Good neighbours

Last week I heard about a brand whose senior management team literally lives by its promise to the market. The story came from one of the CEO’s we mentor under the Amalgam Leadership programme.

His brand is a microfinance lender that targets businesses. One of the many that have sprung up in Africa over the last decade, addressing a fundamental need. Someone once said that the difference between a pauper and a millionaire is access to credit. Microfinance is now doing giving that access to unbanked people and under-supported businesses, and doing it so well that it is shrugging off traditional perceptions about money lending.

The Company in question now employs several thousand people, and has strong operations across. In Kenya, the company’s staff is notable for long service.  Very many of them have been with the business since foundation. Thanks to an extensive mentoring and development drive, the Company now only recruits externally by exception. Strong candidates are developed and promoted from within. I have known the business from its earliest days and I have always been struck by the alignment of its staff and the cohesive nature of its management.A few years ago the CEO was offered the opportunity to buy residential land, but the plot was too large and the cost too high for him to buy it on his own. So he persuaded his direct reports to band together and buy the land in partnership. They organised themselves to do this, and also to help each other to fund the construction of a secure compound with decent housing. And that’s where they all live. As neighbours, out of choice. They clearly have sufficient trust in one another and the collective confidence to create the lifestyle they want. And they did not use shareholders’ money to do it – what a refreshing surprise.

What an original way to build a stronger core for their organisational culture. Taking the benefit that they deliver to their customers (Elevating your business to the next level) and using it to build a greater sense of mutual reliance among their own management team.

The very earliest definition of Company comes from the Latin words for ‘eating’ and ‘bread’. Originally a military noun, its etymology captures the social cohesion formed by people who sit down to eat bread together.

The proverb ‘Good fences make good neighbours’ was used by the American Robert Frost in his poem ‘Mending wall’. In that poem, Frost and a neighbour discuss the mutual and independent responsibilities that make landowning possible in an ordered society. Perhaps good neighbours make good managers too.



Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa



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