In 1996, Kwame Mainu from Warwick University in England was helping Kumasi University in Ghana to mount short courses to help upgrade small engineering enterprises. He went to consult an old colleague, Sam Sanders, about what he had learned from an on-going survey of the engineering industry in Ghana.
‘From the work you have done so far on the survey, can you identify any pressing needs?’ asked Kwame, ‘I’m looking for ideas for future short courses.’
‘My main concern is for better management,’ said Sam, ‘Some of the enterprises seem to have reached a glass ceiling at about 25 to 30 employees. In my view, further growth will be impeded until more modern management methods can be adopted.’
‘Can you give me some examples?’
‘Workshop proprietors must learn to delegate some of their functions like production supervision, inspection and quality control, accounting and marketing. We could offer short courses to help prepare senior staff to manage these sections of the businesses.’
‘It’s not as simple as that, is it? Proprietors like to keep everything in their own hands. They don’t trust others to take over management responsibilities.’
‘That’s true, so maybe we should begin by offering a course for proprietors in modern management and its benefits for growing the enterprise.’
‘Yes, the proprietors all complain that they can’t get bank loans to expand their businesses: invest in new equipment and introduce new products. The banks all demand a business plan. The proprietors don’t know how to draft a business plan nor can they afford to employ an expert to do it for them. It would help the small enterprises if we ran short courses in business planning.’
Later, Kwame reflected on what he had learned. He was pleased with the progress of the survey and Sam had given him enough new ideas for short courses to keep the programme running for several years. Some of the more far sighted entrepreneurs had already asked Kwame for help in upgrading their business management. They realised that they were trained as artisans and their skills were mostly technical and practical. They had no formal training in basic business skills like accounting, marketing and human resource management.
Kwame had noticed that delegation of functions had already begun in a few companies. This was usually in accounting, and invariably involved a close relative, such as a junior brother at SRS Engineering in Kumasi or a daughter at Entesel in Tema. As he had told Sam, the crucial issue was the matter of trust. Many enterprises employed only members of the owner’s extended family. The challenge was to extend the trust placed in a close relative to the delegation of responsibility in other areas of the business where more distant relatives might need to be employed.