Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Principles and not Individuals keep organisations alive

We all use the words boom and burst, don’t we?

Survival is down to the choice of core-principle; there are many to chose from, get the colour right
Survival is down to the choice of core principle; there are many to choose from, get the colour right

Apparently, boom and burst refer to a process of economic expansion and contraction; that occurs frequently. Let us attempt to put ‘boom and burst’ in a layman’s perspective – Nakabugu village in Uganda, as one would suspect, is the place to go for such contextualization – Nakabugu is what we understand best since it is the place we were raised.

At Nakabugu, you often hear petty-traders use the words ‘muuna embeela mbi ..’ (read: friend, times are bad), referring to times when business is low. Our kin and neighbours in Nakabugu must have entered a period of burst, whenever they cry out: ‘muuna embeela mbi…’

Indeed, Individuals, families, small or medium and large enterprises, Nation-States all go through periods of boom and burst. It is an old phenomenon. Boom and burst periods may be caused by external factors beyond any one’s control or internal matters that organisations and humans can influence. We focus our discussion of boom and burst on the latter

During periods of boom and burst at institutions, we see two fundamental drivers at work, and that we want to bring to your attention this week:

  1. Individuals
  2. Principles

Behind every success or failure (boom and burst) at an organisation, is a human being. The person may be a manager at a business small or large, solo-entrepreneur, business magnate, parent, or President of a country. More often than not, the boom and burst cycle and its effect on the organisation is attributed to the strengths or weaknesses of an individual – the business pedigree of people is put out for scrutiny.

When Apple went through a period of burst, Steve Jobs took partial responsibility and had to move on from the business for some time; yet, the same Steve Jobs returned to Apple and had gone down in history as one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our era. It was on Steve Job’s watch that Apple enjoyed a period of boom, that has gone on long after his death.

Facebook and Marker Zuckerberg is another company experiencing a period of boom – unless industry regulators throw a spanner in the works, Facebook’s boom period may also last for years. Success at Apple and Facebook is attributed to Jobs and Zuckerberg as individuals – is there something more than the individual pedigree of the two, that is driving success at these companies?

Like in the industrialised world, In Africa, we have a breed of renowned African billionaires but our interest for this blog is in the nascent-millionaires – the African billionaires of tomorrow; we are interested in understanding what makes their businesses successful. What is it that makes them millionaires and different from us? What makes them sustain their thinking power and entrepreneurial zeal, and most of all in Africa? One would think it all is in their individual pedigree – i.e. they were born with a particular DNA to do business. But like in the case of Jobs and Zuckerberg, is there something more than their individual DNA, in their nascent success?

We cannot dismiss the fact that business success is partly a factor of our DNA. Billionaires of today like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. had something unique about them right from their youth. So much so that there was daylight between their behaviour and ambition and that of their peers. Bill Gates even dropped out of college. Emerging African millionaires have something in them that can identify and exploit windows of opportunity

However, Individual pedigree is only part of the answer to achieving sustained business success. Apparently, there is something more fundamental than human DNA or intellect. Business success is influenced significantly by Principles and not necessarily the individual.

See the thinking below from the industrialist Henry Ford. He laughed at those that waited for the time Henry Ford, the man, would go under – to the Ford doomsayer’s, Ford’s success was down to his individual personality, and they believed that it was only a matter of time before Ford went burst. The Ford boom had to end at a certain point, after all, he was only human and fallible.

To Ford’s credit, the Ford Motor Company and Ideology have survived till now; including going through a very tough 2008+ Global Economic Crisis. Henry Ford’s insight below, explains the brand’s longevity and the power of business principles vs. individual pedigree:

How soon will Ford blow up?” Nobody knows how many thousand times it has been asked since. It is asked only because of the failure to grasp that a principle rather than an individual is at work, and the principle is so simple that it seems mysterious.

Henry Ford, My Life and Work

Yes, our unique DNA influences business success.  However, it is the principles that you choose to operate your business on, that ultimately define and sustain brand-power. Henry Ford created and ran his business on principles such as: designing a car for the common man and one that would meet the transportation needs of humans – his was about changing the way we lived. Ford brought convenience to the world and on the cheap – and for as long that principle was followed, why would Ford blow up? I don’t foresee, even one hundred years from today, a time when humans will get tired of convenience and value for money

The Influence of Principle on business sustainability

Analysing what drives business success is overly influenced by the fact that brand viability is more often than not attributed to individuals.

However, individual DNA is only part of the business success equation; after all, people come and go.  Sustainable businesses are built on a firm foundation of core-business-principles. This is the reason why companies like Ford Motor Company, Apple, and many others have outlived their founders. Even in instances where founder principles have had to be changed, that is a process that needs to be done very carefully.

Sadly, because principles are intangible, they are not always given the right attention or fully leveraged by business leaders.

Leaders, Managers, Parents, Presidents may want to pause and ask if they have done that critical ’soft-investment’ in core principles. Have you gone beyond self?

What principle sustains your business success? Do you have firm thoughts, a roadmap, and footprint of action towards your business principles? How many times do you refer to your business principles during a typical working day? If you left your job today, what would your legacy be? Remember, brands that go on forever have got proud legacies – proud and sustainable legacies aren’t built on individual DNA attributes, but core business principles

If you gave us the opportunity to choose core business principles, our vote at the Effective lab is to three principles: invest in good people, develop and sustain a service culture, and always embrace internal and external accountability


9 responses to “Principles and not Individuals keep organisations alive”

  1. […] READ: Principles and not Individuals keep organisations alive Pennilessness and its untruth on the character of […]


  2. I totally agree with you that as much as individuals are important for the successful running of an institution, the principles have it all. If we get it right from the drawing board than it can never go wrong during the implementation.

    However, I am just curious of the role of the external factors and their impact on our institutions. Many are the times we have it right as far as the principles are concerned but the forces from the external environment overpowers the success of the institution.

    My school of thought would be that as much as principles work, individual traits equally have a key role to play. One of these traits would be resilience. Resilience which entails one ability to hold in there and keep trying until it works is another aspect I would not ignore.

    Most human personnel we have today are still struggling with resilience and ones we help our friends,colleagues, families develop resilience we will definitely be successful.


    1. Veronica – thanks for reading the blog; yes, there is some thing required of individuals for things to be right

      Yet, long term sustainability, knowing individuals are mortal, is built on sound principles – I suppose it’s a matter of balancing principles vs human DNA


      1. Hi Senior, Thanks for the blog. Reflecting on the issue of continuity: it is something more complex than we see it on surface. My mind has been critically looking at the first unit of organization-FAMILY; And taking any example of my own family. For Long term sustainability, what have I done to ensure that the family will build on that to keep the progress???


        1. AFRICAN – thanks for reading the blog and hope you are well – indeed, family ‘brands’ more-than any thing else, only survive beyond the parents (esp. Fathers) when they are built on firm social principles – look at our own uganda and how many giant family businesses have collapsed after the demise of the owner – how many families have disintegrated soon after the parents died? kids infighting and selling off all properties etc

          In most of these sad cases, principles were not the foundation upon which such family systems were built



  3. On a close look; even Uganda’s political parties are built on personalities. UPC after the demise of its former leader (Dr. Apollo Milton Obote – RIP) it’s practically in limbo in its current state. DP has struggled after Ben Kiwanuka. NRMO under the chairmanship of HE. Yoweri K. Museveni is still going strong………………., will wait to see what happens after him. FDC is about Dr. K. Besigye and no one else seems willing to help him carry on his defiance candle. After Betty Olive Kamya being appointed Kampala minister, I’m not sure the Federal Alliance will stand strong.

    So, just like businesses, political parties if not built on principles can not survive on a single strong leader. It is the principle that should be sold to clients/subscribers.


    1. The principle should be used to build and glue together the orgabisations eco-system; i.e. the service-culture at a company, is a principle that a company can be built on – can you imagine a political party that fronts a genuine-service culture to its people, like we are starting to see in Tanzania? ….And what it would do to change polity in Africa


  4. ABG, I agree with you; businesses that are run on principles live much longer than the founders. In Uganda however, business men and women believe in conglomerates and risk diversification much more than product longevity and brands. Here businesses are not run on principles. Sudhir for example, has investments in real estates, education, media and finance sectors. Mukwano is in manufacturing, real estates, agribusiness, etc. Apart from knowing this bank housed on crane chambers (Kampala road) as Sudhir’s bank, what else do you know about it in terms of business principle(s)?

    These businesses are known by people/investors than their business principles. In 2004, a World Bank study ranked Uganda as a leading business innovation country. The same study however, concluded that about 80% of the businesses die in their infancy. The main reason is because these businesses are built on people (the big fish) for supply contracts to government. Once the “people” lose their political tenure, the businesses also close down.


    1. Seddu – you have said it all and the case for building business on principles – will crane bank exist x100 years from today, if as you say, it’s built on ‘a person’ – the business style you mention is SPECULATION and if that is the principle they run their businesses on, then they are bound to collapse – as you have already seen 80% of them do

      Thanks for reading the blog! You do educate me a lot!!!!


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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