From 2009 – 2011, Osahon Akpata was enrolled at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business where he was actively involved in helping organize the annual African Economic Forum. After completing his MBA, he joined McKinsey & Company’s Lagos office as an Associate. In the interview below, Osahon shares his views on relocating back, Columbia’s impact on his career trajectory and the upcoming Columbia University African Economic Forum taking place in New York. Check out the interview below and share it with your network.
Osahon Akpata: Getting an MBA from Columbia has opened a number of doors in my career with its strong brand and extensive professional network. Working for a Fortune 50 company prior to business school, my experience was at largely regional. A Columbia MBA gave me exposure to international business with projects and study tours in Latin America, Asia and Africa and today, my career involves working with global business leaders.
CP-Africa: How has the African Economic Forum evolved since your involvement as a student at Columbia Graduate School of Business?
OA: There are three key changes I see in AEF since I first gained admission to Columbia. First, it has grown from an event that barely drew 200 people to one which boasts upwards of 500 attendees yearly. Secondly, it has moved from struggling to attract speakers to being a forum where internationally recognized personalities such as Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor and the CEO of the 2010 FIFA World Cup have featured. Thirdly, AEF creates a lot more buzz today in the media, with presence or mention on outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, BBC Radio, Vogue Italia and Sahara Reporters.
CP-Africa: What has it been like working for McKinsey Lagos?
OA: Being at McKinsey Lagos has been a whirlwind experience. I enjoy the opportunity of working with the top brass at public sector and corporate institutions in Nigeria and elsewhere on the continent. It is a relatively small and new office so it has an entrepreneurial edge and a family environment since we all know each other. McKinsey is a global firm so it is not unusual to have members on a team from several different countries and I have had the pleasure of learning from some of the world’s brightest and most driven people. The rigorous training and exposure to challenges faced by companies and governments on the continent has proven McKinsey Lagos to be an excellent choice for my post-MBA career.
CP-Africa: How have you adjusted to life in Corporate Nigeria since returning to Lagos?
OA: The adjustment to life in Corporate Nigeria has been relatively smooth. I left the country aged 18 so when there are inconveniences like power outages or slow internet, I adapt to them. The landscape is more of virgin territory where unlike in developed economies where companies are looking to squeeze out an extra 1% of efficiency, in Nigeria, it is more like 30, 40 or 50% improvement. Corporate Nigeria is an exciting place to be as there is a lot of opportunity for growth.
CP-Africa: Where do you see Nigeria in the next 3 years?
OA: Well, I am not a babalawo (fortune teller), but several reputable international reports forecast economic growth in Nigeria. How impactful the current transformation efforts will be on the people depends partially on good governance and improved security. It is hard not to be bullish when you see droves of foreign investors and workers pouring in each time you fly to Lagos
CP-Africa: What role do you think the Diaspora can play in rebuilding Nigeria?
OA: The Diaspora can do several things to help develop their countries. Not everyone can or wants to move home so some can remain where they are and excel in their professions while staying connected to developments in their countries. Perhaps someday, an opportunity to provide technical expertise or a bridge between your homeland and the developed world could emerge. Africans in the Diaspora should also strive to be good brand ambassadors for their countries. I know we often have the urge to criticize the situations back home but we need to be careful about that. Nowhere is perfect. In December 2010, I visited India and for all the economic and technological advancement, I still saw bad roads, power outages and several reports of corruption in government. That trip was one of the main triggers that made me move back to Nigeria. It made me realize that perfection in a developing country is a myth.
CP-Africa: What advice do you have for returnees looking to return home but are still hesitant?
OA: I understand their hesitance as moving back to the continent is not for everybody and should be done carefully. Educating oneself about the realities on ground helps. I recommend visiting occasionally and attending events like Columbia’s African Economic Forum to hear people speak about the challenges and opportunities on the continent. I would use the opportunity to network with speakers who are visiting from the continent and others who do business or have an interest there. Decision making is much easier when you have the facts.