Afdis’ new MD bullish on growth prospects

April 8, 2021

LIVINGSTONE MARUFU

Stanley Muchenje (pictured) is a man on a mission.

The recently appointed African Distillers Limited (Afdis) managing director knows that work is cut out for him.

 He has to stave off the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic which has impacted on business.

The executive took over the reins last week, succeeding Cecil Gombera who retired at the end of March after nearly right years at the helm of the spirits and wine maker.

The pandemic has triggered lockdowns and related limitations to social activity impacting the company’s access to the market.

For the alcoholic business, bars and night clubs remain closed as the country battles to contain Covid- 19.

“The short-term goal is therefore to steer the business around these challenges and sustain business viability,” he told Business Times.

As the MD, Muchenje has to grow shareholder value. This entails growing the business and beating competition.

“The medium to long term goal is to strengthen our local production capacity to cut on foreign currency needs and to develop strong brands capable of beating local and foreign competition in order to consistently grow shareholder returns,” he said.

The executive joins the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange –listed concern which seeks to return to profitability after it slipped into a loss in the half year ended December 31, 2020.

In the period, Afdis posted a loss of ZWL$298.8m from a profit of ZWL$49.2m during the same period the previous year due to supply disruptions caused by Covid-19 induced lockdown.

Beverages were often treated as non-essential products during the lockdown period hence sales for beer, wines and spirits were bound to fall as authorities even restricted the selling of beer for more than three weeks.

But Muchenje is optimistic that the company will weather the storm to remain the leading spirits and wine maker.

“I take over a well-established business whose blend of locally produced and imported spirits, wines and cider  brands command leading market shares in Zimbabwe,” Muchenje said.

“Afdis is listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and my primary task will be to grow the business on a sustainable manner for the benefit of our consumers, shareholders, employees and the communities we operate in,” he said.

The growth of the business, Muchenje said, would be achieved through driving market penetration and consumption of categories like wines and Ciders while fighting growing competition in the spirits category.

Afdis has embraced the WHO protocols on managing the Covid-19 pandemic and the spirits and wine maker is confident of success.

Muchenje said the company has been around for long, is well adapted to the Zimbabwean market and is set to thrive despite challenges of inflation or foreign currency shortages.

Muchenje held various senior roles in sales and marketing at Delta Beverages rising to sales executive and marketing executive roles within the group.

The tenure at Delta Beverages, he said, was exciting as the company rebuilt the brand portfolio after the devastation caused by the hyperinflation.

The peak of his career at Delta included the premiumisation of Golden Pilsner from a mainstream brown bottle into a green bottle in 2010 and the creation of high impact brand sponsorships like the Lion lager beer festival which attracted exciting international acts like Beanie man, Fantan Moja and P Square.

When Muchenje crossed over to SABMiller he was tasked with managing beer brands in markets across West, East and Southern Africa.

“Highlights included the launch of Castle Milk Stout in Cameroon, the launch of Castle Lite in Nigeria and fighting competitor brands in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. For these efforts I won the prestigious SABMiller Mercutus award for effective brand building in Africa,” the executive said.

He said Delta’s portfolio of lager brands and Afdis wines spirits and Cider brands are positioned to cater for different consumer needs and tastes.

“Per capita consumption figures on alcoholic beverages remain relatively low in Zimbabwe which provides room for growth as the market opens up and the economy grow,” said Muchenje, who boasts of 24 years’ experience working with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in Zimbabwe and other markets around Africa. 

A holder of Business Studies and MPhil in Marketing degrees, the executive is looking forward to studying for a Doctorate in Business Management.

He attended various senior management programmes including the accelerated Leadership Development Programme at the GIBS Business School.

Muchenje chairs the board of Let Them Trust, an organisation dedicated to developing the potential of youth through art.

His hobbies and interests cut across farming, travel and arts.

On retirement, Muchenje will shift focus to managing the family business as well as continue to contribute through business consultancy work.

Muchenje takes over the helm at a time the market had seen the appointment of chartered accountants as CEOs or MDs. 

For him, the appointment of CAs relates to their ability to cut costs, retain viability and strategise on financial engineering. He said other professionals have the capacity to lead companies.

“…my view is that the economy is open for all professions and marketers have a role to play in the sense that they tend to be more forward looking and opportunity biased.

I want to think they offer a different view and a more viable angle in terms of business turnaround and growth in this particular economy,” the executive said.

Muchenje said he reads widely in terms of literature, be it Bible or business books.

One is looking for a cross readership to get the understanding of various things that surround a person. Before you can manage others, you should be able to manage yourself, he said.

“As for me I read iconic books like Who moved my cheese which is a book about change.

Another book is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which is a business and self-help book written by Stephen Covey.

When all is said and done all management principles come from the Bible,” Muchenje said.

“When you read the Bible you will get direction on how to treat adversities and how to treat people and that is my inspiration and guiding light.”

He draws inspiration from powerful and effective leaders like Joe Mutizwa, the former   chief executive of Delta “who remains a stand out figure in dragging business out of the murky waters”.

“I looked forward to Barack Obama as an inspiration as he defied odds to become the first American black president when the world did not expect a black man to lead the most powerful nation on the land.

Finally I draw my inspiration from my parents who managed to soldier on despite some trials and tribulations of life,” the executive said.

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