Wednesday, May 24, 2017

No Term Limit For Patrick Bitature At Umeme

For a split second, I thought former Minister of Finance, Gerald Ssendaula, who sits on the board at Umeme, was going to going to pull off a boardroom coup d’etat and decide to keep the job for himself.

Board Member: Gerald Ssendaula

 A couple of weeks ago, Patrick Bitature, who is chairman of the board, had his job on the line. As he was standing for re-election, he was asked to leave the room while Shareholder decided his fate. In that time frame – a period of 40 minutes, Ssendaula was elevated to Chairman as the vote went on. While Bitature was unanimously re-elected, Elderly Shareholder who sat a couple of rows behind me voted against. When Ssendaula announced there was Shareholder who was against the re-appointment, all the other Shareholders scoured the room to see who it was. When he was smoked out, they all glared at him that he quickly lowered his arm – but by then it was too late. His vote had already been registered.

The Umeme shareholders meeting, was the first time, I had been to such a meeting and it was a morning of discovery that being Board Chairman, is no easy job. Okay, so there are some perks to the job in that all the employees call you Chairman. And at a click of your fingers, MD and even CEO will humble themselves and listen to all that you have to say. However, during a shareholders meeting, all that does not happen because Shareholder trumps Chairman. It’s Shareholder who clicks his fingers and Chairman does the dancing.

Patrick held it together as he went though the financials. He spoke well. He was articulate and he laboured to breakdown anything that was complex for us to understand. Even when the MD, Selestino Babungi, was giving his talk, he would politely interrupt and ask him to explicate things in greater detail.

Re-elected Chairman: Patrick Bitature

Then it was time for the question and answer session. One thing Shareholder had in common was to eulogize the board - in that they would spend at least seven minutes saying thank you for this and that. In fact, I am so sure that some of them would have been quite content with just saying thank you and doing away with asking questions.

But when they were done with saying thank you, and they got down to the nitty gritty, Shareholder asked some very sturdy questions. Some even threw ‘curveball’ questions. The beauty about being Chairman of The Board is that when a question becomes too complex to answer, rather than sweat it out or let it stress you, it’s merely a case of looking across to MD or Company Secretary and let them take the flack. If not, just make a directive – like: “MD, have you heard that question? Well act on it and get back to me before the close of day” which, Patrick did a few times.

Then there is Shareholder who is deemed to be a ‘thorn’. The first sat in the front row – Alfred Kabuchu, if memory serves me correct and who asked a stream of ‘thorn-in-the side’ questions. Whenever he stood up to ask a question, there was a polite ‘masked glare’ from The Board who perhaps clandestinely, hoped that Invisible Security Guard would come and banish him from the room.

Shareholder: Alfred Kabuchu

And in the row behind me, despite Patrick having answered four times previously on questions to do with late payment of dividends, Shareholder still felt the need to ask the question all over again except, he didn’t jump straight into the question. He first gave The Board a mini lecture.              

After ten years as Board Chairman, the one quip that I expected Patrick to blurt out upon his re-election was: “entebbe ewooma!” But he didn’t. He merely humbled himself. 

Pictures: New Vision, Internet                

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