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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Rough Ride For Wal-Mart/ASDA:
Kievet Could Have Been A Big Asset

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 1, 2008

Our piece, Wal-Mart Loses Another Star: South Africa’s Danie Kievet To Leave, dealt with both the general brain drain of produce expertise from Wal-Mart and the failure of Wal-Mart’s Global Procurement effort to gain traction in South Africa because of the lack of corporate will to coordinate the ASDA business through the South African office of Wal-Mart’s Global Procurement operation.

Now a letter from South Africa echoes our concerns:

The global players never seem to see the signals, nor do they listen to the people who know the Republic of South Africa (RSA) fruit industry.

It has never worked in the past, although several have tried, for a United Kingdom Category Manager to open an office in South Africa, with foreign representatives.

I thought that Danie Kievet would be the solution to the problem, but obviously the intervention of International Produce (IP), also doing procurement, was the reason for Danie leaving the scene.

Danie understands the industry, and would, if only given a chance, have in time become a big asset to ASDA.

IP, for instance, has a few South African employees, mostly very young and sometimes very inexperienced people. They seem to change their personalities when they get involved in big corporate business. They sometimes act as procurement and selling officers at the same time!?

The success recipe is still the most direct relationship with the buyer, in this case the UK Category Manager, and long-term trust with high integrity values are the only factors for any successful business, in the long term.

ASDA, with IP as its procurement arm, does not understand, or sometimes does not see the negative signals, and until that day, it is going to be a rough ride.

— Stoney Steenkamp
Business Development Manager, Stonefruit
Fruits Unlimited
Paarl, South Africa

The problem for large companies is that leveraging that size is very difficult. In the case of Wal-Mart, ASDA is a fiefdom all to itself, but this is common in large companies.

The problem with a position such as Wayne McKnight has held is that it has enormous responsibility but no authority. If he sent a memo to ASDA and said they should buy through Global Procurement and ASDA didn’t want to, Wayne McKnight had no authority to order ASDA’s CEO to write a memo and, certainly, no authority to fire ASDA’s CEO.

Although he could send a memo to Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s CEO in Bentonville, it seems highly unlikely that Mr. Scott will fire ASDA’s CEO on the grounds that ASDA thinks it best to buy oranges through one company rather than another.

It is also the case that big companies aren’t good at dealing with the likes of Danie. He is an entrepreneur at heart. We are sure they paid his salary even if there wasn’t much to do and, doubtless, if he complained about International Produce, they would have agreed with him and told him to wait a couple years while it was all worked out. Maybe it eventually would be worked out or maybe not.

To a man like Danie Kievet, that is all beside the point. He is not afraid to lose a salary. He has made a living his entire life and he will make one again. What he won’t do, what a man like Danie cannot do, is sit around cooling his heels waiting for someone else to, maybe, make something happen.

This is why although big companies have so many advantages, there is always a place for the little guy as well.

Many thanks to Stoney for his thoughtful letter.

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