“Peaceful, respectful, fairly tolerant [people]…profess to be God-fearing and they live God-fearing lives,” gushed Kevin Adendorff, country manager for Capital Outsourcing Group Ghana about the Ghanaian people. My interview with Kevin spanned several hours and covered a vast range of topics centered on his experience in South Africa (SA).
Last year, Kevin frequently visited my office in full cycling outfit with his Litespeed bike in tow. (Kevin used to represent SA in triathlons.) He was setting up the country office for the South African-based Capital Outsourcing Group in the East Legon neighborhood of Accra. His company works with foreign companies in Ghana to fill both individual openings and large numbers of positions at once. For instance, he mentioned one client is looking to hire 100 driver positions immediately.
“I spend days and weeks to find Ghanaians to fill positions with expat companies,” Kevin explained. Companies give him mandates to find staff and he has the choice of where to begin his search for candidates. One topic that kept surfacing was how — despite numerous degrees — many local Ghanaians do not have the computer skills and experience that expat companies are looking for.
“[Guys with] masters degrees here with no ****ing idea how to use Excel!” complained Kevin. He has a client looking for an office manager who must be able to use Excel. Despite sending multiple candidates who claimed they could use the application, Kevin said that each one could not complete a rudimentary test using Excel. In contrast, he explained, many foreigners learn to use computers from a young age including how to type and use common applications such as Word and Excel.
Kevin views his role as a means of developing human capital here. Even if a company is looking to fill a position and pay X, he may advocate for a less qualified Ghanaian candidate who the company can pay 70 percent of X but can train and grow into the role. The person will gain experience and skills that may be used for a better paying position in the future.
“‘[Ghanaians are] like vacuum cleaners… [They] listen to me with their ears, hands, mouths. They are so interested in learning'” offered Kevin as he recounted his wife’s experience with Ghanaians in her yoga classes here.
Journey from South Africa
Kevin started in a small town in SA where the only entertainment was a single screen movie theater. After high school, he entered compulsory military service and army officers’ training school. Over the course of 12 years, he rose to the rank of major.
Following military service, Kevin earned his BA in Law from Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, SA. (He eventually got an MBA from Stellenbosch University as well.) He then joined Ford Motor Company‘s Graduate Management Program for six years. After Ford, he joined Trust Bank (now part of Absa Bank) as a business development officer. Over the course of 11 years held roles as Regional Business Development Manager, Head of Training, and Regional Manager. Following Trust Bank, Kevin worked for about a decade at Nedbank as a Manager of Corporate Banking, LIBOR Finance as General Manager, and at Bank of Athens as Regional Manager.
While he was working for Bank of Athens, one of his Cypriot customers invited Kevin to become the Chief Financial Officer for his company SAVCON Enterprises. Kevin eventually became COO and CFO for a conglomerate that included several SPAR and SUPERSPAR outlets, a construction and property development company, four restaurants, two furniture factories, two jewelry stores, and a shoe store.
After SAVCON, Kevin became the Managing Director of a facilities management company where he oversaw 400 people. He grew the company to also include property management. The company oversaw rugby stadiums, five star holiday/resorts, private clubs, mixed use properties, parking lots, offices complexes, factories, and restaurants.
Clearly, Kevin has a rich work experience. He’s also worked for a agriculture financing company as well as a consultant to Paarl Media, a publishing and printing company part of the Johannesberg-listed Naspers Group. Reviewing Kevin’s experience, it’s clear that he enjoys working with and training people. He also offers a systematic, logical, and analytical mind.
“Why are you in Ghana?”
“[Whites in SA] are systematically being throttled,” Kevin stated. He recounted job openings which state, “No whites need apply.”
If you’re under 25 years and are not black, then you can be forgiven for not having heard of apartheid. According to Wikipedia, apartheid “was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party (NP) governments, the ruling party from 1948 to 1994, under which the rights of the majority black inhabitants were curtailed and Afrikaner minority rule was maintained.” Discussing the history and issues surrounding apartheid is outside the scope of this post. No one can condone the actions against the majority black population.
Since apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994, the ruling ANC party has implemented the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy to rectify the inequities and inequalities of the apartheid era. The policy affects “Blacks, Coloureds, Indians, and Chinese who arrived before 1994.” Companies are given a BEE score which impacts their ability to access public markets and do business. A company is rated across a number of categories including ownership, management control, employment equity, skills development, preferential procurement, enterprise development, and socio-economic development.
For Kevin, the BEE’s requirements of all employees, management, and shareholding to reflect the demographic population of SA means discrimination and that he cannot get a job in his country. In order to comply with the BEE policy, companies either must sack their white employees or open branches and hire more people so the employee and management are in compliance with BEE.
Kevin is “living in exile.” As do his two adult children. He proudly mentioned that his son who has a CPA, CFA and double Masters degrees became a VP for Bain & Co. and now works for a private equity-backed company in Dallas, Texas while his daughter who has three degrees lives in Sydney, Australia.
In addition to the economic reasons, Kevin seems to have left SA for safety reasons. He paints a frightening society where there is a “thin veneer of aggression” beneath the surface. Crime is very violent in SA. SA is blessed with one of the most beautiful landscapes and cursed with one of the most violent societies. It has the highest rapes per capita and murder rate in the world. The rape phenomena he believes is not about sex but domination, violation and destruction.
Praise for Ghana
“I get emotional talking about the people of Ghana,” a teary-eyed Kevin said.
In contrast to the violent and hostile environment of SA, Kevin seemed to have nothing but praise for Ghanaians.
“The primary thing is respect. If you approach [Ghanaians] respectfully, you get exceptional cooperation from them.” He explained that if you criticized them but did it respectfully, then they would take your comments into consideration.
He was so impressed by how everyone treats each other with respect and said it even extends to the animals. In SA, people may throw stones at dogs which results in aggressive dogs. Kevin said that if you come across a dog in SA, then you better run because it will “chase after you and bite. Dogs in Ghana are harmless and walk about carelessly. They lie sleeping in the middle of the roads and motorists respectfully drive around them not disturbing them. Chickens frequently walk about humans seemingly aimlessly without fear of being harmed nor chased. Goats go to town for slaughter calmly. He said the same goat in SA would be “sh*tting itself” because it knows what’s coming.
“Ghana as a civil society is far more advanced than SA,” Kevin said. He believes that Ghana’s strong Christian faith made it a more tolerant culture and less tribal.
“The Ghanaians are very clean upon themselves, they may be extremely poor but they are clean and wear clean, neatly ironed clothes. Even in remote villages he encountered only friendliness with echoes of ‘Welcome’ from folk in neat clean clothes and immaculately swept compounds.”
“The way they treat women is enlightening… It’s so respectful.” In SA, a man may walk up to a woman and have no qualms about expressing his “intentions” either verbally or physically. She would invariably respond as if no offense was taken and that the man was entitled to address her in that fashion.
Beyond respect, Kevin is impressed by Ghanaian friendliness. He laments how in SA or in America a person may say, “We must have supper some time,” and not mean it. On the other hand, his neighbors gleefully wave to him when he comes and goes; people he met months ago will cheerfully approach him to say “Hi”; and acquaintances from the gym will invite him to their homes. In each case they are sincere and genuine.
One issue that kept coming up was a perception that blacks and non-blacks seem to have different “moral norms.” In Africa, people want to “get the best possible benefit with least amount of effort.” This statement echoed what Masao had said. Kevin explained that for people outside of Africa, “if you work for six hours, then you will get paid for 6 hours.” Meaning that non-Africans seem to understand what a reasonable amount of work is for 6 hours and do not try to cheat their employer of the time he is being paid. In contrast, he noted that with Africans, “if [they] work for 2 hours, [they expect they] will get paid for 6 hours.”
These “moral norms” translate into different “sense of urgency”, “sense of accountability” and “personal responsibility.” Though he said Ghanaians have a stronger sense of responsibility than black South Africans, he said that these moral norms led to a mismatch of expectations between Africans and non-Africans.
One thing he noticed was that there is a tendency in Africa to “reach a level of satisfaction” after they’ve put some effort into something but will stop once challenges present themselves. There does not seem to be “satisfaction upon completion.” Moreover, he said there seemed to be a “lack of a drive for perfection [and] drive for excellence.” African sense of “good enough” is not the same as those from the rest of the world.
Having the piece of paper seems to be more important than the content of the education. This helps explain why candidates — despite having masters degrees — do not know how to use a computer or Excel and explains how expat companies often have difficulty finding qualified local candidates who have both a relevant degree and perhaps 5 years of experience.
Experience Working With Ghanaians
- For low to mid-level people, there is some resistance to moving away from what’s accepted [practice] in Ghana.” You will have frustration trying to introduce better processes. In order to do so, you must spend a lot of time communicating to your staff why they should change how they do things.
- Ghanaians try to work for the government or expat companies because there is an expectation that these organizations pay better.
- Respect the culture. Understand that “you are a guest here.” You cannot expect the country nor the people to change for you.
- Ghanaians are “ambitious” but “switch jobs frequently”.
- Their desire to study and improve their education is refreshing; however the quality of many of the programs are dubious.
Tips for People Coming to Work in Ghana
- Be prepared for red-tape in Ghana. The Ghana Investment and Promotion Centre (GIPC) is very helpful and willing to assist and their resources must be harnessed. They are one of the most professional government departments he has encountered. Unfortunately, people here expect cash incentives to get things done.
- Do homework on the economy and on doing business in Ghana — talk to expats from your own countries; talk to people at companies in related fields to your own. For instance, he recounted how some German engineers left Ghana after 8 days because they were frustrated with working with the people here. They didn’t care about breach of contract. They just wanted to get out of the country as quick as possible.
- Given the frustration and wasted time associated with traffic, choose where you live very carefully. Ideally try to combine where you live with where you work.
Kevin is no longer posted in Ghana.