Tuesday May 6 2014

Nine years of steering Nile Breweries to number one



In his fairly spacious office in Jinja, Nick Jenkinson passes for another top executive— smart and with poise. His juniors treat him with respect and have a bit of fear for him. A closer scrutiny does not reveal otherwise.

Jenkinson is a straight-faced fellow who speaks with authority, cherishes integrity and appreciates hard work. But behind the bossy demeanour is a light-hearted person who loves riding his bikes through Uganda’s adventure capital- Jinja, where he has lived for the nine years he has led Uganda’s top brewery, Nile Breweries.

He retires in less than a week and already his recollections are of a country so small yet so blessed with so much. Jenkinson’s fond memories since he first set foot in Uganda would make you fall in love with the Pearl of Africa all over again.

As he starts sharing this story, he plays good host, offering to make a cup of tea for your writer, a welcome gesture that is appreciated.

His love story with Uganda started in 2005 when he was posted to Uganda. The posting came with a promotion as managing director of Nile Breweries.

Jenkinson had scaled up in his career, having started out as a trainee in Sabmiller, South Africa, Nile Breweries’ mother company, in 1983.

Hard work, honesty, self-drive and hunger for results saw him rise through the ranks and remained part of him. With his new role, he needed these traits since a myriad challenges lay ahead of him, top of these being to turn around the beer company into a top brewery in Uganda.

“At the time we were not the market leader. We were way behind the competitor in the established mainstream and beer categories. The big task was to make the company more competitive,” he recounts.
How was he able to do that? “First by consolidating my team, and second, by strengthening our mainstream brands which is now Club because they were given a hitting by Bell and Pilsner,” he explains.

Jenkinson also resorted to what his predecessor had not done. He started using local materials to brew beer which essentially made beer more affordable to low income earners.

“Within a period of two to three years, we were in the situation where we could not meetthe demand for the affordable beer. We had reduced the price of beer by Shs500. Cheaper beer was selling at Shs1,500 while main stream was at Shs2,000 and because of this rapid growth we gradually ran out of capacity here [Jinja],” he recalls.

In 2008, he put Nile and Club beer into long neck bottles as a way of restoring premium character to the brands. The beers also got new labels and were reinforced with advertisements.

“In 2009, our shareholders allowed us expand the brewery from 800,000 hecto litres per annum to 1.8 hecto million litres per annum. It was at that point in time when we made a decision to open another brewery in Mbarara. We also launched new premium brands like Nile Gold, Castle Malt, Castle Lite and more,” Jenkinson says on the brewery’s expansion.

The setbacks
“The acquisition of Rwenzori bottling was a tougher acquisition. We had to do some retrenchments here and there. That is never a pleasant but it has always been conducted in a fair manner. We have always negotiated packages with employees through the union and it has been done amicably,” he explains.

“We have had a tough time since the elections in 2011. We experience a period of high inflation and that triggered some high prices for beer. The beer volumes have shrunk a little bit which was after three years of high growth. When we have just built a new brewery and made some investments, that a challenge,” the MD points out how tough business has been in the last two years.

However, he says, there have been some good signs of growth for the beer sector since December. He maintains that the beer industry is competitive and consumers have a lot of choice in terms of brands and quality of beer.

Uganda is ranked as one of the top alcohol consumers in the world. A study done last year by media house CNN ranked Uganda eighth in the world and first on the continent in liquor intake, with home-made waragi and Ajono, topping the alcohol menu.

Asked what he feels about this, Jenkinson says: “You know you have to be very careful. The way they estimate informal alcohol is that they make an assumption that all the millet that is grown in Uganda is used to brew. We know that some of the millet grown in Uganda is exported.”

He adds that World Health Organisation figures show that Germans, and South Africans are way higher consumers of alcohol than Ugandans.

He adds, “My argument is that we don’t want people to over consume alcohol but if you can switch people from drinking informal alcohol to drinking that which is properly brewed, that is good for the economy and market.”

Personal values
Away from crunching the numbers, Jeckinson has personal values which he has incorporated into his work.

“I place a high value on honesty, integrity, self-discipline, setting an example for others not just at work but also elsewhere. Those are the important things for me. When I look at my employees or at home I am looking for people who demonstrate those virtues,” he reveals.

He says these qualities are very important in business and at individual level. He also believes in never giving up and having a vision and ambitions.

“In spite of the obstacles life might throw at you never give up. Stick to your guns, stick to your vision and find the right resources to get you there because you will get there. It is about persistent and staying the course,” Jenkinson speaks inspiringly.

The man away from work
Getting this 56-year-old fellow to speak about his private life is not as easy as continuing a conversation about a love story. He is a private gentleman. And he is not keen on sharing much. It takes a bit of convincing.

“I am a private person. That is why I don’t like particularly giving interviews to the media. I don’t subscribe to personality cults; the idea that a company is defined by its leader. In my personal life, I am family-oriented,” he explains.

But as an expatriate, it has been quite difficult for him. “When children are young, they live with you but when they are a certain age, they go far off to a boarding school and you don’t see them as much. My children are having their own children, so I am having grandchildren but not living close to them. That is one of the reasons I decided to retire,” he reveals part of the reason for his retirement.

Jenkinson has five children, between 23 and 28 years old; three boys and two girls. Three of them are married.

All praises for the pearl
With his family, Jenkinson has had some good time around Uganda.
“I enjoy going to the national parks. I have been to Chobe, to Queen Elizabeth National Park a couple of times, I enjoy sailing across the rivers. I am not a fisherman; very few South Africans can fish. I spend a lot of time with my family in these places,” he says.

In all these places, Jenkinson is marvelled by the wilderness and generally getting away from crowds and the traffic jam.

“I was born in Kenya in 1958 and one of my endearing moments of living there was my parents taking me to visit the national parks and being with wildlife. When I went to Europe, the only chance I got to see wild animals was on television or locked up in cages,” he says.

“I’ll miss travelling around the country on and off work schedule. You have mountains, rivers, falls, gorillas, chimpanzees. The diversity of both animals and landscapes is a lot. To find all that in one country is a marvel. You can live all your life here and not explore it all. The culture is beautiful too,” he elaborates. He also appreciates that Ugandans have put a difficult past behind them.

As a young man he says he played rugby and cricket in the 1970s.
“I stayed in the UK, where my mother is from, until I was 25 years old. When I moved to South Africa I looked at the size of the rugby players there and I decided to player softer sports like squash,” he says.

Jenkinson is retiring to South Africa in place called Balita, a town on the south coast, about 30 kilometres north of Durban.

“We have been holidaying there and taking our children there. I bought a retirement home there. I think in terms of my career I have reached my pinnacle. And my wife has been patient with me, moving with me wherever I go. I think it is the right time to retire,” he somewhat concludes.

He says he will be riding his motorcycle and hopes he can do some consultancies. When he leaves Uganda, the memories remain as fresh as yesterday.

His management style

Jenkinson’s management style is to live by example both at work and at home and to reward good work and help employees grow.
“You must have a vision and communicate it to your employees and you must translate that for each individual so that they know where they are going and how to get there and then you have to keep giving feedback on how the performance is going.

If there are gaps and omissions then you try to correct them. If people are working well you reward and recognise them,” he explains about how he manages the work force he manages.

There are a number of reward he says the company gives to the best employees on top of bonuses systems.

“My management style is quite hands off. I like to work within a framework where the goals and everything are quite clear then give your managers and teams freedom and space to deliver.

Sometimes you will have to intervene when things are not going as well as you expect but my preferences is to give people tools and let them do their job with some clear guidelines,” he says of his management style.

Sanjay Tana- businessman, legislator
“He is one of those MDs who took decisions like improving remuneration of staff and distributors which is unlike other expatriate managers. He worked with local farmers as opposed to importing raw material. He revolutionalised the beer market by introducing the long bottle which was a good gamble.”

Maggie Kigozi
“It was great working with him on many issues and seeing Nile Breweries expand to also include other products. Jenkinson contributed a lot to the Uganda Manufacturers’ Association’s discussion on the working climate. I wish him well in whatever and wherever he is going. I hope they send us someone equally good.”

Gerald Ssendawula, former Finance Minister
“Nick is a straight-forward man who has been interested in the economy of Uganda. He came and transformed Nile Breweries Limited into a profitable company. That means a lot to Uganda. He is a good time keeper and once you give him work, he works tirelessly to accomplish it.”

Martha Nalubega, Personal Assistant
“I have been working as Mr Jenkinson’s personal assistant since 2009. He is very organised in everything that he does. He keeps time. He is precise and will pick out any mistakes in reports. Even if he had a series of events he will make time to attend all of them and on time. He respects the values of a family.”

Elly Karuhanga, board chairman NBL
“The board is very pleased with him. The company is one of the top tax payers, and directly employs about 1,000 people. When he joined Nile Breweries, it only employed 300 staff with a market share of 30 per cent. Today we have about 60 per cent market share. I am proud to have worked with him and we shall miss him.”

Compiled by Esther Oluka