Raheem Akingbolu examines MTN’s tradition of bringing global management icons to Nigeria to share their experience and perspectives with local business and political leaders
Michael Porter first attracted the attention of management scholars across the world when, as a young associate professor, he published an article on competitive strategy in Harvard Business Review in the late 1970s.
Entitled ‘How competitive forces shape strategy,’ that initial article is credited by many as the piece of work that sparked off a revolution of sorts in the field of strategy. Porter is well known for his “Five Forces” theory which has in turn inspired many in research and practical business.
According to Porter, five forces shape industry competition. The forces are: rivalry among existing competitors, bargaining power of buyers, bargaining power of suppliers, threat of new entrants as well as threat of substitute products or services.
Nations and Corporations
Nations, says Porter have become increasingly important especially in the wake of the increasing shift of the basis of competition from a country’s natural endowments to the creation and assimilation of knowledge. Corporations within nations can help to drive national competitiveness.
Such corporations benefit from having strong local rivals, aggressive home-based suppliers as well as fastidious customers. Countries therefore need to hone their local advantages in order to be globally competitive. A country’s value system, culture, institutions, economic structures and even history, said Porter, are all key determinants of its global competitiveness.
Porter’s ideas are a major paradigm shift from conventional thinking which places the key determinants of a country’s competitiveness at the doorsteps of such factors as labour costs, interest rates, economies of scale and the like.
On the corporation side, such terms as mergers, alliances and strategic partnerships have become buzz words, while many governments often pursue short-term but misplaced policies to supposedly enhance national competitiveness, because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the true determinants of national competitiveness.
Porter was in Nigeria a few years ago, to share his epoch-making ideas with select audiences drawn from a combination of key private and public sector operatives. In coming to Nigeria, Porter was a guest of MTN Nigeria, as part of a process which the company said was its contribution to helping to nourish the state of management thought and practice in the country.
Attendees of the elite fora with Porter still recount the intellectual rigour using real life examples drawn from sundry industries, with which the professor shed light on issues pertaining to competitive strategy.
It is a tribute to MTN, that over the years, it has sustained this practice of annually bringing a management expert or motivational speaker to share his unique insights on business and management with the local managerial elite (both public and private-sector based).
Life of Gardner
Chris Gardner, whose life forms the subject of a best-selling autobiography, “The Pursuit of Happyness” was another visitor to Nigeria as part of the company’s deliberate strategy. Gardner’s childhood was marked by illiteracy within the family, domestic violence, poverty and alcoholism. Raised by a single mother and at other times in foster homes, Gardner never knew his father.
Gardner, as his biography which has in turn been made into a movie reveals, was determined to succeed against the odds and in so doing remaining a role model to his two children. In the mid 1980s, he worked at Bear Stearns & Co where he would emerge the firm’s top earner, forming his Gardner Rich brokerage firm thereafter.
So successful has he been that he is a frequent guest on leading television channels like CNN and the Fox News Channel as well as the world’s leading talk-shows, journals and magazines.
Gardner’s visit and passionate deliveries in Abuja and Lagos respectively were impactful tonics for entrepreneurs both existing and budding, across the country. His motivational presentation highlighted the possibilities that are innate to those who choose to believe in themselves and their dreams, regardless of whatever temporary adversity they may be experiencing.
Les Brown, best-selling author and one of the world’s best known motivational speakers has been yet another guest of MTN’s at its annual programme of inviting world renowned experts to jaw-jaw with Nigeria’s management elite.
Born in an abandoned building in one of the poorer districts of Miami, Florida in the US, Brown was adopted early in life by a poor domestic help. In his earlier years in school, he was mistakenly classified as being “educationally mentally retarded” and was often referred to as the “dumb twin” in comparison with his twin brother.
Brown’s life, nonetheless, reflects a burning drive to rise above the false impressions that the rest of society had about him and instead, step into greatness, or to paraphrase one of his famous quotes, “get out of his head and into his greatness.”
The story of his life was also a strong motivation to the audiences who listened to this charismatic speaker in key cities across Nigeria.
David Plouffe, who has etched his name in history as the manager of President Barrack Obama’s 2008 historic campaign, has also been to Nigeria on the bill of MTN. Obama’s campaign was hallmarked by innovation, strategic as well as tactical.
The campaign team combined the conventional with the unorthodox, deploying social media to devastatingly impactful effect, and turning Obama’s campaign catchphrases into lovable messages that the whole world trusted and believed in. Obama would emerge America’s first president of African-American origin, despite the formidable competition the campaign faced.
As a leader in innovation itself it was only natural that MTN would invite such an innovative organiser to come share his insights on organisational innovation with key audiences across the country.
This year, MTN is inviting Ram Charan, another Harvard Professor like Michael Porter before him, to share his perspectives on the Private Sector as a Driver of Economic Growth and Development with the leadership elite in Nigeria.
Charan is globally renowned as a management consultant and business advisor and indeed has consulted for some of the best-known brands in the world. Fortune Magazine believes that he must be the most influential consultant on the face of the earth.
Charan, like Porter, has authored many books. Whereas Porter’s main interest lies in what has become a major management discipline, competitive strategy, Charan’s is mainly in the area of business efficiency.
In providing insights to highlight the role of the private sector in driving growth and development, Charan interestingly, will not be far from Porter who has famously declared that national prosperity is created and not inherited, with its global competitiveness driven by the ability of its industry to innovate.
Charan’s theory of a “Global Tilt” is likely to feature prominently in his presentations to audiences in Abuja and Lagos, while he visits Nigeria. In this theory, Charan posits that the balance of economic power no longer resides in the countries of the Northern Hemisphere such as the United States and Western Europe.
These countries are stagnating and witnessing poor GDP growth, relative to emerging powers in the Southern Hemisphere such as India, Brazil, China, South Africa and arguably, Nigeria. The emergence of a dynamic middle class in these countries, the flux in the financial industry and the emergence of an increasingly digitized world are among the factors responsible for this shift in the globe’s centre of gravity.
Charan has advised that it is important for countries to recognise this “Global Tilt” phenomenon and adapt to it. For a country like ours with a massive population reportedly in excess of 160 million people and considerable youth and female segments, it would be interesting to find out what Charan’s prescriptions would be, especially against the backdrop of the global tilt phenomenon which he has popularised.
Strategy as the Key
What development experts and scholars like Porter, Pat Utomi and others have repeatedly highlighted over the years is that nations fail and succeed first at the altar of strategy. In other words, strategy defines how far nations will go in a future that will continue to be defined by one word: competition.
Strategising for success in such a world means that nations like Nigeria must first come to terms with the realities of today’s world and thereafter, prime ourselves to confront these realities in an efficient and proactive manner, a manner that will ensure that the country occupies its pride of place in the comity of nations.
Thankfully, despite whatever problems the country may be facing, there are few who would realistically argue that Nigeria has not made considerable progress in the area of telephony and the larger information and communication technology, ICT, space.
In addition, considerable progress is being recorded in the area of power. Given the very fundamental role which power plays in every economy, it is logical to expect that a formidable economic revolution is in the works in Nigeria. Nigeria, would however, need to prime itself to make the best of this coming revolution.
Sharing the expertise and experience gained by experts who have worked with leading governments and corporations both in the developed and emerging countries is an excellent way to immerse Nigeria’s leadership in the imperative of now, in the Herculean task to take Nigeria to the top.