Monday, October 11, 2010


Did you know that, of the ten biggest economies in the world six of them are companies? Today US, China, Japan and Germany are joined in the top ten by Walmart, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Toyota and Japan Post Holdings all with revenues last year of more than $200b.

It boggles the mind.

A few years ago during a visit to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, I noticed that the top companies listed on the exchange, were valued at more than the GDP of the East African Community.

“Some of us are really pretending to be countries, we should just be taken over by some of these companies and stop the charade,” a Kenyan colleague suggested, when faced with the fact of how puny our economies are.

If it is any consolation every big company was first a small company.

Last week the Uganda Securities Exchange and accounting firm Ernst & Young sponsored a workshop for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to moot the idea of selling shares to the public through the exchange.

Going public has its benefits and challenges but if planned well the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Listing on the exchange allows a company to raise relatively cheap capital but more importantly improves the companies’ processes, making it more competitive in an increasingly competitive world.

The main sticking point I gathered from the workshop participants was the loss of control that comes with selling to outsiders a part of your company or variations of the same theme.

A few years ago a report showed that Uganda was the most entrepreneurial country in the world. However Uganda’s businessmen were overwhelmingly necessity entrepreneurs, setting up businesses to sustain themselves and their families, as opposed to opportunity entrepreneurs, who identify gaps in the market, set up and grow companies to fill those gaps.

Invariably the vision of the respective entrepreneurs will differ with the necessity entrepreneur having a narrower, shorter term vision compared to his counterpart.

If for nothing else preparing to list one’s company on the exchange extends the owners’ vision. A business can only grow as big as the owner’s vision.
This is important for Ugandan business because of the changing economic landscape they are increasingly finding themselves up against.

With the coming into effect of the East African common market in July, goods, services and labour can now cross our regional boundaries free of most encumbrances than previously. What this means is that Uganda companies and their products find themselves in direct competition with the regional companies – a euphemism for Kenyan companies.

Our landlockedness has it disadvantages in terms of the cost of doing business here and the relative maturity of the Kenyan companies is such that they can command scales of economy – among other things, thus lowering their production costs to the disadvantage of our operators.

The global momentum is towards freer trade, it is unlikely that our government can shield our businessmen from this post-cold war impetus. It’s up to our businessmen to step up their games if they are to have a chance at survival.

The exchange has two listing avenues the Main Investment Market Segment(MIMS), whose conditions for listing are more onerous and suited to the larger business concerns, and the Alternative Investment Market Segment (AIMS).

A lot of our businesses would be candidates for a listing on the AIMS with an eventual upgrade to the MIMS.

One of our biggest challenges as country is our failure to aggregate our resources, be they financial, management, talent and other human resources or even land to expand output.

Listing on the exchange would help in this direction.

Seating in the workshop my sense was that our businessmen are too wed to their businesses and the thought of sharing ownership is a fearful one. The way I see it the alternative are much more dire. One’s company maybe in seeming good health today but tomorrow competition from leaner, meaner opposition will bury even the little our business owners are trying to cling onto.

It is a cliché but it’s truly the survival of the fittest and our businesses are going to be forced to be more open minded to new ideas if they are to extend their legacies beyond current generations.

Published in New Vision on 9th October 2010

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