David Birungi

Manager Stakeholder Relations | Umeme LTD

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

WHO WERE YOUR ROLE MODELS DURING THE PIVOTAL STAGES OF YOUR LIFE?

Growing up, my mother, Jane Maguru, who raised us on her own, encouraged me to listen to the radio news broadcasts – BBC radio – to stay informed of what was happening in Uganda and beyond. This inspired me to pursue a career in public affairs. My brothers also played an influential role in many of the decisions that I have made over the course of my life.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A SUCCESSFUL LEADER?

A leader should display characteristics of a truthful and predictable nature.

WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST STRENGTHS?

I have the ability to persevere through situations and build people up to be successful in their own right. I am also able to analyse situations and data to discern a 360 degree understanding in order to form a workable solution.

WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST BLIND SPOTS?

I’ve always made the assumption that people understand a situation in the same manner that I do. Often this isn’t the case and I get impatient, which I am trying to work on.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING IN YOUR OPINION THAT PEOPLE COMMONLY MISCONCEIVE ABOUT YOU?

Some people may initially perceive my character to be uncompromising but those who have worked with me know that I am fair and empathetic toward people’s personal and professional situations.

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR KEEPING A TEAM MOTIVATED?

What I have found motivating is giving clear direction to achieve the vision. In addition, appreciate and celebrate the milestones along the way to achieving the end goal.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?

I was a high school economics teacher for one and a half years, which I left in 2003 to pursue a new career path in the energy sector beginning with the lowest rank – this was a huge risk.

WHEN CONSIDERING A NEW PARTNERSHIP, WHAT FACTORS ARE DEAL-BREAKERS FOR YOU?

Integrity – I believe that misrepresented facts and not being a straight talker often creates unnecessary mistrust in business dealings. When I am faced with such situations it becomes difficult to move forward.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WERE THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?

Holding people to account is always a challenge especially when the business performance metrics are always changing. Often these metrics create inverse relationships. For example, efforts to improve public safety in poor communities plagued with power theft and vandalism, may worsen the SAIDI (System Average Interruption Duration Index) and SAIFI (System Average Interruption Frequency Index) performance. Instead they will save a life or two.

Secondly, I have been appointed to take on the Stakeholder Management role which is not a simple one. I am six months into it and it is a challenge that I am still willing and able to take on. It involves negotiating and making concessions whose benefits may not be realised immediately.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED?

The biggest lesson learned is that you have a short time as a leader to empower others and to clarify the purpose of what you set out to achieve. As a leader you also have to extend trust to your team in order to be trusted.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER?

I have always been a supporter of social media for business purposes even when people were sceptical. In my previous role as Manager Digital Media, I pushed to see it integrated into the overall business communication model. This improved our brand visibility, and we cut telephone expenses by a proportional 50% in seven months. We won accolades for this.

Secondly, I have been a district manager in two different service territories with over 38,000 customers at the time. While I was there, I led the team that improved the profitability of the business units by reducing energy losses from 48% to 32% in one and a half years.

HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE?

I don’t believe there is a balance between professional and personal. Life is like the ebb and flow of the ocean – work takes away time from family life and home life can overlap into work. Having a clear open communication line with my family about work is important especially when it crosses over into my personal time. My current role places me in the public eye where my children often see me on television and then feel a part of what I am doing. I regularly brief them beforehand so that I have less explaining to do at the end of the day.

WHAT’S THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ THIS YEAR?

Daniel Kalinaki’s Book ‘Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution’ is a good book. It vividly captures the events that shape contemporary Uganda and its geopolitical future. I would recommend it to anyone.

Trevor Noah’s ‘Born a Crime’ is another good book. It captures the class struggles of apartheid South Africa.

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK, AND WHAT TREND WILL FADE?

As more private equity investments in generation and distribution emerge, those investors will become actively involved in changing the work ethic and breaking historic business models, placing utilities under immense pressure. As the public becomes more energy independent and more modular, decentralised solutions enter the market, I do not see demand for utility-scale power projects in the future. Additionally, the African power pools will not see huge power projects reach completion as each country wants its own energy independence because of the resurgence of nationalism.

Customer service demands for better reliability are going to increase, placing pressure on government utilities. Therefore, the work mind-set of the utility employees needs to change to brace themselves for these public demands.

Lastly, many regulators are going to play catchup because technology and financing models for the energy markets are evolving faster than the African energy regulatory legal frameworks can cope. There is a risk of high impact decisions being delayed or wrong ones being made as regulators try to keep up.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.