Starting with introductions, who are you and what do you do?
I would like to think of myself as a Pan African Opportunist who is currently head of operations at a family owned trading company that has been in existence for over 28 years. We are into starches, sweeteners, flavors and basically chemicals for the confectionery and beverage market.
Tell us about your educational background.
I attended secondary school in Nigeria and moved to Ireland afterwards for educational reasons. I studied Accounting and Business Information Systems with Management at the University of Manchester and obtained my ACA Professional Qualifications shortly afterwards which is the UK’s accounting qualification, similar to the ICAN in Nigeria and the CPA in the U.S.
Why accounting? Is it what you always wanted to study?
I am not exactly fond of accounting to be honest but I was very good at it. When I was going into the university, my guidance counselor advised me to study something that I would definitely get a 2.1 or a 1st class in, because that’s the most important thing; He believed no one really cared what you study as long as you get a 2.1 or a 1st class and that’s why I chose it.
Right! So, how did your professional career begin?
My first work experience was an internship at Barclays, during my second year in the university. I worked in the business solutions team which was involved in management consulting and it was an enjoyable and enlightening experience. Upon graduation and partly because of that experience, I started my professional career at a management consultancy firm called AT Kearney, which is an American management consulting firm in London. After AT Kearney, I came to Nigeria for a summer internship with Deloitte Nigeria, after which I left to join Deloitte UK. My reason for doing this was simply to have a head start on everyone else. This proved to be an eye-opening experience particularly regarding the cultural difference that exists between working in UK Auditing and working in Nigeria. It was my experience while interning at Deloitte in Nigeria, that the auditors were made very comfortable which was very unlike what obtains in the UK. As there, auditors were barely tolerated. It was a serious culture shock for me because it was different from what I had been through and although I understood the work easier than anybody else, the reception I got further heightened my dislike of the profession.
That’s certainly interesting. On a broader scale, what was your role at Deloitte and how did you find it?
As previously mentioned, my role was in the audit department which I did not particularly like, however I should add that there were parts of it I enjoyed, which involved speaking with people, consulting, and general problem solving. That’s the aspect of auditing I enjoy which unfortunately you only get to do about 20% of the time, as 80% of the time it’s just number crunching. I ended up spending 3 years there and then moved on to banking.
Tell us about that, your banking experience.
I worked for Union Bank in the treasury department and really enjoyed my time there. Whilst it’s not as big a bank as Barclays for instance, I wanted some sort of link to Nigeria and dealing with Nigerians, seeing as I always planned to someday move back to Nigeria.
What was your drive for wanting to come back to Nigeria?
To be honest, I had always viewed Nigeria as the final frontier especially after all the education and experience overseas. It has also always been drilled in me that Nigeria is where the opportunity really is and even going further down the line, ie getting married and having kids, I knew I didn’t want to raise a family in England. I think we have a very rich culture and believed it would have been wrong for my kids to be deprived of it. On a professional level, I also felt if I had gained all this experience, I could actually come here and contribute to the developmental process. As soon as I got into Union Bank, it was clear to me that the infrastructure was lacking and there was a clear opportunity for exploration and development. With the credit crunch and global economic crisis, it eventually became very apparent to me that I might want to move back sooner rather than later.
Ok. So did you move back after your stint at Union Bank?
Yes, I took a leave of absence from Union Bank to come down here, to try and see if I liked it. So I came down and dove in head first and whilst I wouldn’t say it’s been comfortable, it’s certainly been very educational.
Now you are in Nigeria, how have you found it?
A lot depends on the sort of person you are, I must say. I feel a lot happier being in Nigeria as it’s so family-oriented. You also have the opportunity to meet the movers and shakers as opposed to being in England. In England, no matter what anybody says, it’s not your country and you are always going to be a second class citizen, which you never realize until you move away.
How about professionally, can you describe your experience so far?
It is certainly interesting as I realized quickly when I moved back, that I had been under-utilizing my brain. When I was in England I was probably using a maximum of about 5% of my brain and here I feel like I’m using at the very least, 50%. My experience has also been that everything you are taught about management in school or in business schools on how to motivate people for instance, really goes out the window when you come here; The simple things like acknowledging someone which should help drive them to be more productive, doesn’t always work as easily as it does in the west, because employees here have a totally different mindset and there’s no sense of pride in the work that you do. I’m saying it as a positive because in the Nigerian culture, everyone wants to be at the top and nobody is content with being mediocre. It benefits us but it’s also detrimental to us in the same breath. We are hard-working enough to get to the top but it’s that drive to get to the top that makes people do things that are not necessarily right.
You certainly seem to have some experience under your belt. What does your work entail on a day to day basis?
I manage the whole business which basically involves me constantly putting out fires and solving issues that arise daily, as most of my day is spent managing and overseeing the running of the business. This is an additional layer of responsibility, because I have to micromanage as well as get my own primary work done. I find that having your own business in Nigeria means you have to work far harder than anywhere else in the world. However, the benefits if done right, are limitless.
How have you dealt with the challenges of running a business in Nigeria?
Poor infrastructure is the basic problem and is obviously very detrimental. Moving away from that and into the day to day side of operations, whilst Nigeria is a very difficult place to operate, you have people who because of the desire to be successful are willing to go the extra mile. By this I mean the informal market which while not being as structured, is almost as effective as the formal market in Nigeria and sometimes even more effective. In Nigeria the “American dream” is possible. If you want to see something happen here, it will happen despite all the challenges.
So you are content doing business here?
I definitely have my fair share of complaints but I find that people focus on what’s not working right and don’t see the other side of things. Challenges also exist in the west but they are just different types of challenges that we often seem to overlook. Also, the margins one can make in Nigeria doing business, can hardly be made anywhere else in the world. So while we may complain and criticize everything that is broken, we need to also take time out to reflect and be pragmatic. It’s not perfect, it’s just different.
That’s certainly a pragmatic way to view things. On a final note, as someone who has made the move back to Nigeria, could you share any useful tips and things to consider for people potentially considering taking the plunge?
I think to move to Nigeria, you have to have a soft landing. What most people do is come down here and try to hustle, or set up a business quickly. Personally, what Nigeria has given me is the opportunity to get into the system, understand the system and then spend that time developing my own dreams and goals. I often say that if you decide to come back to Nigeria with too many options and also a backup plan, you will most likely run away once things get tough, which they undoubtedly will. So, if you want to move back to Nigeria and believe you can make it work, then stay on when things get difficult, keep at it and you will be ultimately successful. Having said that, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. The most relevant characteristic to have if you’re moving back to Nigeria, is the ability to adapt to any situation, and to be very flexible, as you have to be able to get on with everybody regardless of status.
Finally, regarding working here, I feel we get a very bad rep around the world and yet everyone is coming here and making it work. So, why aren’t more Nigerians doing this? The infrastructure is developing and gone are the days when a Nigerian would be intimidated by foreigners. The system is growing organically and so the fear of moving to and working in Nigeria should be put away because it is definitely worth it!
Many thanks for your time and best wishes moving forward.