In the spirit of our ongoing Independence anniversary, we are publishing a MovebacktoNigeria Independence interview one-off special. This interview features Paul Twine, Head of the Africa Practice at Carmichael Fisher, an International Executive Search Firm with a focus on key regional markets such as Nigeria. He discusses the key trends in the job market for repatriates, what clients seek in the hires and how best to go about job hunting in the Africa space. It is an informative and enlightening interview and we hope you enjoy it!
Thanks for speaking with us: Can you please introduce yourself and your firm?
My name is Paul Twine and I am the Head of the Africa Practice at Carmichael Fisher, an International Executive Search Firm with a focus on key regional markets such as Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the U.S. We are set up in a number of different business divisions and within each of those regional areas we have sector expertise in the following sectors: financial services, life sciences (healthcare, medical devices), manufacturing and industry, transportation and infrastructure and professional services. We’ve been working in Sub-Saharan Africa for just over 6 years and we see it as a truly key area for our business.
You seem to have a broad range of areas you specialize in. Using Africa, Nigeria, as an example, does the region determine the business sector you focus on?
Africa is a key growth region for us for the future. We are building a team that will have expertise in multiple sectors and knowledge of different countries in Africa. We will hire African nationals as part of our strategic hiring plan to add to our local knowledge and cultural understanding, and compliment our best practice in conducting international searches. We consider Nigeria to be a significant opportunity for us and as a result our most recent hire is a talented Nigerian currently based in the UK.
That’s quite strategic and leads me to the next question: Is there a trend you see regarding Nigerians in the diaspora moving back to Nigeria?
Yes, I think to some extent there’s an increasing appetite for the diaspora to return to Africa. The challenge is for those individuals who want to return to understand the learning exercise that needs to go on in two ways: the first is the cultural alignment with what they’ve learnt in other markets and bringing that knowledge back to Africa. Although they may be African, if they haven’t worked in Africa before they may need to learn how to integrate themselves into an African market. So there’s the sensitivity of bringing that knowledge into Africa, integrating culturally, but also understanding that some of the platforms and culture that they’ve been used to may not be there on the same scale as some of the markets they’ve previously worked in.
The second point involves expectations, so if they seek to join an international organization in Africa, in general those organizations do not pay quite as much as some of the local competitors, so there is a trade off in bringing international experience to Africa. The benefit is that working practices and continued internationally mobility within the firm will still exist.
Are there particular job sectors that seem to be the most active for Nigerian professionals from the diaspora?
That’s really interesting. They are typically those markets related to manufacturing, infrastructure, oil and gas, generally areas involving natural resources. Associated sectors such as financial services and professional services have benefited too as a result. In our experience, the roles within Africa at an executive level are also much broader than those in the diaspora at a similar level.
Really interesting. Do your International clients specify key requirements in the hires?
Yes, the first one that is obvious to mention is the NYSC. Nigerians need to have that if they are going to return as it is something that all of our clients ask for.
And if not, is that a deal breaker?
Yes! In financial services for certain. The clients also expect them to be better than the individuals available in the local market. Generally speaking, they are not going to treat a diasporan differently; the pay compensation structure will be exactly the same as what they will pay someone from the local market, and the expectation is someone from the diaspora must have gained a level of experience and expertise beyond that of the person locally to warrant the cost and effort of relocating and re-integrating them.
How easy is it for you to find the qualified hires you seek?
The challenge with hiring in the diaspora is that there is not a moment where you can say ‘we found everybody’. Unlike a traditional search where you look into competitor organizations and can see the people that could potentially do this job, diaspora hiring is much more challenging and what makes it fascinating for us and how we do it, is that we have a global database of Africans specifically West Africans and Nigerians. On a project like this, we contact all of the West Africans that we know, particularly focusing on the Nigerians, and implement tactics such as advertising and social media to send out messages. We keep talking to people, keep expanding our network, and that increases our West African contacts both locally and in the diaspora, and eventually we find the right people for that role or roles.
Right. So, how do you have access to people not on your existing networks but who possess the required qualifications?
We employ every tactic we can to give the clients the best chance of finding the right person. Even with all of those tactics I previously mentioned, we can’t find everybody. We find as many as possible and keep going on the project until we successfully secure a great hire for the client.
Nigerians are renowned for the premium they place on education, how important are post graduate degrees and professional courses to your clients? Are they must haves?
I would say absolutely yes! If one or more of those academic qualifications were gained outside of Nigeria it makes the individual more interesting still. We hire professional managers, senior managers, and executives and every time a client makes a hire it is a comparative process. What that means is, we look at people’s backgrounds, their education and why they made decisions to take those courses, and we also look at how they leveraged their learning’s from those courses afterwards. In addition and quite importantly, you can be extremely academic and can have a degree, a Masters, an MBA, a PhD, but you need also to be a successful leader, with emotional intelligence and drive. So academic qualifications on their own are not enough, you need to develop leadership skills as well.
What roles does your firm typically recruit into?
They are all leadership roles at management and executive levels. If you look at the structure of business it would be from the CEO role, so board level and three levels down, i.e. head of a product line, distribution channel, a support function, sales/marketing or a country/region. Those are the sort of roles that we hire. We are also highly experienced at running both talent projects and confidential searches.
In addition to the requirements of the clients, are there particular things you look for, such as a benchmark standard of background, skills, or experience?
Our network is a network of qualified professionals and it’s a mixture of highly proficient individuals and those considered ‘talent’. If someone that we meet in the diaspora or locally within Nigeria has got some very good qualifications and has demonstrated quite early in their career that they are on a good career trajectory, they may not be someone that we would be able to find a role for right now but at some stage we may be able to help. We are very keen to make sure we connect with the people we believe will be stars of the future. We also help our clients find the best person for a key strategic hire today, and to also make sure that we know the most talented Nigerians locally and internationally, so that at the right point we are able to introduce them as talent. Because we find there are two ways to work which are either: strategic individual hire and to identify future leaders for these organizations. There are some international companies that are well developed in effectively managing African talent, exposing them not just to Africa but relocating them to some of their international businesses to gain more international experience to then return to Africa at some stage. What a number of international organizations are looking at now is how they can attract the best talent and keep and retain them by making sure that they give them that exposure and international mobility.
How do you manage the expectation gap, if the hires expect to get paid the same or more than they would earn in the west?
It’s quite complicated answering that. Some think they will be able to go back to Nigeria and command a much higher salary to what they are on and in a much higher powered position than they are in where they are, in many cases that’s not true. I think people are surprised that in some cases they are not able to meet their financial expectations. It’s extremely expensive to live and work in Nigeria, so if you are early in your career then it’s much easier for you if you have a family network that you are able to go back to and so you don’t have to pay the high costs of accommodation for example. So your take home pay is broadly similar but the cost of living in Nigeria is higher than in many other markets internationally and interestingly, I recently heard that Nigeria is the next big market for luxury goods. If you have local family and network, and are early in your career that’s how you can go back and take a comparable salary or at least a similar take home. However, for those senior, seasoned executives who want to return, it depends on circumstantial factors. Many of those execs compensate for pay cuts by joining a start-up or a private equity firm with the expectation that their investment in that private equity firm comes at the point of sale, or they join an international organization with a long-term Africa strategy where they are hired with a clear career path. So it’s a longer term view to return to Nigeria.
That’s a win win situation I think. Finally, for people looking for jobs back home and also Africans in the diaspora, do you have tips on how they can find jobs or even start the entire process on the right note?
If they are in an international organization that has a business in Nigeria, then my advice is to try to move back with the organization to the region, initiating the move internally if possible.
Another thing is to identify key organizations that you would want to return to that you feel share the same values with you as an individual, and make direct contact with those organizations.
My third tip would be to contact us confidentially to understand what your career aspirations are, for us to help to advice on how to approach that return and what some of the challenges may be. To manage expectations and where possible, introduce them to organizations appropriately that we believe will fit the skills and culture that they are looking for.
This has been very insightful and I’m sure a lot of people will find it very useful. Many thanks for your time and best wishes.