What you need to know:
- That is really where I got the opportunity to understand how the corporate world works in Uganda. Although I had been working in London, working here is totally different. I had to be more hands-on and I was given big opportunities from which I learnt a lot. I met and got to work with amazing people who were very inspirational.
Transitioning. Marion Etiang Busingye was exposed to various cultures. She studied and lived in Uganda, Ethiopia and the UK.
Where did you begin your career?
After completing my MBA in the United Kingdom, I returned home and started looking for employment. I started out at Celtel which is now Airtel Uganda as a head of division of consumer services.
That is really where I got the opportunity to understand how the corporate world works in Uganda. Although I had been working in London, working here is totally different. I had to be more hands-on and I was given big opportunities from which I learnt a lot. I met and got to work with amazing people who were very inspirational.
The times were turbulent because that was the time MTN came into the telecom market. There was a lot of pressure; UTL was there with Mango. It was really challenging but that is when I learned what to do in times of pressure.
At what point did you make the career switch?
I met my husband while at Celtel. He had a venture called Cineplex Cinema so after the wedding, he invited me to run the business for a year.
It ended up being 12 years. We were one of the few people doing cinema shows by that time. We did experiential marketing. The market was still growing and an opportunity came in to take the industry to Kenya which we did but at that particular point, we were too thin on the ground to be able to run operations both in Kenya and Uganda. Then things eventually slowed down and we had to make a very painful decision to actually close down.
What bad business decision did you make, and what lessons did you learn?
The timing and investment decision were not good. It taught us to make better decisions and better investment decisions. We put a lot of money into the Garden City and Oasis Mall branches which are essentially just sitting there. It is sad to see them.
In 2010, we started noticing some changes because cinema is a luxury, when people started downsizing, our investment suffered.
We took the decision to close in 2015. We were in partnership with some friends and I learnt that before you go into any partnerships, you should have very tough conversations at the beginning, such as how to split every shilling. You should cover the end from the beginning.
How did you handle those trying times?
I learnt to be extremely calm, like in the Cinema business I was partnering with my husband. It was easy to take a tough situation from work to home, which would have affected the home environment too.
Having a sense of patience and determination about what you are doing and knowing when to quit is also helpful. For instance, when we realised the cinema enterprise was becoming a liability, we decided to shut it down. We took the decision to walk away with a little bit to be able to pick up ourselves. It was a very hard decision but we had to be very honest with ourselves. Sometimes also listening to criticism helps.
Did you have plans for the next step of your career?
Not exactly, but I welcomed the time at home to think of what I could do next. I had been in the service industry for so long. I had always wanted to start up something of my own then came an opportunity to start a shea butter business.
The business was born out of my son’s skin condition and it has been an amazing journey because from just a few containers in my mother’s shop, we now have 40 different outlets. We did our first exports in December and now in addition to our easily locally recognisable brand, we now export raw materials. The journey teaches me something new every day.
What lessons have you learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic as an entrepreneur?
When Covid-19 hit, we were forced to think hard about how to survive in the new environment. We now had to refocus our business direction and seriously consider going online or try telemarketing.
If I can take you back a little, what was it like surviving in the UK?
After my undergraduate, I had to look for jobs. By that time, the unemployment rate in the UK was extremely high. One had to do 200 to 300 job applications before they landed an interview.
I wrote 10 applications and they were rejected. In between, I was basically doing temporary jobs; answering calls, filing documents, administration work to get me going and cover my living expenses.
After about four months, my father encouraged me to come home for the summer. He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I had done business modelling and I did not know where it would land me.
He arranged for an interview at the Population Secretariat. I lasted in the government job for three months.
My job was to set up a database. That was in 1994.
Where did you move on from the government job?
I was fresh from university. I needed something very active. Then came an opportunity at Radio Sanyu. Thomas Kato was my father’s friend so he liked my accent and he gave me a job on air.
I did several morning shows, and a Sunday show- ‘The Wind Down Zone’, which is still on air. John Kato was a station manager and needed someone to replace him. Those were good times. Christine Mawadri was at Sanyu, Alex had just left for Capital FM and Martin Semakula was in production. I remember interviewing people Alan Kasujja, Roger Mugisha and Emperor Orlando whom I gave their first jobs.
How do you remember your father, Paul Etiang?
I do not have the right words to describe him but I can tell you he was my pillar; he was a big character to so many people.
One of the most interesting things about him was that he had very powerful positions but when he came home, he was a father and a husband.
When we had dinner, he never talked about work. He was my sounding board, my father but also my friend and funny enough he died on one of his best days; December 31.
We always had a party on New Year’s Eve. I have a picture of him in a funny hat looking very ridiculous. He would fast from alcohol like two months before New Year’s Day and on that day, he would open up his bar and he would get blindly drunk. It was his best day.