Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Confession to my Business Mistakes as CEO of Profounder Intelligence Management Services

Confession (1) on Failed Women In Leadership Conference March 2016

I pray that you find it in your hearts to accept that sometimes, the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path that we needed to travel to meet the good things. Profounder Intelligence organised its second conference on Women in Leadership scheduled for the 10 and 11 of March 2016. My colleague who handed the project was passionate about the event and the most we could tell was that she learnt as much as we all did from the challenges that we encountered during the first conference; the greatest of which was the absence of major speakers.
Four weeks to the scheduled start date of the conference, this colleague resigned from Profounder with no notice period. We could not interrogate her as her resignation letter was sent after she left. As I wished her well, I hoped that the conference did well. It pulled a few delegates and yes we decided to run the conference. Speakers were contacted, some of which were still very enthusiastic about participating at the event. Others had taken up other commitments due to the long silence from Profounder. The new Conference Producer and her senior colleague tried to replace those speakers who had pulled out.
A few days before the conference, the number of registered delegates shrank to 12. Because all those who had not cancelled had booked their flights already (coincidentally they all came from other provinces), we decided to go on with the conference. Come the morning of the conference, Johannesburg faced rain like never before. City corners were flooded and its highways were congested. Delegates were all late to all 3 events that Profounder was hosting in the same venue on the 10th of March 2016.
When I arrived just after 9 am from picking up other delegates from their hotel, I was told that none of the speakers at the conference was present, and that even though the first speaker reported that she is at least 45 minutes away, the chair lady just texted to say that she will not be coming in. My presentation was scheduled for 10:15 am. As my colleague and I walked in to apologise, we were confronted by the first woman asking where everyone is. We explained the situation on traffic and added that we will wait for a few minutes. As we walked out, the scheduled 3rd facilitator of the day arrived. That meant that the first 3 speakers were confirmed. As promised, we started in a few minutes as we hoped for the rest of the speakers to come in.
At the end of the first slot, the centre was broken. One of the women labelled the presentation substandard and told us that we are insulting their intelligence. I tried to apologise but they could not listen. As they continued to with every reason question Profounder’s integrity, they demanded to see the management/owner because as it stood, they claimed to be wasting their time with me. I persuaded them to have a break while my colleague and I consulted the respected speaker who would present next.
I apologised after coffee and revealed that I was the owner of the business and that for every single reason, I would never have wanted things to go this way. I told them that I can show them proof of the fact that speakers had been consulted and that initially listed speakers had confirmed their participation. I asked the floor for suggestions on the way forward, seeing that the centre was loose. For this, one of the delegates called me a poor leader who cannot take responsibility, and who cannot make decisions. Another who chose not to look at me in that manner, suggested that we called in presenters of the next day who are able to come in, to present on day one so that we can have a one day event and cancel day two at a 50% fee by them. It seemed like a great idea from a frustrated and desperate business perspective, and because things were at this state, I fully concurred to that.
Again preceding were in order until with participants' permission, Stacey Fru presented just after 3:30 pm. Less than 10 minutes into his slot, the speaker after Stacey was interrupted. The same delegate who had done the talking told the speaker that like Profounder, he is undermining their intelligence. She said that they are no fools and that they cannot spend their whole day listening to unqualified presentations by males and foreigners in a Women in Leadership Conference in their own country. She brought the room to a standstill saying many things that space cannot permit me to pronounce here. Of course she threatened to blacklist Profounder with affirmation that they have done it before with the help of their Premier. 
All I could do was repeat how sorry I was. Clearly all did not help. Before I knew it, I was called a liar and a cheat. I was accused of being deceitful and for giving the delegates the impression that my surname is not FRU; all to hide the fact that Stacey is my daughter. She told me that I made them to believe that Stacey wrote a book even though she could not respond to a question on how long exactly it took her to write it. In conclusion, this delegates said that I must not think that South Africans are fools. That they are highly qualified and cannot be fooled; 'She said poor Stacey'!
I asked this woman to get her fact correct and not reduce whatever challenges have been brought about by this day to my person. Because emotions were high, the same woman with the one-day suggestion advised that my colleagues and I leave the room to give them space to consult. My God Bless her! As I walked out, I had no intention of breaking down and bursting into tears until I met one of the delegates who asked me if I was OK. How could you ask me this just after you told me that I impersonated myself and my daughter, I am under qualified, deceitful, a liar, a cheat and a foreigner? I am not sure if my tears helped but boy! Did I cry? I cried in full view of the delegates who left the room during the argument. I cried as my colleagues sat at the corner and as my four children all watched. One after the other, my children ran to me to ask what the problem was. To every one of them, I said 'work' was the problem.
Eventually, we were called in and the group handed over a document to sign the above decision. We signed, parted ways and that was the dead of the conference on Women in Leadership 2016 by Profounder Intelligence.

Real life challenges and empowering lessons
The first challenge for Profounder is that of human resources. Staffing is compromised in quality but also in loyalty. We have to look at this keenly and as the chief executive officer, the research unit should be my priority in monitoring and evaluation. The fact that my team had not been entirely transparent about everything to me and that I did not know about what I did not know, obviously liberated my conscious, but trapped my thoughts as I feel like truly I betrayed the delegates.
Secondly, in this industry in general, we have little control over how speakers and delegates conduct themselves. Even one of the speakers with whom I have worked very closely and claim to be a friend to, betrayed my organisation without seeing need to discuss her stance with me. Do I bear a grudge against her? Not after writing this. In fact, I thank her for the lesson of a relationship. I noticed that for a healthy working experience, we could demand more commitments from speakers and partners.
Thirdly, the conference should have been marketed over a longer time than 10 weeks. This would have given participants enough time to prepare. It would have given Profounder ample time to secure delegates, sponsors, exhibitors and other partners.
Lastly, quality does not have to be compromised. Not in the way we did, especially for a conference of this magnitude and not for any reason.

My attitude.
I am sincerely sorry that things fell apart at this conference. Failure is a business owner’s nightmare. However, I have great pity for those who buy brands and who go for names. I do not see how learning from a specific person is more empowering than learning a lesson. To any South African who still considers me and my family as foreigners, I make a pronouncement that this is my home and that this Country has given my children and I the opportunity to choose to live here. I do not have plans of going anywhere and the best part of me behaves like a South African. I find myself qualified in all i do as well. I treat my business with respect and will stand every insult of being a foreigner because yes I was born one. I will be a foreigner for as long as I live but I am academically qualified in what i do and I live South African.

Stacey Fru has been interrogated before on her works but I will not say anything in her defense. The choice is yours to make. All I do right now is remember a message from my big brother in June 2015 that said ‘there will be haters, doubters, and cynics, but take everyone along. It is not about you or ‘US’, it is about amazing Stacey - the author’. Did my brother see this coming? Sorry I am not a Fru and for all I know, I will remain a Shu. However, Stacey remains my daughter and she remains an author and a speaker to those who trust in her.

To you.
What I chose to leave with you is not just this message. What I chose to leave with you are the lessons of this message. The lessons revealed by the conduct of Profounder Intelligence, the partners to Profounder's ventures but particularly to this conference and the lessons revealed by its participants. The lessons revealed by the divine intervention in the manner in which events unfolded is important to my team and I. I am sure that they are important to your team and to you.

Please chose Profounder Intelligence Management Services in future.

Victorine Mbong Shu
CEO and author of the book 'Stop Complaining! and Bring Back Involved Parenting!.

Profounder Intelligence Management Services

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