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Monday, December 3, 2007

Lack of Credibility in the 2007 East Africa’s Most Respected Company Awards.

Over 350 business executives took part in a survey to award one of their own as East Africa’s most respected company. Under the theme “Strength in numbers” organizers of the annual event analyzed collective opinions of chief executives (CEOs) on topical issues influencing the business environment under which they operate. Companies attracting the strongest respect have been those that continue to perform well financially, while maintaining a steady growth and increase in market share attributed to strong executive leadership.

This year’s survey sought views from CEO’s on whether the proposed East African integration was right for the region as well as the role the private sector needed to play in achieving regional success. The nature of response indicates that the CEOs view regional integration as a key pillar in attaining greater development. Working together within a system, overcoming political differences and consolidating advantages a wider market presents would make the region more competitive at the global marketplace.

Winners were unveiled at the Kilimanjaro Kempinski Hotel in Dar es salaam, Tanzania, on November 24 where Kenya’s leading Mobile Phone Service provider Safaricom was voted East Africa’s most respected company and Kenya’s top company in the country’s category. The win comes in the wake of a seamless network the company jointly developed with MTN Uganda, Vodacom Tanzania and Vodacom Rwanda that enables regional roaming at local rates. In 2006 Safaricom registered a pretax profit of $200 million, the highest ever in Sub-Saharan Africa to date. Two other winners in the country’s category included Tanzania Breweries and MTN Uganda (in Tanzania and Uganda respectively).

Last year’s overall winner Kenya Airways scooped the services sector award with Nakumatt Supermarkets and Aga Khan Hospitals coming in second and third respectively. East African Breweries won the manufacturers title, Barclays bank Tanzania (financial services), Serena Group (Hotels and Tourism), Homegrown (Agriculture category). In the telecoms and ICT category, Celtel Tanzania emerged winners.

While it is worth noting that most companies that scooped various awards play significant roles in regional business, one is left to wonder whether the adage “customer is king” would have yielded the same result. An example of an erroneously awarded company is Kenya Airways, which has of late been in the press for all the wrong reasons. Over the past 6 months passenger complaints have been doing rounds in the media attributed to poor service by the company. Even with new ‘state-of-the-art’ planes, issues have been raised concerning dirty and clogged washrooms, absence of in-flight entertainment (even in long haul flights), unexplained flight cancellations and delays, lost and/or damaged luggage without any recourse from the company. The most common complaint across the board was overbooking which meant that some passengers had to forego their travel because their seats had been “overbooked”.

Asking CEO’s to award one of their own is a good thing but we should put in mind that it is the common consumer who is in a better position to give a more accurate account regarding services from the so called top companies. Since CEO’s are considered wealthy and respectable, they most likely receive special form of treatment when it comes to service delivery from companies such as Kenya Airways. Naturally they will vote for it, but what about the passenger who is forced to make do with sub-standard services?

One of the workers at the company reckons that the win came as a shock. Company staff did not expect Kenya Airways to be mentioned among the list of winners let alone be nominated for the award. He however attributed recent complaints that have dodged the airline to lack of enough planes to service its current and other emerging routes. To put this into perspective, the plane that recently crashed in Cameroon is yet to be replaced but the airline still maintains the Doula- Nairobi route. Limitation in the number of planes has resulted in chains of delay making Kenya Airways to operate like a matatu (shared public taxis found in Nairobi), by running round the clock without any significant service or proper customer care regardless of the consequences.

Future organizers of such awards should aim at achieving credibility by combining views from both the corporate world and the common consumer.

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