Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
The room hummed with the chatter and laughter of a dozen people conversing over tea and snacks. Tony had called a post-mortem meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss the weekend derby. He leisurely surveyed the dozen or so managers assembled in the executive boardroom from his vantage point at the head of the polished walnut table.
All looked relaxed, radiating confidence in the knowledge that the event had been a smashing success. He cleared his throat signalling the start of the meeting and the buzz died down. Tony wore a navy blue three-button suit with slim lapels and centre vent. His crisp white shirt had a half inch of cuff peeking out from his jacket sleeves and fastened with silver cufflinks.
He had accessorised the suit with a grey tie, white pocket square, chocolate brown handmade Italian Oxford lace ups and matching leather belt. A stainless steel Gucci watch adorned his left wrist. The Swiss-made watch had a black dial with diamond style pattern with the hour markers and hands designed with a stylish rose gold tone.
Whenever Tony called a management meeting, he dressed to emphasise his position, aware that most of the managers were much older and more experienced. His attire today screamed class, power and money.
“I’d like to begin by congratulating each of you for a job well done. The sports derby exceeded all our expectations. And for that I have you all to thank.” He looked down the table, making brief eye contact with each person present.
There was a pecking order in the seating arrangement which Tony had tried for months to break in favour of a more laid back style where people sat anywhere, but it failed to gain traction. Ayize, the deputy GM always sat on his right, Emmanuel Sekou, the Finance Manager on his left.
Next to Ayize on the right sat George Hube, the Front Office Manager, Lucy Galina, Housekeeping Manager, Richard Thande, Food and Beverage Manager or F&B in hotel lingo, Joseph Wanganga, the Executive Chef, Ben Osok, Marketing Manager and Charles Poloji, head of the Engineering department.
On his left next to Sekou sat Patrick Lusebo, head of Security, Kepta Bosibo, Golf Manager, Shamina Mohammed, Conference and Banqueting Manager often referred to as C&B, Eric Yinda, Entertainment Manager and Diana Nabwa, Human Resources Manager.
“I called this meeting to discuss what we got right, what went wrong and why. How to fix the problems so that they don’t recur and most important I want to hear new ideas on how we can improve this event, make it bigger and better for next year. Let’s start with the numbers.” He turned to Emmanuel Sekou, the Finance Manager on his immediate left.
The 42-year-old was dressed in his usual black rumpled suit which didn’t do justice to his lean and athletic frame. “We sold 3,500 tickets so if you include children under 12 who entered free, attendance was around 5,000. In terms of revenue, we are above budget in everything – food, drinks, entertainment.”
He flipped through the papers he was holding. “I’m still compiling the final numbers from the clubhouse and bars but we are 30 percent above projections.” Spontaneous applause broke out with some managers giving each other high fives.
“That’s a very good note on which to start. Now what did we get right?” asked Tony.
“Bringing in Papa Wemba to headline the concert was a genius move. It created a lot of hype for the whole event.” It surprised no one when Eric Yinda, the Entertainment Manager, jumped in first, indirectly praising himself in the process. The 25-year-old sales graduate was brash, a hustler, extroverted and outspoken which often rubbed others the wrong way.
“I agree. But I think we should have more Bancushian musicians next time. The few we had were very well received,” said Kepta Bosibo, the soft spoken Golf Manager and the only man in the room not wearing a suit.
“He’s right. We should definitely consider that next time,” said Eric.
“The Motocross race was also a great hit,” pitched in Shamina Mohammed, the C&B Manager, who had a bubbly personality and ready smile.
“Building that track was a good investment. Good thing we finished it on time for the games. That gave us a lot of free publicity which will help to promote the track going forward,” said Ben Osok, the Marketing Manager. The 29-year-old was an extrovert like Eric but without the brashness.
“I was a little surprised how popular the motocross event was, considering how new it is in the country,” said Kepta.
“That was the main attraction for the teens who came in large numbers,” said Shamina.
“Great, so motocross has a lot of potential. Ben, why don’t you and your team come up with more motocross events just like the ones we have for golf? We need to have a proper calendar and build it up into a key source of revenue,” said Tony. Ben nodded taking notes. “Patrick, how was security?”
“Using boy scouts to direct human traffic and help people find their way to various areas worked well. It left my men and the extra guards we hired free to deal with the core work of securing the venue,” said Patrick Lusebo.
The tall, dark, muscular, 36-year-old former member of the elite General Service Unit (GSU), a special unit of the Bancushi Police, sat ramrod straight in his chair unlike the other men in the room who lounged in their seats, legs crossed or stretched out in front of them. Patrick rarely spoke up in meetings unless he was spoken to perhaps because of his military background.
“We had a few minor incidences like pick pockets and children getting lost but nothing major. I suggest however, that we hire more guards with dogs next time and have floodlights in the parking lot and around the dam.”
“Why? There was no event at the dam after 6pm, so why have lights?” asked Ayize.
Patrick coughed and looked uncomfortable. “We caught a few teenagers sneaking off into the bushes around the dam and in the cars having er…” he waved a hand in the air looking embarrassed.
“Nooky?” Eric laughed. The other managers glanced at each other in amusement.
“I suppose it was to be expected at an event like this. They were probably tipsy,” said Richard Thande, the F&B manager.
“We had a very strict rule. No sale of alcohol to anyone under 21. Weren’t your waiters and barmen supposed to enforce it?”
Richard glared across the table at Eric and when he spoke his voice was scathing. “They did.” A short, stout man of 45 years, Richard had a short fuse. When angry he was prone to point a stubby finger at the source of his wrath, beady eyes narrowed, a vein popping out on his forehead, breathing hard.
“Then how did the kids get booze?” Eric demanded in a loud voice. “What if someone died because they were driving while drunk after coming from our event? That kind of publicity would have killed us. This kind of carelessness is unacceptable.” Eric banged his hand on the table for emphasis. Ben nodded his head vigorously.
“Look it’s not the job of F&B to police every teen. We can’t control some of these things,” Richard hit back, arms raised in outrage at Eric’s accusations that his staff were incompetent. Bedlam reigned for a few minutes as everyone started speaking at once.
“Actually it wasn’t the fault of the waiters. The teens smuggled booze into the venue. So did many of the adults.” Patrick’s calm authoritative voice cut through the din and immediately the room quietened.
He leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands clasped in front of him. “Look, this is normal. I’ve dealt with situations like this before. You don’t get 5,000 people in one venue and expect that no one will bring in alcohol. It happens. What you then do is damage control. My men patrolled the grounds and when they found teens in compromising positions they escorted them back to the concert. We gave those in the parking lot two choices – go home, or get back to the concert. We escorted the ones who were too drunk to the lobby and asked them to call their parents to pick them up. A few resisted but when we told them the alternative was a night in a police cell, they cooperated. One or two refused, so we took their car keys and told them to sleep it off in the lounge next to the lobby. We sent them home in the morning after a complimentary breakfast.”
Patrick paused and looked around the room. His colleagues were nodding thoughtfully, many surprised because they had never heard him speak longer than one or two sentences at a time.
“So no harm done. My point in raising the issue is so we can prevent it next time. People do things like this under the cover of darkness. We should reduce opportunities for mischief by installing more lights in the parking lot, the dam area and hire more guards with dogs to patrol the event.”
“Those are good points. Note them down. Who is taking the minutes?” asked Tony.
George Hube raised his hand. The 40-year-old Front Office Manager was like Patrick and spoke little in meetings, usually in response to a direct question. But the 6’1 hulk of a man nicknamed “the gentle giant” by his colleagues was invaluable in a crisis. The kind of person who is everywhere at once, directing people, giving instructions, creating order out of chaos.
He was a perfect fit for his position which brought together the main reception, reservations, switchboard and guest relations. These departments are the nerve centre of a hotel, first point of contact for guests and the first port of call whenever there is a problem.
“Any other update on security?” Tony asked.
“I want to thank the front office team, especially the staff on duty both nights of the derby. They really helped us manage the situation with the teens, particularly Betty, the guest relations officer, who worked with us until morning both nights. She handled the parents who were understandably angry at having to come and collect their kids in the middle of the night. She defused the tension and calmed them down. I commend her. She did a great job.”
“Good job George. You and your team have our thanks for managing a potentially messy situation,” said Tony. George nodded and smiled.
“How was the golf tournament?” Tony directed the question to Kepta.
“It was good. We had a field of 150 golfers. The winner for the men scored 39 points playing a handicap of 10. The women’s winner got 34 points.” Tony nodded enthusiastically but this information was meaningless to the majority at the table.
“What is this handicap thing you golfers talk about? Does someone play with one hand tied behind his back or what?” The room erupted into laughter as Lucy Galina, the Housekeeping Manager looked on unperturbed. “I fail to understand how men can get so excited about hitting a little ball into a tiny hole in the hot sun for four hours.” There was renewed mirth all around the table.
“I keep asking you to let me take you for just one game. You hit that ball a few times and you’re hooked for life,” Tony told her once he’d stopped laughing.
“I highly doubt that,” Lucy replied, her voice filled with scepticism. They called her mama because she was like a mother hen, always protective of her staff. Even when upset, she rebuked the offender in a loving tone and seemed to have infinite reserves of patience.
“Let’s talk about the canoe race,” Tony said. “The sports derby’s main objective was to generate more revenue from the dam. It cannot just be for irrigating the greens. We want the dam and now the motocross track to be profitable strategic business units just like the hotel, the farm and the golf course. So let’s dissect it, see what we did right and where we can improve.”
“We had 30 teams in the race which was above our target of 20. We also got a very good response from sponsors, especially the title sponsor Coca-Cola which provided the prize money – Sh1 million for the winner, Sh500,000 for number two and Sh250,000 for third place,” said Ayize.
“From the feedback we got, many people would like to see the race expanded. Introduce a race for women and a junior category for under 18s, racing shorter distances of 200 or 500 metres instead of the men’s 1,000 metres,” said Ben.
“That’s a good idea but I don’t know if we can fit three tournaments into one event,” replied Ayize.
“We put the canoe races in the afternoon so that people could enjoy the other activities during the morning hours on both days like the boat rides, water skiing, motocross, horse and camel rides. We also had the family fun run on Saturday morning. We figured that the best time to draw a big crowd for the canoe race was after lunch when most people would have had a chance to participate fully in all the other activities. On Saturday afternoon we did three heats of 10 teams each. The first five teams in each heat qualified for the knockout stage the next day. On Sunday afternoon we did three heats each comprising five teams after doing a fresh ballot to decide which teams would go into each heat. The first three teams in each heat qualified for the semi-final. The teams that took position 1-5 in the semi-final went into the final. All these mini-races take time to organise,” said Ayize.
“We can hold the derby during Easter. That’s four days,” suggested Eric.
“Bad idea. Everyone’s attention is on the Safari Rally, the biggest sporting event in the year,” Kepta pointed out. “You’d find it hard to compete with that.”
“What about a three-day weekend when a public holiday falls on a Friday or Sunday?” asked Shamina.
“That could work.” Kepta nodded.
“What if there isn’t any public holiday on those days?” asked Lucy. “I thought Eric’s idea of holding it at Easter was a good one.”
“Don’t people travel upcountry over Easter? Will we get good attendance?” Sekou introduced a different angle to the debate.
The discussion heated up as the managers all gave varying views on the issue. Tony listened for a few minutes before venturing an opinion.
“There is clear interest in introducing a race for women and under 18s. But we can’t possibly fit three races into the event as currently structured. I don’t think we can solve this issue here. I suggest we form a small team to look at all the ideas, come up with pros and cons and provide suggestions on the way forward with budget implications. Any volunteers?” He looked around the table.
Eric, Kepta and Ben raised their hands. “Sekou please join the team. You’re the numbers guru and I want options that are financially viable. How much time do you need to report back to the management team?”
“A month?” suggested Kepta.
“Too long. You have three weeks from today,” said Tony. “Any other issue that we need to discuss on the canoe race?”
“Congratulations Ayize for partnering with Sabuki Camp. I shudder to think what would have happened without their boats. You saved the event,” said Shamina.
“That was a good solution,” Ben agreed.
“Actually, it was Sophie Gitwana’s idea,” Ayize announced.
“Isn’t that the intern who was fired for sleeping on the job?” asked Richard.
“She wasn’t fired. She was suspended for a week,” George corrected him.
“I don’t understand. How did she even get involved with Sabuki Camp?” The puzzled frown on Eric’s face mirrored that of several managers around the table. Ayize explained what had happened the previous week.
“I’m impressed. She has great instincts,” said Shamina.
Several managers nodded in agreement but Richard snorted in disgust. “She should have been fired for negligence. What if the canoe race had failed after all the planning and money that we put into the event?”
“She made a mistake. Are you going to sit there and tell me you’ve never messed up?” Shamina challenged him.
Richard ignored the question and turned to Diana Nabwa, the HR Manager who sat at the foot of the table keenly watching the others. “What’s the HR policy for this?”
“I had recommended sacking her but in light of recent developments, I think we should reconsider,” Diana replied.
People tended to underestimate the tall and skinny 46-year-old on first meeting her. That quickly changed once they got to know her. She had a knack of sizing up people accurately within seconds of meeting them. She was firm and quietly assertive, opting to reason rather than bulldoze people into accepting unpopular decisions.
“Why? Because she came up with a solution? She created the problem in the first place,” Richard countered stubbornly. He was a stickler for following the rules and several of his colleagues considered him to be quite rigid.
“Are you saying she had something to do with the theft?” Shamina asked in disbelief, impatiently sweeping her jet black silky tresses over her shoulder.
“It’s not her fault the boats were stolen. But if she had manned the switchboard at all times like she was supposed to, my men might have had a decent shot at apprehending the thieves before they escaped,” interjected Patrick, whose department had received a lot of flak over the incident. Patrick believed in discipline and accountability. For him, sleeping on the job, which Sophie had admitted doing, was a crime almost as bad as the theft itself.
“That’s all I’m saying.” Richard spread his hands and leaned back in his chair. “She may have saved the race, but the hotel still has to replace the stolen boats and they’re not cheap.”
“I’m with Shamina on this one. I think firing her sends the wrong message to the rest of staff,” Lucy quietly chipped in from her position next to him.
“How so?” asked Ben.
“I’ve been with the hotel since it opened and we’ve always had an unwritten policy of allowing our people to experiment, to try new ideas, all in the quest to be the very best at what we do. That implies that people will make mistakes. But that’s how we learn and grow. I’m looking at a roomful of very smart people. But it was Sophie who came up with a fix. Yes, she messed up. But are we really going to crucify her for one mistake?” Lucy looked around the room.
“I worked with her before she was transferred to the switchboard. She is hardworking, good with people, and is always ready to learn. Shamina is right. She’s resourceful and has the right instincts for this business. I vote we put her in the management trainee programme.”
“Come on!” Richard raised his hands, an incredulous look on his face. “You want to reward her negligence with a promotion?”
“Lucy has a point,” Ben conceded. “My team considered hiring canoes for the event. We called everyone we knew and got nowhere. It didn’t occur to us to go to a camp like Sabuki and ask to borrow their boats.” His next words were addressed to Ayize. “She came up with the deal herself – to give them sponsorship in exchange for their boats?” Ayize nodded.
“That’s exactly my point. When was the last time we saw this level of initiative from an intern? She came up with a really good solution with virtually no training. She’s only done one semester of her business diploma course and it’s already paying off. All she needs is guidance and training and she’ll make a great manager. I could use someone like that in my department,” said Lucy.
“Not if I can get her first.” Shamina smiled at her from across the table.
“I agree she would make a good candidate for management trainee but the switchboard is really short staffed. I think that became clear during the event,” said Diana.
“What happened?” asked Tony with a frown.
George whose docket included the switchboard answered instead of Diana. “With Sophie on suspension, the three employees in the department had to work 12 hours because of the deluge of calls which continued late into the night. Ideally, two people should work the morning shift because it is so busy. But because we were minus one employee with three shifts to cover, Martin and Bill worked from 7am till 6pm, then Daniel took over till morning. And we did the same on Sunday. Until Sophie comes back, Martin, who is the most experienced is working mornings, Bill the afternoon and Daniel the night shift.”
“The issue is what would happen if one of them got sick. Plus they are owed weeks of leave time,” said Diana.
“So hire more people,” said Tony.
A look passed between Diana and Ayize. “I’ve tried but I need the managers to make time for interviews.”
Tony turned to Ayize. “I want it done, immediately.” The latter nodded.
“Coming back to the issue of her sleeping while on duty…” Richard ignored the collective groan around the table. “I suggest she works the morning shift with Martin. There’s no harm in being cautious. Until we are sure Sophie can handle a shift alone, let’s give her back-up.” A short silence ensued.
“He does have a point. Why take a risk?” said Sekou.
“She can handle an entire shift alone. She’s done it plenty of times with no problem,” George countered.
“Look, I know you all think she’s great, but she’s still an intern. She shouldn’t work unsupervised. And as you said, the morning shift requires two people,” Richard insisted.
“Sophie likes the night shift and the other guys hate it. The schedule has been working well,” said George.
“Tell that to Patrick,” Richard retorted.
“Is this about the night shift allowance?” asked Lucy.
“What about it?” said Shamina.
“Sophie likes to work nights because staff get extra money if they work more than three nights a week. She grew up in a slum. Her father took off and left her mother to raise seven children on her own. Five of them are still in school and she relies on Sophie and her older brother to help with the bills. Sophie needs every cent she can earn,” Lucy replied.
“Wow, you know a lot about her,” remarked Shamina.
“I always make a point to get to know my employees. I’ve learnt that when things are going wrong at work, most of the time it’s not about the actual work but stuff going on at home,” Lucy replied.
“We all sympathise with her situation. But the needs of the hotel come first. Until she’s confirmed as a permanent employee, she should work alongside someone else. If not Martin, then one of the others,” said Richard.
“Not Daniel though,” Lucy commented in a low voice to George who sat next to her.
Tony was listening to the exchange in rapt attention and caught the remark. “Why not?”
George sighed and rebuked Lucy with a swift glance. “Those two don’t get along.”
“Why?” Tony’s eyes narrowed and his frown deepened.
“A few weeks ago, Daniel failed to show up for work with no explanation, forcing Sophie to work a double shift. I gave Daniel a warning letter and he has been taking out his anger on Sophie ever since. Martin and I worked on a schedule that ensured the two didn’t work together.”
“That’s not the only reason Daniel works the morning shift with Martin. He’s an alcoholic, which has made him unreliable.”
“Lucy, I don’t think…”
“I don’t mean to interfere in your department George, you know that. But how long are we going to ignore Daniel’s drinking? The others are always covering up for him and that has worsened his behaviour. Let’s face it, the only reason he got caught is because Sophie being new couldn’t get the waiters to send her food. So she called Ian Matengo. Martin and Bill would have handled the situation without involving management,” Lucy said.
“How long has this been going on?” Tony’s eyes flashed with anger.
“Almost a year,” Lucy answered.
“Ayize, Diana, I want someone recruited to the switchboard and I want it done yesterday. George, deal decisively with Daniel. Make it clear that unless he straightens out, we will ship him out.” Tony’s voice was a low rumble of fury. It held them motionless, like bands of invisible steel. No one argued with Tony when he used that tone.
“And Sophie?” asked Richard.
“Put her on the morning shift with Martin. She can resume nights in a few weeks.” Tony glanced at his watch. “Any other business?” He looked around the table. Nobody spoke. “The chairman was very pleased with the sports derby and he asked me to convey his congratulations to all of you for a job well done. He’s decided to give all staff a mbuzi gift of Sh2,000 in appreciation for all the hard work.”
He turned to Ayize on his right. “Please draft a memo to staff,” then turning to his left addressed Sekou, “Take the money out of the chairman’s account and make the payments immediately.”
“Please convey our thanks to the chairman,” said Ayize.
Tony nodded. “We’re adjourned.” The room emptied.