Gary Corbit’s speech at the Launch of The 360° Network

Download Gary’s speech(mp3) and listen later.

Good Evening!

I was delighted to be asked by 360° Network to speak here this evening and sincerely hope that you find the next 20 minutes or so of some benefit.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Gary V Corbit the MD of ICEA here in Uganda, of Irish parentage brought up in England but living in East Africa since 1994, married to a wonderful Acholi lady, a passionate supporter of Lewis Hamilton, Barack Obama, and English Premier League Football so by every possible measurement, I am Ugandan. I am also very proud to say that when I fill in the part of Immigration forms that ask for my Occupation, I put “Entrepreneur”

So let me start by sharing with you a little background information on me, a subject which I am certainly a world authority on, then I will give you some pointers as to Uganda Negative Benchmarking for budding entrepreneurs or in English, areas to avoid like the plague followed by a few areas that may be more fruitful and finally move onto what might be a reasonable plan from tonight onwards.

OK. When I was 16 I found that kicking and heading a football was a substantially more profitable experience than actually working. I was signed by Luton Town transferred to QPR and finally a small west London club called Chelsea, you may have heard of them. In all honesty, I was not much good compared to the brilliant people I played alongside but even at 16 learnt the footballer’s entrepreneurial skill of being a crowd pleaser. I had long blond hair, was incredibly brave, learnt to perceive what the crowd, i.e. the customers wanted and made sure I delivered. My long blond hair made me east to spot, we didn’t have names on our shirts in those days, so when I scored I made sure everyone knew it was me. What the crowd wanted was entertainment and 90 minutes of escapism so I gave it them and at 16 earned more by scoring two goals than my father earned in a month.

I stopped at 19 when I frankly got bored and knew that in time I would have to do something else. So I used my contacts through the football world and lots of Company’s seemed to want this tall youth with long blonde hair to sell their products. I joined Kodak as a Salesman and it was easy, too easy, I got bored as they simply wanted me to smile and pose with beautiful young models…terrible… so I joined a photocopier company called Rank Xerox. Now this was not easy, in fact bloody tough. They did not care a damn about my footballing career measured me by what I delivered and made an entrepreneur out of me. They taught me to inculcate Dale Carnegie the best Salesman ever….If you have never read his Book “How to win friends and Influence People”, get it read it re-read it and synthesize its messages. It is absolutely brilliant and no entrepreneur should be without a copy.

Rank Xerox imposed five major entrepreneurial traits that I have never forgotten;

1. You will never succeed if you do not work bloody hard
2. Never, ever, ever accept defeat. A deal is never lost just not won yet
3. Enjoy your life after all you are a long time dead
4. Be honorable to yourself and those about you.
5. Inspire your staff to do things they never believed they could achieve

I was with Rank Xerox for 18 wonderful years and went all around the world with them, loving every minute but on the way losing a number of wives, girlfriends and in hindsight, absolute sluts. I got to where I wanted to get but there was no around to applaud so I needed a rethink as to what I wanted. I think this is where an organization such as 360° degrees would have been very helpful to me, analyzing what was valuable to me in my life, networking with fellow minded people with shared values, this would have truly enhanced my decision making process but alas, 360° degrees was not there so I stoically went forward on my own.

I left my beloved Rank Xerox when they wanted to move me from Nairobi to Norway. I was shall we say, between wives at the time so I stayed in Kenya for 5 years managing large IT Companies and generally making money using the entrepreneurial skills I had learned from Rank Xerox. I eventually met a wonderful fellow entrepreneur from Uganda, you may have heard of him, Gordon Wavamunno and he offered me the chance to move to Kampala and run United Assurance. How could I resist?

The Company was in a poor state with just 22m in the Bank, desperately short of leadership, of any sales or marketing or any motivation whatsoever and full of that dreadful time wasting disease, “Politics”. Taking a business from 2 out of 10 to 6 out of 10 is frankly not difficult but does require basic entrepreneurial approaches, let us call it the top 10 planning model

1. Make a Plan that is challenging but achievable
2. Get the Board to buy into your plan as “Theirs”
3. Fire anyone who cannot or will not deliver the plan
4. Lead from the front, be brave and valiant.
5. Become a Battle Leader not a Glass Box dweller.
6. Treat your staff as honorable Commercial Warriors
7. Never compromise on your standards
8. Set short term targets and reward winners
9. Always do what you say you are going to do.
10. Keep everyone up to date on how “We” are doing

United Assurance rapidly became the top Insurer here in Uganda and after 5 years was brought by a Kenyan outfit called UAP who transferred me back to Nairobi for 15 months before I decided to return and joined up with my old friend Gordon Wavamunno and then ICEA which at the time was an absolute basket case of a business and in desperate need of some entrepreneurial flair.

I have been with ICEA just under 3 years and we are now a highly successful market driven, ultra competitive Battle Unit with Warriors willing to die rather than fail. All using the basic rules of entrepreneurialism. That is why I needed no second thoughts as to being here and what I usually say is that even if you completely disagree with me, fine, learn from the disagreement and develop a more suitable approach that you can buy into.

OK let me move on. What areas of negative Benchmarking here in Uganda can I hope to dissuade you from?

In many ways Uganda is a “Me-Too” market society. Some one sets up a business, others watch it and if it remotely looks successful, here they go, “Me-Too” Let me give you a five examples;

How many Beauty Salons are there in Kampala? Thousands and no one makes a dime
How about importing Clothes from Dubai? Do so and go broke
What about Tour and Travel Companies. They are here by the hundred. Forget it
Then there is always starting a small supermarket.. The Asian traders will strangle you!
Event Management Company? Join the throngs who have started one up
Start Up a Bar…………….Enough said

When you share your thoughts with your fellow 360° degree members, I am sure they will be able to cite many other “Me-Too” examples but this is one of the key benefits, i.e. you are not alone out there. Trust me, it gets lonely but with networking and shared experiences, suddenly the light at the end of the tunnel is not an express train bearing down on you!

The most successful opportunities that are waiting to be grasped will be classic niche markets and have the following in common;

1. There are few competitors so it is easy to become number 1.
2. Usually in the repeat business arena and in the service sector. Such as Life Assurance
3. You are an absolute expert in the product. Software, etc.
4. You will be adding value not selling “boxes”
5. The distribution channel will be through commission only agents.

Let me expand a little on this. With few competitors, the market becomes driven by “Word of Mouth” a very strong factor here in Uganda. Now advertising here is one of the most expensive per capita in Africa and dominated by Companies in the Telecoms, Banking and Drinks sectors seeking to gain points of Market share. Remember what I said about “Me-Too”? 29 Banks all looking for new customers…tough job being a Banking Marketing Director

Word of Mouth is free so keeps your costs down. Any fool can spend money but not spending, now that is a talent and this is where 360° degrees can be of considerable support. A phone call or an email to your network can generate a solution you may not have considered….

Repeat business preferably annually is wonderful. Look again at the Banks with their Loan portfolios, as soon as you take out a loan and prove you can pay, a Sales Agent will blitz you with opportunities to increase your loan. It is called topping up and is classic repeat business. Now in my sector, Life Assurance is a wonderful money earner. The person pays a sum for a long period and you as an Agent get the commission each and every month….. Perfect!

There are other absolutely superb niche ideas which generate instant cash-flow yet cost you very little. Take the Cell phone scratch card for example, absolutely brilliant. You pay before you use the service a dream to most Finance Directors. But let me move on…..

Being an expert in a particular field means that you probably have a passion for it ergo you enjoy the subject. This will have an uncanny way of manifesting in all you do and even the most thick skinned clients will recognize your commitment. If you really do know everything about Marine Aquariums, Hat Designing, Orchid growing or whatever, then these are interesting market opportunities to consider. The market may be small but fanatical.

Selling boxes means that you have imported say Inverters from China on the hope that they will last long enough for any complaints to be considered as out of warranty. The problems with boxes is that anything mechanical or electrical will breakdown causing high after sales costs on what will almost certainly be relatively low profit generating box sales. Don’t go there! The nearest technical specialist will be based in Shanghai and speaks English as well as you speak Cantonese so you are on your own.

Finally, keep you sales costs down by paying commission to sales agents only after you have been paid. The best form of credit management is to simply say “No credit” but in the real world this can be difficult. However if your team of Agents are also a free collection facility, you have a double whammy in that your sales staff will also be your debt collectors. Remember, spending money is easy…not spending is less so.

These are life changing tips based on real experiences. Use the 360° degrees network to sense check and perhaps partner up where it makes sense. Remember we all have different skill sets so if your 360° degree colleague is a good marketeer, then why not see if you can work together. By the way let me define “Marketeer” as being a professional who creates a sustainable, profitable distribution channel for their product. A “Marketer” on the other hand is someone who sells cabbages.

So where do we go from here?
I am not one to give advice so in essence the entrepreneurial spirit in you will have already either decided that this Muzungu is not worth listening to but perhaps there will be a free beer later on so you have stayed. Alternatively, there may have been the odd golden nugget that you might, upon deep reflection, consider is worth developing further. Which ever, I thank you for listening to me and if you have questions, queries, concerns, doubts, fears or whatever…. Perhaps I am not the best person to speak with over marital issues but on entrepreneurial activities…as we say in Ireland, “I’m Your Man!”