By Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu
After several years as a business pioneer and creator of opportunities, Chief Executive of Nigeria’s iconic entertainment hub, The Dome Entertainment Limited, High Chief Obiora Okonkwo, returned to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Business School, better known as Unizik Business School, on Friday May 10, 2019, not as an executive student, but lecturer to share his thoughts on the challenges of managing business in Nigeria.
He also used the opportunity to share insights into the prospects of business growth and development in the country.
Addressing an audience that was largely made up of members of the academia, graduands of the Executive Masters in Business Administration course, which spanned 20 months and some friends of the university and his associates, High Chief Okonkwo, who spoke ex-tempore for more than 60 minutes, held the audience spell-bound with existential insights from his years of managing business in Nigeria.
He started off asking his audience if they had spared time to think through why many of the big businesses, they saw growing-up, no longer exist. The message probably did not hit home until he reminded the audience that Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu was once considered the biggest name on Nigeria’s business frontiers with investments in real estate, fast moving goods, shipping, transportation, textile and rose to become the founding president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. He probed into why Sir Ojukwu’s businesses ended with his passage unto eternity while businesses as established by Jamsetji Tata, the founder of Tata Group, still exist.
Okonkwo reminded his audience that Tata died in 1904, but his business ideals which are today managed by his great grandson, Rajan Tata, has expanded to even acquire business owned by those who colonized India.
According to Okonkwo, “The company has grown even beyond the vision of its founder to now acquire Jaguar Land Rover from Britain”. Information on Tata Group’s website indicate that the company which is now in its 151th year has an estimated staff strength of over 700,000 with investments in Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata consultancy services, Tata Advanced Systems Limited, tata Power, Tata Chemicals, Tata Global beverages, tata coffee, Tata Teleservices, Tata Communications, Indian Hotels Company Limited (owners of the Taj Mahal)”, among many others.
Okonkwo also who had the audience listening in rapt attention, also reminded them that many of the global brands that trend in Nigeria were begun by individuals who saw tomorrow and worked to actualize them. On the other side, Nigerian businesses hardly survive past the founders. That was the question that left his audience thinking. They could not applaud him as he got minds working.
Though it was a lecture organized over dinner, many in the audience ignored the attack on their taste buds by the aroma oozing from the buffet table, to concentrate their minds on the experiences being shared by Okonkwo, who listed some of the steps to overcoming challenges to business management.
He reminded his audience of the importance of vision in developing short, medium and, long-term plans for business development; the need to set out clear objectives and the task of visualizing and working for the next big picture while setting out strategies to effectively manage critical human resources. Here, Okonkwo noted that the most critical challenge in managing business may not actually be the traditional issues of government policy, taxation, finance, power, infrastructure deficit et al, but in sourcing the right manpower to manage investments.
He said, “When I talk of competence and capacity, I make reference to both natural and academic competencies and the right skill set”. He told the graduands and business managers at the event that “you will need people with the right skills set, you will be richly blessed if you get them but often, you get to sit at interview sessions to hire the best of hands. You will find humans with the best of CVs. They have the best designed CVs. They have all sorts of qualifications and certificates to boost, but they lack the competence and capacity for the task of delivering on the expectations of the investor. Some times you farm out your hire process to a recruitment expert. He returns to you with some of the best CVs but on the job, you begin to wonder how they made it through school”.
Emphasizing further on this point, Okonkwo noted that one factor that kills business initiatives is the excuse factor. He said many workers would rather give excuses on why certain tasks cannot be accomplished rather than find a way through such tasks. He then asked the University management a question: “Do you have a faculty of excuses in the universities? I ask this because all I see are people giving excuses and that is why my business is guided by one principle -don’t tell me about the storm; deliver the cargo”. Okonkwo encouraged business managers at the dinner to adopt that principle if they intend to hit the success button.
He also took the audience through necessary business ethics and the need to dress properly for business. He said: “Often times business managers fail to connect their outfits with the business they do. If your business demands that you wear jeans and tee-shirt to work every day, don’t go wearing a designer suit. If your business demands that you wear a business suit to work every day, wear it. In wearing it, please get well-tailored suits and matching neckties, and when you get them, please also, get a good dry cleaner close-by. You will need him. Most business leaders go for black suits. Black is a power colour. Avoid flowery colours.
When you have done this, please also, take a proper look at your shoes. Good shoes don’t cost a life. You may have heard it said, “you are addressed the way you dress”. That’s a truth that will confront you as you grow in business. It simply says that good dresses, for the business person, are not fashion statements. They are rather meant to help you drive your business. You may not be thinking of it but you will also realize that human beings are like monkeys. They like to copy. If you dress well to work, wearing good clothes, nice shoes and sweet perfumes, chances are that you will inspire your team and without even discussing it, you will soon find some copying you. They begin to dress fine to work. What that does to your business is that it elevates your personality and your business. Not many people are likely to want to meet you a second time if you come to talk business with them poorly dressed and with an awful odour. Sadly, what I have, however, seen in our environment is that people wear their best clothes to church and dress mindlessly to work. Good dresses and perfumes open doors. When you have done this, then, mind the car you drive out to work and business meetings.”
Okonkwo had all man listening and applauding until he hit at what he considered most critical in managing business – trust. For him, trust constitutes a most critical issue that could lead to business success or failure.
He told the audience: “The issue of trust is one major factor that has made businesses, and even business prospects, to fail. It has also made many investors walk away. Some businesses have also grown and succeeded because of it. Trust is a vital issue in human relationships. It builds marriages. It creates fantastic love stories. In business, it builds bridges, connect minds and money. It builds business empires.” He ended his discourse on trust saying “I have seen many businesses fail because the founders did not trust their team enough and the basic reason here is that team members failed to give their leaders reason to trust them.”
To cap the night, Okonkwo took his audience through a short course on corporate social responsibility. He said that “when you have overcome the challenges to your business and the doors of prospects open to you, do not forget to give back to the society that made you”. He argued that every business exists within a social context as such, the society looks forward to one form of support or the other from businesses. He listed the gains of corporate social responsibility to include “better brand recognition, positive business reputation, increased sales and customer loyalty, operational cost savings, better financial performance, greater ability to attract and retain good hands, organizational growth and easier access to capital”.
He stated that “investors are more likely to back your business having established a reputation as a corporately responsible citizen; your business will attract positive media attention and somehow, it will reduce regulatory burden as good relationship with local authorities can make doing business easier. So, don’t forget to spare some thoughts for the place of CSR in your business. Identify a social cause, and push on with it.” Okonkwo left the Unizik Business School a bit taller. He was the star of the night as graduands contested for photoshoots with him.