If there is one article of faith that outgoing Delta boss Joe Mutizwa discovered at WhaWha Detention Centre, it was not “let your present circumstances stop you from dreaming and planning a positive future”.
The three years he spent at this extra-ordinary “university” were the seed of the success he later enjoyed both in his personal and corporate life.
In his own words, besides, determination, vision and strategic thinking which were essential if one was to survive in indefinite detention; four other principles were imbedded into him, during this period of 1975 to 1978.
“The best university I ever attended was WhaWha. It was a transformative experience where you come to terms with the reality around you,” said Mutizwa.
“I have learnt to give respect to every human being regardless of societal status. We are fundamentally all the same.
“It was a time to reflect and think clearly about what I wanted to do once out. I did not allow the situation in detention to overwhelm me.”
It was at WhaWha while serving an indefinite detention sentence that Mutizwa applied and was accepted at the London School of Economics (LSE). He also obtained a United Nations scholarship to fund the studies. Both institutions; the benefactor and the college, agreed to hold the positions open until he was able to take them up.
“I said to myself at the time, don’t allow the current situation to overwhelm you,” he said in an exclusive interview with our sister paper the Zimbabwe Independent last week.
Mutizwa, who is stepping down as Delta CEO next week, was born in Gutu.
He enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe in 1975, but failed to complete his studies as he was arrested and transferred to another faculty at WhaWha the same year.
Upon release in 1978, Mutizwa took up the scholarship he had been awarded while incarcerated and went to the LSE to study for a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Economics and Sociology and graduated cum laude.
After graduation in 1981, he joined the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) as an economist. Subsequently, mainly for financial reasons, Mutizwa soon packed his bags for next door, joining Anglo-American Zimbabwe (Then Anglo-American offices were next to the RBZ), swopping Keynesian theories for McGregor theories.
In the short period he spent at Anglo, Mutizwa gained a high level of appreciation of business that is the mindset and discipline needed to make it in the corporate world. He was to spend one year at Anglo. This was a period of rapid personal growth, rising to be secretary of the group’s technical development committee.
He left to join United Bottlers (UB) as personnel officer after being head hunted by another Delta veteran Enos Chiura. His main task at UB was to solve some industrial relations problems. The task was soon accomplished, leading to promotion to personnel manager and later personnel director.
In 1986, Mutizwa was to switch careers, however, remaining at UB, moving to marketing as marketing manager. The assignment this time around was to take on Pepsi. Schweppes Limited was the Pepsi bottler.
“The highlight for me (as marketing manager) was to fight and defeat Pepsi in this market which we achieved in 1989. I always look back with memories at this period,” said Mutizwa.
At this stage, Mutizwa’s reputation as Mr Fix It and an achiever within the group was growing, resulting in his reassignment in 1989 to the technical department, being appointed production manager. This was a new area for him, and his skills had never prepared him for such.
“I was moved to head production during a period of serious problems; no forex, no engineering spares, machines were old and workers were demoralised,” he said. “I did not know anything about production, about engineering, but my job was to motivate a team that was under tremendous pressure. I quickly won their respect because I fought for them.”
His first “degree” obtained at WhaWha was to come in handy. At that college “he had been taught to appreciate and manage human beings and the importance of team work”.
After his success in human resources, marketing and production, he was elevated to general manager in 1990 and appointed managing director in 1992.
During his tenure, the company acquired Bulawayo Bottlers as part of its consolidation strategy.
Around this time, Mutizwa was also appointed to the Coca-Cola Global Council on Manufacturing and Logistics, where he rubbed shoulders with the heavy hitters from Coca-Cola.
He toured different countries studying manufacturing systems and logistics, and later on in his life at Delta he was to implement one lesson learnt at Seven Eleven in Japan.
“At Seven Eleven I studied their logistics; how they manager to service hundreds of thousands of outlets. I brought with me a tape on Seven Eleven and that is where the idea of creating Delta Beverages, an integrated company, combining all the Delta companies into one, (came from).
Another notch in his Delta career was to come in 1994 when he was appointed CEO of Delta Beverages, which comprised United Bottlers, Chibuku Breweries, National Breweries and Delta Distribution. This position came with it a seat on the main board of Delta. In 2001, he was given another assignment of combining the three then standalone companies into one Beverage Company.
The vision was driven by the fact that Delta was foreseeing enormous economic challenges ahead. “The way we had looked at it was that the economy was going to tail-spin. Foreign currency was becoming very difficult to get. Fuel shortages were coming in and we saw economic instability on the horizon. We knew that standing alone as separate businesses we would have no chance to face the instability. So we took a view that as one would we survive.”
J P Rooney, who had presided over Delta as CEO since 1985, handed the baton to Mutizwa on April 1 2002, after having completed the unbundling of Zimsun, Pelhams and OK Zimbabwe. It was now left to Mutizwa to build the new Delta, which aimed to be a total or integrated beverage company.
The foresight honed from the incarceration at WhaWha was to come into play again in 2005 when Mutizwa and his team held a strategic planning session to envision the future.
Zimbabwe was heading fast towards a precipice.
“We sat down at the time to plan, look ahead; to say what normalcy would look like,” he said. “We said to ourselves, let’s not be overwhelmed by the present. We sat down at the time to look at a future without price controls, with civil order, a stable currency and unlimited access to foreign currency. We planned what competition would look like in that environment.”
Mutizwa and his team spent that session dreaming what the “normal” future would bring with it and what they would need to do when that happened. Two major decisions of that 2005 session were the need for post crisis management renewal and recapitalisation of business as the dawn emerged.
From a market capitalisation of $73 million on April 1 2002, he and his team are leaving the company at a time when it is now worth just under $830 million. It would have been a fitting tribute for the company to have a market capitalisation of more than $1 billion as a farewell present to the team.
Mutizwa’s competitive advantage has been built around an almost regimented discipline whose key facets are; clear and timely communication; a disciplined team approach to problems — and an unrelenting loyalty to the cause. For him, the team and company are bigger than the individual. Because of the Delta philosophy that; “if it is to be, then it’s up to us”, he has never publicly blamed the government or other parties for anything or poor performance of the company.
After 30 years at Delta, JSM, an avid investor, will devote the next 25 years of his life to teaching and mentoring; investing and managing his various holdings and charity work, mostly working with rural communities. He is also going back to school; to Oxford!