What you need to know:
Creating: Frederick Olwit, the general manager of Game Stores Uganda describes himself as a shopkeeper. He believes in going through the trenches to the top
How did you get to where you are?
I have more than 20 years’ experience in in the retail space. Before Game Stores, I was with another South African outfit- the Supreme Furniture. When they left the trade in Uganda, I returned to South Africa where I trained and later came back as merchandise manager for Game Stores in 2004. I later worked as a regional manager for sales and distribution for then Celtel Uganda. It has been quite an eventful and exciting journey.
What did you study?
I have a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Delhi University in India. I remember when I went down to have my sponsor manager, Yan Stricker train me in South Africa, he took my colourful CV, and told me that in retail, CVs did not really matter. At the time I had to go and start right from the cash register, checkouts, customer care and packaging among other things.
By the time I returned to Kampala, I had been exposed to the different aspects and touchpoints of the retail space.
What would you say are the lessons that you pick from having practiced in the different aspects of business?
You get exposed in all ways, to the business, the environment, space you are working in, demographics and the customers you are dealing with. You don not work in isolation, you know what the customer wants.
There is a lot of a lot of benefit in knowing the dynamics and how to actually run the businesses in terms of innovations or opportunities existing out there.
At the moment, many multinational businesses have been exiting the market, what is your experience of steering such a business at such an economic challenging time?
Well, the good news is I have been through this before as an individual with the Celtel, then Zain and later Airtel rebrands. It is important to keep not only the employees, calm and motivated, but also continuously keep an open, discussion with them. The employees here, for example, are organised by a union so you could easily interact with the union to engage with the team.
We also have suppliers that you deal with. I have more than 100 in the country. The supplier will say “you are going to run away with our money. We are not going to give you stock.”
I have to continuously engage with them, reassure them and pay them on time. Keep your doors open, continuously engage with the government, the investment authority, revenue authority, vendors, security company, cleaning company because everybody gets anxious.
Communication has always been very key in such a regard. Keep all communication channels open, otherwise you will get anxieties. I believe we have managed it and we will continue to.
Who is that one person that contributed so much to your career?
Yan Stricker, he was very crude and rough but he had to break me down and later build me from the ground. It taught me to appreciate that having a qualification or a degree does not guarantee success.
To experience the real world, you have to start from the trenches and that is how you appreciate everybody’s role and your own journey.
You cannot supervise or tell someone to pick up stock and put on the shelf if you cannot do it.
One thing you wish you knew in your 30s
Consistency, patience, more patience and being humble. I believe those days when we were younger, we were not as humble as we are today. Life has humbled us in many ways, and it can turn around any minute.
If there was one person, dead or alive that you could invite for coffee who could it be?
My father, I miss him. He made me the man I am today because he was a friend and mentor in so many ways.
And who would you like to have a professional conversation with?
President Uhuru Kenyatta, I find him very down to earth.
What book are you reading?
I am not reading any. I would be happy if someone recommended one. In the last few days, I picked up a basic book with translations and phrases to polish up my English and Swahili because I believe that is how we are going to go nationally and regionally.
What is your on personal and professional wish list?
Good health and more time with my family would be my personal. I spend quite a lot of time at work being retail and the nature of it. I struggle to make time for family and for my health. I love sport. I have always been an avid sportsman. Rugby is one of the sports I played for quite a long time, and then golf but I have more time to spin stationary bicycles.
Are you a leader or a boss?
I have always found myself to be a leader. That is how I have continued to conduct myself in any space. As a leader, I had to first learn to follow.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
Keeping everyone happy, from the employee, associate, staff member to customers, the most challenging part about the job is keeping everybody happy.