Talking Innovation: What Alvin Mbugua told Senior Executives

Alvin Mbugua spent the earlier years of his career in West Africa and East Africa before finding his way to South Africa. He knows too well what it is like to set up systems in corporate organisations across the continent. Each of these countries, be it Senegal where he worked or Kenya where he hails, has taught him a lot about innovation. 

He worked with Shell as a financial consultant and regional chief financial officer for a global logistics firm in the subsequent years. He has spent the last eight years with British multinational beverage alcohol company Diageo and today, he is the Managing Director of Uganda Breweries Limited. 

Speaking to senior executives during the recently concluded three-day Executive Program held by The Innovation Village, he drew on his experiences to provide practical strategies for creating and driving innovation in corporate organisations. As a witness to the evolution of the global economy that set the stage for a new breed of large corporate companies to thrive in the last decade, he believes, innovation is a must. 

“Back in 2006, Oil and Gas was big so Exon Mobil, Total were big. The other big companies were partly in healthy, retail chains like Walmart. Microsoft showed up as a monopoly. Between then and 2019, only Microsoft has stayed in the game and fast forward to 2021, tech companies have taken over, life has changed. This is the era of innovation we are currently in,” he said. 

What more can corporate organisations learn as they prepare for change and build an innovation culture? Here are Mbugua’s thoughts.  

Volatility is here to stay

It might be COVID-19 now and something else next time. Wearing an agility muscle is the best thing you can give yourself. Even as you come up with your ideas and develop your products, understand that those ideas have a life cycle. You need to generate new ideas perpetually, experiment at particular stages and stay relevant. 

Understand consumer behavior

The big sectors in the next 20 years will come from changes in health, technology and renewables. What is important for you to pick out is your consumers and the mannerisms of consumption. It is going to be about less being more and not just the previous high consumption era we have been in. You will need to understand these consumer patterns before they happen to ensure that you are in tune with building things that are multipurpose and are in line with new patterns of consumption. 

Changing brands

What do you stand for? What do you make and what is the story behind it? In brand building, telling your story is going to play a very big role in how sustainable your business becomes in the future. 

Research

Getting into your facts allows you the freedom to pick out products and services that will win the day. You must start from a point of understanding the trends in whichever sector you play. The big question is how you start to shift from certainty to curiosity. 

Appreciate the value chain

You need to understand when you are at your apex with a particular product or when you need to allow for its natural decline. You need to know when you should be investing in a particular product. This is important but to do that, you must be very close to your customer base and pick feedback. Build your purpose around your customers. 

Change management

The ideas you have will not see the light of day unless you make room for change management. You ought to have the right atmosphere for dealing with change and at a rapid rate. The essence of being able to execute and become good at change management is born in small agile functional teams across the business that build and deploy the vision of the company. 

Innovate and Innovate

If we had not chosen to innovate five years ago, 20 per cent of the market would be defined by something else. It shows you how important it is to always have an arm of your business that is thinking about that future space because your consumer is always changing in terms of their preferences. Allow yourself to go through various learning curves and experiment a bit more. Stop spending too much time predicting what the future holds. Understand the trends and start to shape the future. Innovators make the future happen!

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