Tuesday April 18 2017

Kato’s journey from askari to top executive

Ayub Kato says his humble beginnings helped him

Ayub Kato says his humble beginnings helped him remain focused. PHOTO BY EDGAR R. BATTE 

By EDGAR R. BATTE

The loss of his father right after sitting his Senior Six final examination was a big blow that drained him emotionally because of the attachment he had towards his old man. However, getting his first job as a security guard, gave Ayub Kato hope that he could start a new chapter in life.
At the time, opening the gate for guests at Sheraton Hotel Kampala, excited the youngster because he had found something to keep him busy and away from thought, never mind that he was not paid for the first six months.

He had been seconded to the job by a friend, Hamdan Ssemugoma who was a neighbour to Zakaria Wani, who worked at Sheraton at the time. Kato and Ssemugoma were roommates in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb where the former’s mother had taken him in as her own. “He is a good person. At an early age, he was consistent with whatever he did,” Ssemugoma says of his childhood friend. Rehema Nabaweesi, Ssemugoma’s mother describes Kato as one of her sons.
There was a computer literary and Information Technology (IT) conference at Sheraton Kampala Hotel for Prime Ministers from Africa and Kato was chosen to guard the room in which computers and other material, used during the conference, were kept.

Ray of hope
It seemed like just another assignment until the organiser of the conference, Barbara Keating, took interest in Kato’s life, and asked him about work. He was eager to take on another job.
“After a while, Keating established Computer Frontiers on Kampala Road and recruited me as a cleaner. I was happy for another job. I would report to Computer Frontiers, clean up the office premises then head to Sheraton to serve as a security guard. I would then go for evening classes at Makerere and return to Sheraton,” Kato recollects.
Kato was pursuing a university degree in Catering and Hotel Management at Makerere University.
While in his second year at university, he got an opportunity to take a three-month’s management training at Kenya Utalii College with six students from the hospitality class at Makerere University. He also served as a guild representative of the hospitality students at Makerere University.

Circled is Kato during his days as an askari.

Circled is Kato during his days as an askari. Courtesy photo

Kato was able to expand his network of friends and associates. One new friend told him about visitors from the American Hospitality Academy (AHA) who were at Utalii to scout for students to take on.
“I got in touch with the scouts and kept in touch. I returned, finished my degree and was given placement in October 2003 at the academy for training. I emerged one of the best students. I was hired by Marriot and posted in South Carolina as desk agent and promoted to a front desk manager within a year. I served in that capacity for a year and was promoted to a position of director of operations.”
Kato was hardworking, passionate about his work and committed. He was transferred to Hampton Inn By Hilton in Baltimore through Vista Host Inc, an American multinational diversified hospitality company that manages and franchises a broad portfolio of hotels and related lodging facilities.

Stepping out
“Vistah Host Inc offered me a job as assistant general manager at the Hampton Inn By Hilton. It was bigger than the Residence in Marriot which had 160 rooms. Hampton Inn had 200 rooms. Within six months on the job, I had proven myself and was the regional service coach in charge of the East Coast for Vista Host facilities. I trained and made sure standards and services were top notch,” the hospitality specialist narrates between feats of engaging a waiter at one of the eateries in town.
He was faulting him for lapses in his service. “Service here is taken for granted. There is no wow factor. Most times, you get excellent service when you know the manager or a particular waitress or waiter. In the west, everyone gets good service, right from the first customer to the last one. Here, it is not just the hospitality industry, it is the same problem in public sector and other areas,” Kato observes.

“Why do you have to demand for good service, it must be a given when you visit a place and are spending money. Sometimes it boils down to the way an employer treats their employees. If you do not pay employees well and on time, how do you expect them to smile before customers? I have heard that one of the top hotels in town makes employees pay for their meals, what is Uganda Hotel Owners Association doing?” Kato wonders.
And he is practicing what he preaches. Suzanne Shoap, director of sales and marketing at Urgo Hotels and Resorts, writes that Ayub is a dedicated manager who is truly service minded. “His concern for guest satisfaction, shows in all aspects of his work. Ayub can always be relied upon to do a thorough job and he has the foresight to anticipate potential problems and take care of them in advance. Ayub is a pleasure to work with and I enjoy his team approach and sales efforts,” she explains.

Motivation
He owes part of his passion for results in customer care to international motivation speaker, Charles Marcus who he met in the line of duty as assistant general manager at Hampton Inn in Baltimore.
“He liked my service. I handled his shuttle booking and he was impressed. He shared with me his briefs and videos. I was amazed by what I heard and saw from his talks,” the customer care activist says.

Like Marcus, Kato’s story is one of triumph underscoring the fact that many times success follows passion.
He is currently Africa regional manager of Computer-Frontiers, a company he started out serving as a cleaner almost 20 years ago. He is married to Ronah Katusiime, an engineer. When not at work, he enjoys listening and dancing to music, networking and making friends. He is a football fan, and supports Arsenal.

rbatte@ug.nationmedia.com

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