60 minutes with the man…

Happy Independence Day all…

I was having a casual phone conversation with my boy Charlie when he mentioned that the man was in town for the UN Summit and asked if I was interested in having a meeting with him. Not knowing what to think, I started making all sorts of excuses and quite frankly, I just didn’t want to take him seriously because  I was somewhat apprehensive about the whole thing. I was quickly jolted back to reality when he asked me to hold on because the man was calling him on the other line. I patiently held on and the next thing I heard was his unmistakable voice asking how I was doing…

“I’m fine sah! How are you sah?”

A brief discussion ensued, we agreed on a time and he gave me the address of his hotel and his room number. The next morning, I found myself outside his hotel at 8:30am sharp and thirty minutes later, I called his room… “Good Morning Sah!”. Apparently, he had just woken up and asked me to come up in another thirty minutes. At 9am on the dot, I knocked on his door and and he opened the door and invited me in. I half prostrated, half walked into the room and sat down in the lounge and waited for him to finish sending a text.

We spent the next hour talking about everything from my background to the state of our dear nation. Our conversation settled on a single question that had more answers and generated many more questions than we had time to explore. How do we position ourselves to take advantage of our potential as a nation? There are so many forward looking reports (N-11, Vision 2020, NEEDS etc) that tell us what we already know… If we do the right things, we can be greater than some of the countries we currently look up to today.

He offered the following advice for folks in the Diaspora thinking of moving back home and the benefits of the private sector and being a risk taking entrepreneur. There are so many people coming to the realization that there are much more opportunities to make considerable impact back in Naija and they are trying to figure out how to effect a “reverse” Andrew. (Not sure if you remember that Andrew commercial… Some dude at the airport in Naija speaking phone… “Men, I’m checking out. No good roads, no light, no water. Men, you can’t even get a common bottle of soft drink!”. I think the only thing that has changed since 1984 is that you can now get a common bottle of soft drink. Quite sad!).

Some of the key points:

1) Demonstrate entrepreneurship/risk taking capacity

He strongly advised getting a few people with diverse expertise together to start something rather than taking up employment. He said it’s important that at least two of them aren’t carrying “trailers” around. i.e. Excess baggage of family responsibility. Wife, Kids etc. He said basically, we have to identify the people will be sent out to be on the ground, bear the risks and prepare the way for the other folks. He stressed the importance of being “on ground”.

2) Sort out personal accommodation/living arrangements.

The deciding factors in figuring out where you decide to live should be location and decency. It’s very important to be close to the “movers and shakers”. He gave a few banded options:

, Ojodu
, Ikeja, 

Apapa (not Ajegunle O!)

Lagos Island (Not Isale Eko O!), 
Victoria Island
, Lekki, 
Banana Island

3) Sort out office/business location

As quickly as possible, you should set up an office. It could be your house (as defined in #1) initially but not for too long. Similarly, location and decency are the key deciding factors. The size is not that important. This is very important. People start to take you seriously when you are “on ground”, have a pitch/idea and a decent, well located office.

4) Have a Pitch Ready

Ultimately, you should be able to deliver a  well put together and orchestrated overview of what you/your organization does. This is something that will come in handy for various audiences. Potential investors, partners, door openers etc. Take advantage of every opportunity to sell it to anyone who will listen.

5) Be visible

You need to make sure you are visible to the folks that can make a difference. That means that the people who are important to your success know who you are and what you are capable of. Position and Market yourself in such a way that it is clear to everyone what you do. One day someone might have a need and think of you. That’s how opportunities are born.

6) Connect with the “Door Openers”

It’s not enough to have a group of experts, lots of intellect and a nice office. You need to find what he calls “Door Openers”. These are people who have the ability to create opportunity and even finance your vision. He said to be wary of people who have the sole intention of taking over once things are set up. There are also some door openers who will actually connect you for a fee. Others will put their money and reputation on the line for you and hence will demand something significant to show for it.

7) Be prepared for the high cost of doing business

Three main things that he feels we lack in Naija that contribute to the unnecessarily high cost of doing business.

1. Lack of constant supply of electricity

2. Lack of good transportation infrastructure

3. Lack of discipline. (I took this to mean personal Indiscipline. Remember W.A.I.?)

It’s essential to be prepared for all these things and account for them in your planning process. It will cost several multiples of what you thought it would and take many times longer than you ever imagined.

Other random discussions were around the state of education in Naija. I asked him some specific questions about his university and what models one could employ to ensure that the youth are well prepared to support N-11/Vision 2020 and other forward looking projections. I asked about the CIDA City Campus free education model in South Africa and if he thought that could work in Naija. I asked about government programs that could enable folks in the Diaspora to give back. I pitched an NYSC credit system. Did he think we could set up a program that awards Nigerians who graduated outside the country completion “points” towards the NYSC service year based on volunteer initiatives over the traditional NYSC structure? E.g. Giving a presentation to secondary school students in Naija is worth x points, teaching a class over the summer is worth y points which adds up to reduce or even eliminate the post camp service obligations.

In summary, while none of the advice he gave was news to me, it was very helpful putting some structure around it. There was something about hearing it from someone who had held the top job not once but twice that gave it some sort of official credibility. One thing was pretty clear to me from the discussions, you are either all in (or at least mostly in) or you are out. Being “in” clearly has its challenges and if you go in there with the assumptions and mindset that have made you successful in other parts of the world, you might be in for a rude awakening.

Aluta Continua!

3 Responses to “60 minutes with the man…”

  1. Ogbeni,
    Nice one man! Couldn’t have summed it up any better.

  2. […] the heart of Accra. Not sure what that story is with that, but I got nothing bad to say about the man. By now I was starting to form my initial impressions about Ghana. Extremely nice and pleasant […]

  3. They dont teach this in business school…thanks for sharing

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