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 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.