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FTInsight Feb 2016

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The only magazine for those who do business in Sierra Leone feature: JS Koroma of Union Trust Bank The Mooc revolution 4 investment opportunities Rebecca Perlman on renewed opportunities plus polls, surveys and a look at the start up experience in Sierra Leone

Early Years in Business

Early Years in Business Special Segment Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko - surviving an epidemic When Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko opened its doors to guests in April 2014, the hotel expected a number of challenges to their five-star standards. The Ebola epidemic was never one of them. The launch of Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko in Sierra Leone was economically significant for several reasons. It represented a huge investment of time and money. It had taken five years and million to raise Freetown’s faded OAU flagship to a standard that would allow it to legitimately integrate into the Radisson Blu chain. Locally the hotel would create jobs, generate income and offer opportunities for skills development. It would provide quality business infrastructure and a venue for international conferences; and strategically, Radisson Blu’s choice of Sierra Leone as its launch pad for entry into the West African market spoke volumes about the potential of the country’s business and tourism sectors, sending a positive signal to other foreign investors. The hotel’s business objectives for the first year were straightforward enough. Daniel Sekoni, the hotel’s marketing manager explains: “We wanted to be known in the market as the place to be, and to create a signature of international quality, adding a profit margin that should grow gradually year by year. We expected to achieve this using destination marketing as the main strategy.” The EVD effect changed that and when international airlines began to stop flights into the country and several businesses were forced to shut, the team at Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko rapidly revised their business strategy. Their West African/African feeder market target was massively affected and room occupancy rate had dropped from a predicted 60% to a 5% low. Added to which the ´no public gathering rule cut off any revenue stream from events and conferences. “This was an epidemic that was unprecedented in its ferocity, and which initially almost ground the business to a halt,” explains Sekoni. “However from a business perspective it eventually created an awareness in certain sectors and markets around the world, particularly the medical, media, and international organisations.” The hotel’s new business strategy included drastically reduced room rates. Payroll was secured by cutting hours by 50% with an equivalent saving in pay. This option was better for employees, who kept their jobs; and for the business, which did not lose their valuable investment in staff training. Keeping the hotel open and maintaining morale became everyone’s responsibility. Regular training and talks conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other medical organisations provided information, alleviated fears and restored confidence. A rigorous protocol to keep the hotel Ebola-free included chlorine solution at hotel guest and staff entrances and exits, chlorine solution fumigation and house cleaning, compulsory use of disposable gloves, temperature screening at all entrances, hand sanitisers in all off ices and outlets, no outside sales calls activities, and strictly enforcing the no handshake, no hugs, no burial attendance rules. Early years in the early years’ business Ariana Oluwule set up Freetown based Narnia Daycare in June 2013. Narnia is daycare plus. It combines daycare with an early learning centre for babies and toddlers from three months to three years. The concept was born out of Ariana’s natural aff inity with children, her longing to spend more time with her baby son and an inability to f ind childcare for him that she really wanted while she pursued a corporate career. “The nature of my job meant I was spending less and less time with my baby and apart from my mother who was retired, I could not find childcare that corresponded with my ideals. I wanted a space that was lively, homely, safe and clean, where my baby would be be looked after in a happy, learning environment.” Realising that her experiences were mirrored by other parents, she took a leap of faith, quit her job and started Narnia. “My mama is an educator with over 30 years of national and international experience and of course, I had my f irst client - my son who had just turned one. In effect I had all that I needed.” Ariana’s savings with some financial support from her husband, provided the initial capital. In common with most SMEs, finance has remained a challenge. A Brookings Institute report on the subject noted that more than 25 percent of firms in Africa rate the availability and cost of finance as their most important operating obstacle, almost twice as many as outside Africa. “Our operating expenses are high - cleaning supplies, healthy meals, ensuring toys and learning materials are always available,” Ariana explains. There was also significant capital expenditure on constructing their own premises, because a suitable alternative wasn’t available. This was financed through private loans. “The bank rates are unimaginable,” she says. Trained and reliable staff has been an additional challenge which most Sierra Leonean business owners will be familiar with. Narnia’s staff now take distance learning courses with the US based Care Courses School. Continuous professional development is also a priority of Ariana’s. Her background is in Biological Sciences. Post graduate administrative skills and management experience help her run the business effectively. To these she has added a number of long-distance caregiving courses and is aiming for Certification in Child Care Development and an equivalent in Education. FT Insight 19 Despite the challenges the hotel successfully maintained full operations throughout, an achievement which has been widely acknowledged. It became the hotel of choice for many of the international organisations involved in the Ebola response and was recognised by the CDC for its on-going and tremendous support during the Ebola outbreak. It was awarded the Adversity Award by its parent company Carlson Rezidor and nominated for the PR world’s EU Excellence awards 2015 in the Crisis Communication category. As Sekoni observes: “It was baptism by fire, but we are still here, team members still have their jobs and I feel that we represent a sign of the country’s economic rebuilding.” www.ftinsight.net

James Koroma Union Trust Bank Leone Cassava Ebola Insight Sector Agriculture Opportunities Economic Investors Freetown

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James Koroma Union Trust Bank Leone Cassava Ebola Insight Sector Agriculture Opportunities Economic Investors Freetown