A week ago when the news of Robert Kabushenga’s resignation as Vision Group CEO started to make rounds, I was shocked to find the gentlemen at my boda boda stage at home having it as a point of their morning discussion.
Consequently I realised the man carried more ‘news value’ among the common people than we the so called elites had anticipated.
One ‘analyst’ at the boda stage raised fear that Bukedde TV just may go down without Kabushenga, unfounded of course but may be it shows how much the two had unfortunately been fused in the public eye. This brings me to some rather interesting questions.
How much time should a CEO of a media house spend making appearances on the same platforms they run?, When does it become necessary and when is it necessary?
My reason for raising those questions is in a number of cases the CEO might overshadow the very media houses they are trying to build as they garner for media mileage in that media space!
Back to Kabushenga, a man with the gift of the gab, also good at negotiating his way back into the good books of aggrieved stake holders, he is very likely to do well as a politician and spinner given he is not the worst of corporate managers either.
At a time when the party he fervently subscribes to the NRM is taking a beating on image both locally and outside Uganda may be the powers that be should consider him and bring him to fore just so he could help revive the political fortunes of a party once much loved by the masses but now starting to look like the next DP and UPC lingering around the graveyards of Uganda’s politics.
His time at Vision Group When he took the mantle of power at the new vision back in 2006, Kabushenga inherited the reigns of a company that had been built by a smart Journalist turned astute business leader in William Pike.
It would take an exceptional fool then to run down Vision Group given the firm foundation it’s first CEO Pike had given it and lucky enough Kabushenga didn’t run it down!
The time was perfect for an expansion drive to take shape and those close to the C-suite at Vision Group say the plan was already laid down even before Kabushenga took office.
From a group of newspapers, Vision Group metamorphosed into a media conglomerate with a major foot print in Television and Radio something Kabushenga alongside his capable team of executives and department heads navigated quite decently in his 14 year reign in spite of many challenges.
Even it times of what looked like crisis, he seemed to have one or two more cards in the back pocket to turn things round. His quiet but progressive charm offensive with Buganda Kingdom after it had fallen out with Vision group over some edgy and very bold miscalculated stories in Bukedde news paper was commendable.
This hit it’s prime with him being named the chief organiser of the Kabaka birthday run by Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga something note worthy given Kabushenga leveraged the media behemoth he stood at the helm of then to deliver a number of successful Kabaka birthday runs as a result.
Vision group under his leadership was also a key player in mobilising resources for the Pope’s last visit that coincided with the renovation of the Martyrs shrine in Namugongo besides hosting President Uhuru Kenyatta at one of his biggest Pakasa forum conferences that brought together about 10,000 youth in the guise of tapping some entrepreneurship skills and wisdom.
He also had a botched attempt at running for the FUFA presidency where he was technically edged out given the fact he had never run or owned a football club by the time he offered himself as a candidate.
With other successes under his name like a Bukedde TV audience that grew in leaps and bounds, the Toto magazine and festival, the Harvest Money project growing interest in farming among the elites and a few others, his 14 years at the helm of Uganda’s biggest media house by turnover looks good on the outside.
Enter the books
The early years of Kabushenga’s reign as Vision Group CEO were quite rosy, advertising revenue which remains the biggest source of revenue to the company was on the up as big corporates powered by a growing telecom industry, new entrants in the beer industry, a thriving banking and insurance sector and free flowing government spend on media ensured the books always looked good.
However after the 2011 election, the inflation spiral that followed and the effects of the 2008-2009 financial crisis finally hitting home to the African subsidiaries among the free spending multinationals, the game changed.
The budget cut backs began, the defaults and delayed payments took shape and government spending on media too began to be checked.
Things still looked quite good with a few billions in net profit still flocking in until these too started to dwindle in 2014-2015.
Next was survival mode, revenues remained quite steady with a few increases and sometimes bigger decreases making the last five or so years of his reign at the top a bag of mixed potatoes good and rotten. Cost cutting, merging of positions and reduced perks for employees became the order of the day.
In the midst of it all though executive pay kept rising with the CEO’s pay crossing the 25 million mark as members of his executive committee also entered the 20 million a month plus bracket.
This came with some backlash from employees who were decrying the huge disparity between the lowest paid employees at the company which stood at less than a million shillings in comparison with the 20 plus millions top executives were taking home, a grumbling that still rages on even as he leaves.
Among other issues Kabushenga found it hard to balance were the rising cost of payroll amid flattening revenues wiping out the glory days of his early years as Vision Group CEO.
With an English radio station that failed to break even and an English audience TV channel that has for years fallen short of industry big dogs NTV and NBS by far, a staff that has more questions than answers about their future, Kabushenga walks out as a hero of sorts to the outside world but not a man much loved and appreciated by his own staff.
This has been compounded by Vision group not being able to innovate it’s way into new solid revenue streams as advertising spend stagnates leaving the admirable CV of one of the most sought after and celebrated CEOs in Corporate Kampala over the past 15 years with a sizeable blemish!
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