For Kyayonka, look beyond the minuscule time at NSSF

It’s a four. No, it is a six. Wait, they call them boundaries. Wicket. This one comes after some fine bowling. A mistake by the batsman. Then there is a duck. Not one in water. One in cricket where you don’t get to pick a single run. Then there is Yorker. An over. A century. A one day international. And many more. Uganda is a cricket playing nation. We are not the best. Ivan Kyayonka was once a cricketer. I never got to watch him play or even read about his style. In a south western village in Nyarushanje sub-county, Rukungiri district, I hardly knew a single Ugandan cricketer. The newspaper sports pages rarely gave cricket that much mileage. I never got to watch Kyayonka play either. He moved from a player and by 2006, he was in the board room at the Uganda Cricket Association. In his time as chairman UCA, cricket development in secondary schools was its best. The ICC (International Cricket Council) recognized Uganda’s schools development program.

That was Kyayonka the cricketer.

He, however, made his mark at Shell Uganda – now Vivo Energy. For 31 years, he worked at one single company. I repeat. One single company. Some of us, in the last five years, have switched jobs looking for stability and career growth. For 31 years, he grew through the ranks at Shell and kept it a dominant force in Uganda’s retail fuel market. Stability is what we look for in a workplace. Growth both in terms of ranking and pay are other factors. At Shell, Kyayonka got all that. Uganda’s fuel retail business had companies like Agip, Gapco, Esso, Caltex, Total and Shell. By the end of 2014, the industry has changed. Shell retail stations continue to exist but under the management of Vivo Energy – a Joint Venture consisting of Shell, Vitol and Helios Investment Partners. Shell also acquired the assets of Agip in the 2000’s. There were other acquisitions at other retailers too. Total acquired Caltex and Gapco acquired Esso.

The retail industry has also changed. Shell and Total remain the most dominant fuel stations, but the competition has also increased with smaller retailers taking a chunk of the market.

Kyayonka was special. He became the pseudo representative for the fuel industry in Uganda. On any day, he was available for a comment on anything about fuel imports, prices and taxes. He had information on his fingertips. As a journalist, this helps. There was no need to send an email to the PR person. Send a text or even send through reminders in order to get a response. Kyayonka was always available. This worked in Shell’s favor. The brand was always well represented in the newspapers, radio and television. To-date, as other elusive industry players hide behind the curtain, Vivo Energy as a company is always available for a comment. That was a foundation laid by Kyayonka.

Fuel prices would drop. His efficiency had nothing to do with pricing. As a manager, his responsibility was to make a considerable return to shareholders. If the regulators are not doing their job, can you blame the businessmen for making a profit? It wouldn’t be capitalism. Would it?

In 2013, he retired after completing the transition from Shell to Vivo Energy. His retirement makes him one of the top savers in NSSF. As an astute manager with clear understanding of how to deal with larger than life characters, he joined the NSSF board. He was the board chairman for less than three years. His mistake? Buying Umeme shares. That is what people. A decision he never regretted. A decision that many tend to judge him. He was a board chairman who clearly defended his managers and was a good ally to Richard Byarugaba, the current NSSF MD. He also always defended Ms. Geraldine Ssali, who was acting MD for a year till October 2014.

In the board room, he was also fearless. He understood the investment dynamics and the politics around NSSF. At one press briefing, Kyayonka did not hesitate to indicate how some of the board members didn’t understand a thing about investments.

His time at NSSF was the shortest. The decision to approve the buying of Umeme shares was significant. Notably, savers want higher interest each year. They want NSSF to invest. His decision was to invest in an electricity distributor that is a near monopoly. A company that makes a 20% return on investment according to the concession agreement signed with the government.

For anyone to discuss Kyayonka in the context of his three years at NSSF, it would all be unfair. Look at those 31 years of growing a business that is as volatile as the currency markets.

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