Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What's the real cost of mismanagement?

What are the overall consequences of mismanagement? Often times, the obvious will be stated. But what REALLY are the consequences of mismanagement? I don’t mean outright crazy madness, where the managers are looting. That isn’t mismanagement. It’s embezzlement. I mean where you sit back and watch something you’re in charge of deteriorate to where there’s nothing left of it. Either you’re too dumb to see it’s happening and stop it, or are too busy with other things and have neglected your responsibilities to this point. Whatever the reason, I’m concerned with that kind of attitude. Where the person in charge is around when everything falls apart, and does nothing to stop it. And this situation considered only where no uncontrollable or extenuating circumstances exist.

Of former schools
Let me give an example of the things I’m talking about. I was very fortunate to have attended 3 of some of the best schools there were in my days for primary, secondary and post secondary education. Here’s my point. With all I know about each and every one of these schools, there’s not a single one of them I would wish for my children to attend in the current day. Forget that they were the schools to be in when I was in them. Forget that the longest application lines and processes existed with admittance rates at below 20% for how coveted these institutions were while I was in them. To say that, and for anyone to compare them with what they are now, is to cause everyone around to wonder if maybe I’m making things up.


2 out of 3 of the alma maters have started some kind of revival processes, thanks to the web and its far reaching arms. The 3rd one hasn’t probably won’t but it’s a far cry from what it used to be. It’s crazy, of all good management I ever saw, all factors considered, was my primary school headmaster. In retrospect. I was too young to understand how his attitude and habits were the overall glue that held all together in that environment. I guess we were fortunate in that for me and my siblings, we all finished our education while he was the HNIC. Fast forward to today. One of my classmates who started a family much earlier than most now has children in this very environment. And the only thing he has to say is just how bad everything is. He says we couldn’t understand it. We have no way to imagine things could be that bad. I’m always the one who asks, why? What happened, what catastrophe changed things? The catastrophe? Change in management. A leader who cannot make the correct calls on budget; including cuts and priorities. A leader who is incapable of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the current institution and taking the steps needed to bolster the foundations.

Post Secondary
My post secondary education was in a prestigious environment, not to us who were in it, but to those who had formulated ideas and attitudes about it. We paid a lot, true. But the heart and soul of that institution had nothing to do with money. It had to do with cohesive functionality. We ranked 1st all the time for the international course we were all part of, to the point that we were audited severally because they thought we had to be cheating. What African school could have so many smart kids lumped in one area? Well, we had instructors who understood the curriculum and the deliverables. Who communicated that very clearly to the students and who allowed push back so that we could ask questions over and over again until we were clear. Never once were we judged, or considered too “spoilt” to have valid opinions. This environment created creativity and fierce loyalty to our brand. And this loyalty translated to so much pride that we were all out there striving to uphold our name.

As luck would have it, this institution would have a history that would come to haunt it. While I was in it, it was run by catholic fathers. Turns out, the catholic fathers had been given the institution to run by a then wealthier different denomination that had more than it could handle. It appears that the ‘operate this school’ contract was “run this” no details attached. So one day, the other denomination is now running broke (shock!) and recalls its property. It’s a violent upheaval. But now they are running the institution. What they did different, I’m never going to know. But the results have been shocking, to say the least. I keep wondering how they possibly could be in the situation they’re in. What they needed to have changed to get there so quickly. Some things are so solid, so stable; you imagine it has to take some time to bring them down. No, not these people. They must have some kind of special talent. Because they have brought down a giant in record time. This is a future case study on how not to manage, for sure.

Family Traditions
Here’s my beef with all this. Primary school, I went to a very nice school. But not the first in my extended family. My father’s side of the family has a rare story for their times. My grandfather was a doctor, my grandmother a teacher. So my father and his siblings got the rare opportunity to not only live in Nairobi but also to attend the best schools. While my father didn’t attend the specific school that I did, his younger brother did. And it played out that our entire slew of cousins from that side went there as well. We wanted to keep this tradition if we could. Now, we’re definitely not considering it. I wonder if I can communicate this sense of loss.
It reminds me of the time when my brother had to go to high school. The conversation had mainly centered on private day school until my mother had an epiphany of sorts and shoved that idea. Here was the problem, there were no boarding schools in Nairobi that we could take him to and feel safe with that decision. This is why the private day school had been the original idea. Now, for my father’s frustration point. My father was an old boy’s member, a group that was trying to revive the school he had gone to. When he was there, he was one of the African students, though by then, they had a few, but not about half the population. In actual fact, he attended the school when it had the title starting with “Duke of … “ Now, imagine his frustration with the fact that my brother has qualified to get into this school, but none of us will hear of it, because we have heard they treat their form ones terribly, and worse when they have small bodies. By then, one or two had died while being rabbalized. In addition, there was nothing but rumors of gay rape happening in these boarding schools. My brother ended up in Gilgil in one of the forces controlled schools. It turned out to have been a blessing because it is a great school he went to. But there! Because of headmasters who refused to reign in bullying and other shenanigans, my father lost what he really wanted. A chance to have an alma mater relationship with his only son. Can I communicate the extent of loss?

Rare opportunity
I should mention that my mother also was amongst the lucky few from their times. Hers was a more stumbled into lucky situation as compared to my father. For starters, proximity. My mother hails from one of the districts that are now about to be absorbed into Nairobi because they have become merely outskirts and suburbs. To put it in perspective, it was a 30 minutes drive to my mum’s shags and we went there on a whim on Sunday evenings often. But her parents were not wealthy nor educated. However, she happens to be the ultimate last born. She was the last born of the youngest of 3 wives children. And fortunately for her, her oldest brother from her mother was educated, done with school, married and flourishing. I should mention that whenever my parents have told us the story of “walking to school without shoes.” Both have lied every time. Very rare circumstance for children of my generation. Anyway, my mother was smart as daylight too. So she ended up in one of Nairobi’s greatest schools for her time. And I ended up there as well. And while I was there, my mother decried the deterioration in prestige of a still then very highly regarded school. Now she just wonders if anything could ever be done to save it. As a student in a school where my mother had been, it felt very good. I was one of two. The other girl, an old family friend, just happened to be my mom’s friend from high school’s daughter. It was quite something. And I had hoped that maybe I could share the same with a possible future daughter. Given the condition of that school currently, woe unto me!

So here’s where I am at with all this. I’m frustrated. Maybe even a little upset. I’m just feeling victimized by the actions of those who were put in charge of these institutions. I’d like to write them a letter. It would be polite, but I would like to draw for them a picture that captures just how much more they have robbed people of. I’m sure that they see the decay, the failures of their mismanagement. The evidence is obvious. What I don’t think they know is the far reaching implications. They may not be aware of the “error that keeps on giving” situation they have left behind. To look outside of personal self, these are now huge institutions, filled with potential that at the very least will have a lull in their histories, assuming all ends well and these will be revived to their past glories. Which means that tons of money has to go into bringing back what was the norm into these places. Money that could have been used to take these institutions to the next level! Stalled development, the inheritance they’ve left us all with.

What about the pride with which we regarded our alma maters? We now say we were there and everyone rumbles into, “oh the place has deteriorated” speech because they remember what it meant when we were there. What about that? And what about for those like me, who had hoped to continue a tradition of taking their children to these institutions? As they are currently, it would be an irresponsible decision on any parent’s part. What about that?

Hope - Maybe
All is not lost for me. The kids are yet to be manufactured. The dough has not been kneaded yet, let alone placed in the oven. I could still get lucky and find that by the time I have kids and they’re ready for school, the miracles needed have come through, and these institutions have been revived. Sigh! One can dream, anyway.