was celebrating the third anniversary of their independence from Sudan.
Watching that ceremony, I could not help comparing the two events, one of a team with so much potential, an abundance of talent, a very rich football history and of whom we have very high expectations; the other a nation with so much potential, an abundance of natural resources, a people with long history of resilience and determination to be autonomous, a nation for whom the sky is the limit. What a letdown Brazil has been in this World Cup Final; truth be told they were lucky to get to the semi-finals. Yet that loss is just a game while in the case of South Sudan, the breakdown of law and order is tragic and a major setback for the people of that nation and for the region as a whole.
One of our weaknesses as human beings is that we appear to have a self- destruct button and given the “right” set of circumstances, we press this button and destroy ourselves.
This for me is the only logical explanation for what we are seeing in South Sudan. The warring parties have compelling reasons to cooperate even though they also have very pertinent issues that have not been dealt with and have now led them to fight.

Sadly, the two sides don’t want to talk and have instead chosen to self- destruct. The same can be said of the Brazil team, whenever they were under pressure, they panicked and then both individually and as a team seemed to hit a self -destruct button. We all saw their coach try in vain to signal to the team to calm down and slow the pace of play in that ill-fated match with Germany, sadly they had already hit the self-destruct button and there was no stopping them.
Thinking of these two events, I realised that any of us could be faced with either or both of these situations in our businesses or even at work. We might have our “South Sudan moment” when we may disagree with a business partner, employer, family member or spouse. In this case, will it be all out war and like in South Sudan we decide to fight to the death and lose our investment, job or business? On the other hand, we could find ourselves under prepared and overwhelmed by the competition leading us to panic like the Brazil team and start missing opportunities, wasting golden chances and losing money unnecessarily.
In business and even at work, when all is going well and we have things under control, we tend to stick to our game plan and generally keep our overall goal in mind. It is when the going gets tough or we encounter the unexpected that we are most prone to exhibiting self-destructive behaviour. Interestingly, these uncertain times hit us when the stakes are so high, when we have so much to lose if it all goes wrong and so much to gain if it goes right.
In 2007, I was speaking to a trader doing business in Juba and he mentioned that it was an open secret for those operating in South Sudan that the next war in that country would be between the current warring parties and not with the predominately Muslim North.
As far as this trader was concerned, it was a matter of time before the situation imploded. Similarly, in the case of the World Cup finals it was clear that Brazil was a weak team. In fact, my nine-year old daughter who knows precious little about football said to me after the match against Chile “mummy your team is not going to make it to the quarter finals”. She got an earful from me; I was in denial. Anyway, I told her that when it came to football I did not believe in the best team winning I only believe in my team winning.

Lessons learnt
Now, here is my point, we usually know when all is not well, we get many signs, some obvious, others not so obvious. Yet we choose to ignore these tell-tale signs and when the pressure mounts, it will need an outlet; inevitably we self-destruct. For South Sudan, it was the sacking of the Vice President; what was President Salva Kiir thinking? For Brazil Team, it was the twin loss of their star player Neymar to injury and their captain Thiago Silva due to suspension; what was their coach Scolari thinking when he chose his squad, what was his plan B or alternative plan?
Only you know what challenges you are faced with at work or in your business, the signs are there if you are headed for self-destruction. You need to take stock, deal with the real issues in good time and not just the symptoms or risk crushing and imploding just like team Brazil and South Sudan.

The writer is Standard Chartered Bank’s head of financial markets in East Africa. E-mail: GraceTibihikirra.Makoko@sc.com