It always gives me great pleasure to encourage others to be successful – in work, business – so that they can also support other people in realising their aspirations. This is the inspiration for my quarterly mentoring session – a hybrid event that creates an intimate opportunity for young people to get acquainted with me, learn from my business expertise both milestones and failures, life philosophies, and network with other members of leadership from the Heirs Holdings group companies. My dream for these mentoring sessions is to create an enabling, no-holds-back environment for honest dialogues on what success means and how it can be achieved.
During the session, I interacted with young entrepreneurs from across the world – one in particular that flew in from South Africa was engaging and my belief in Africa’s youth was energised. Indeed, they hold the power to creating the future we desire. I shared my own experiences, providing answers to their questions which I found to be deep and inspiring. I have summarised some of my points below with the hopes that whoever is reading this, can also be inspired.
Today’s workplace is changing, and people who master the art of bringing in the right people and the right roles will win. I cannot overemphasise the relevance of ‘people’ in driving business success. Over time, I have been asked what drives my success and it comes down to the people I work with. You need to spend time getting the right people on board. When you get them, ensure to drive a corporate culture committed to people affairs – know how to manage and reward the right people. The people factor is critical especially because the marketplace has changed, the talent pool has stronger power than businesses. For me, recruitment is very critical in setting the tone for success. I am a firm believer that commoditising knowledge and assembling the right people dispassionately will drive business success in the current dispensation.
I often say that I am a product of luck and hard work because these factors are inextricable if you want to succeed. Back in the days when myself and some colleagues took over a distressed bank, we had a three-tier strategy. First level was to make it viable. Second was becoming one of the top 10 banks out of over 125 banks. And thirdly was to become one of the top 3 banks in Nigeria. We developed timeframes to support these ambitions, which allowed us to work stage by stage, but also meant that we had to design new intents and create new frameworks as we met our goals. Define purpose with timeframes and milestones for measurement, then take the first step towards getting it done – EXECUTION.
For many young people, the growth phase is scary and uncertain, charged with many decisions to make and ambitions to fulfil. At this stage, it is important to define what you want to be. Do not become complacent even when you achieve your set goals; let it motivate you to the next phase. Keep coming up with new set of goals, keep stretching yourself until you conquer the world. Hard work and consistency pay off!
There is a famous principle I live by; only the paranoid survive. It is not bad to have doubts, but let it not limit your possibilities, but instead help you to reaffirm them. Detach yourself from every situation and look at it critically and objectively. View success and failure with impassioned eyes.
As an aspiring business owner, you must ask yourself the what-ifs, and deploy discipline rather than impulse to calculate the risk of any decision. Always examine the collateral damage. Investments are tricky because many people only consider the success factor. But what if you fail? You must also dimension this possibility.
How do you retain a ‘first mover advantage’? You must constantly push against being complacent and know when to reinvent your business and pivot. Two and a half decades ago when myself and some colleagues set out to revamp a distressed bank, it was a saturated market. Yet, we were not discouraged, rather we put in place a unique approach and aggressively played catch up in the banking sector.
In today’s world, it is not only about profitability. Things have changed and diversified for many reasons. Around the world, increased attention to sustainability, environmental impact, inclusivity, and diversity are influencing business decisions. People are looking beyond profit; impact is as important as profit for any business. At Heirs Holdings, we advocate beyond profit because it is not the only measure of wealth. Wealth is concentrated in one person, while prosperity lifts the majority. But when we look at impact, and shared prosperity, we find a richer sense of fulfilment. This keys into our philosophy of Africapitalism that positions the private sector as a driver of socio-economic transformation. Success to all should be the blend of profit and social good. That intersection is what defines Africapitalism.
If you don’t tell your story, the world will tell it for you with its own nuances and biases. From personal experience, I learnt how critical it was to set the right message through the right channels, and to avoid public characterisation. As a business leader, presenting your authenticity by yourself is important.
Many people talk about making the right first impression and how to win people over as quickly as possible. I would say that it is important that people immediately know who you are and your principles and philosophies because you might not get a second chance. Remember to keep things simple. Know how to ‘read the room’ and learn how to interject at the right time.
While many young people are faced with how to identify the right opportunity in a maze of many options, knowing how to zero in and focus on a particular opportunity at a time is important. How do you keep yourself motivated to keep breaking new records and pushing boundaries? Follow the value. Pace yourself.
I always encourage African leaders to understand the value of having a young demography that is successful. Any nation that doesn’t prioritise its youth cannot go far. Through policy and advocacy championed by the Tony Elumelu Foundation, governments are beginning to listen. Although there are some stifling operating environments, don’t let this hold you back. Remember, as young people, you have the power to bring about positive change in society for the common good of all.
I am inspired by discipline and hard work, especially the kind demonstrated by Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs. Both intentional and painstaking in their practice. It encourages me to do more. Steve Jobs was ambitious and his company, Apple, became the first company to cross a trillion in market capital – even in his death! Michael Jackson trained 2-3 times a day for his show ‘This Is It’ – a show he was unable to perform before his death!
Through the pandemic, we have witnessed the birth of new ideas and businesses. Many entrepreneurs have discovered how to rebuild, adapt and adjust to survive. Look at the industry of COVID-19 testing and how the demand and supply of that market were non-existent before. Every challenge creates an opportunity.
Tony O. Elumelu is an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. The chairman of Heirs Holdings, United Bank for Africa Plc and Transcorp Nigeria Plc. In his early career, he made a name for himself by turning the nearly bankrupt Standard Trust Bank into a top-five player in Nigeria. In 2005 he led the largest merger in the banking sector in sub-Saharan Africa, acquiring United Bank for Africa (UBA). In five years, he transformed it from a single-country bank to a pan-African institution with over 7 million customers in 19 African countries. Click here to find out more about him.