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International Business

Charles Martin in Uganda : What To Do When A Manager Goes

Cherasade Ferhane

Hydro Generation (HG) is a U.S.-based specialist in power generation,
with plants in 16 countries. Charles Martin, a 29 year-old American has
been assigned by HG to manage the preliminary stage of the
construction of a large dam in Uganda. Vice President James Green is
concerned about whether to continue to employ Martin in Uganda for the
construction phase of the project. In particular, Green was worried about
Martins lifestyle, some of his business practices, and his participation in
Ugandan tribal rituals, therefore that some of his actions bordered on the
unethical, and that some might actually be illegal in the American

Question 1: Describe Ugandan cultural attributes that might aff ect

the operations of a foreign company doing business there.
The Republic of Uganda is country situated in East Africa, bordered on the
east by Kenya, the north by Sudan, on the west by the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by
Tanzania. For what concerns the culture of this country there are many
factors that needs to be take in consideration but for a start its useful to
say that its multi ethnic, multi religious and multi language based culture.
The culture of Uganda is melting pot of a diverse range of ethnic groups
resulting in many tribal based customs and rituals. Many multi religions
too are seen within Uganda, even though Christians make up 85.1%,
(mainly Catholics and Anglicans) of Uganda's population, there were
sizeable numbers of Sikhs and Hindus in the country until Asians were
expelled in1972. Nevertheless there is a considerable number of Muslims
and others who follow animistic religions too existing within Uganda. This
could may lead to problems that occur with certain beliefs linked to these
religions such as rituals and some dubious practices.
Ugandas multi language based population too can make a huge impact on
foreign firms taking up operations within the country. Even though English
is the official language of Uganda, only a relatively small percentage of the
population speaks it. The most commonly used languages are Bantu or
Nilotic languages. For a company that wants to do business in this area the
language becomes a true issue that influence on the result of the business
Another very important topic is what concerns the number of refugees in
Uganda. The case study informs us that theres a growing number of
people from Rwanda, Zaire and Sudan that have found asylum in the
country which influenced the raising number of the unemployment rate
and made all the population suffer from a lower GDP and lower income, as
a result of the economical decline.
Last but not the least, the problem of corruption is a major issue within the
country. If a company gets involved in this activities it might not be so
legal to the eyes of the rest of the world. Nepotism in Uganda is legally
accepted, but this should not shock because as the case study refers to
the reader, the country is considered one of the most corrupted in the
Question 2: How would you describe the respective attitudes of
Martin and Green: ethnocentric, polycentric or geocentric? What
factors do you suspect of having infl uenced their respective
The companys corporate ethic is very influenced by its CEO Lawrence
Lovell. His strong faith and believe in Christianity had shaped HG activities.
As the founder and manager, he also believe that subordinates should be
given responsibilities and freedom to manage, make and implement
decisions. Martin has shown a polycentric attitude mainly because of the

way he does business in Uganda. The control is decentralized so Martin

can do business according to his animal spirit ( J.M. Keynes), according
to his instinct. Green it the complete opposite showing more of a
geocentric attitude towards business. This way of operating is the
preferred one, as placed in the middle of the two extremes and adapting
to the host country culture, but at the same time, keeping some good
principles of the home country is always the best solution. A factor that
may have influenced Martins attitude is of course his young age, the will
of affirming his position in the company by taking autonomously important
decisions, and the interest in the African culture, pushed him to take part
to local activities and adapting to local customs and traditions, rather than
acting according to the ethic of the company back in the U.S. When it
comes to Green, his attitude is surely influenced by his concern of the
company image and a less adapting attitude towards the way of doing
business in Uganda, whether it concerns bribing, or participating to tribal
Question 3: Who was right, Green or Martin, about Martin
controversial action in facilitating the project? How might things
have turned out if Martin has not being a member of the project
The problem behind this question is way deeper than what it looks like.
The reason why is that there is no right or wrong, its a matter of point of
view, notwithstanding Martins actions gave a good result. Martin is very
young for having all those responsibilities but his resume is pretty much
impressive, and he is also an expert when it comes to African culture. He
quickly learnt how to adapt the business in order to keep it as efficient as
possible, and there are also some other elements that underline the
importance of what he did. In Uganda nepotism is a norm, and bribing is
socially accepted therefore, in order to keep the business as profitable as
possible he adapted to the local cultural environment. If he had not being
a member of the team probably someone else would have been sent there
in Uganda with no knowledge about the country, and everything would
have been slowly and more complicated.
Question 4: In HGs next phase, the dam construction, should it
employ someone whose main function is to be a liaison between
HG corporate culture and the culture of Uganda? If so, should
Martin be the person for the job?
Seen the importance of the job, someone else might be a good helping
hand for Martin, but its not necessary at all, since he is the right man for
the job. He has a deep knowledge of the culture and he respects the local
inhabitants customs and tradition, therefore, there is no need to support
other costs, and another salary for HG to pay. If the company would still
want to send someone elses there, than this new person will run into the
same problems that Martin already dealt with, rituals of the tribes, the
nepotism, the bribery etc. Martin is a specialist in what he does and
whether HG wants to hire a new professional it surely must work on the
corporate management ethic within the U.S. and outside of the country.