‘Companies Need to Think Out of the Box to Grow Their Businesses’

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Business People

Author and consummate life coach, Ayo Benson Olarewaju, a chartered accountant, rose to become a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, as well as Association of Certified Chartered Accountants in United Kingdom. He has his fingers in many pies. Over the years, Olarewaju has consistently rendered services to local and multinational companies, nurturing them to become iconic brands. Olarewaju is also a respected public speaker and expert on business, e-commerce, performance, NLP and psychology of success. In this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, the UK-based consultant and author of ‘Goldmine of your Mind-Your Fast Track to Abundance’ talks about secret of success and why businesses fail

You are based in the UK but have consistently showed passionate interest in Nigeria, through your articles and appearances in local and international television stations. What is the attraction?
The first attraction is the fact that I’m a Nigerian and like the saying goes; ‘no place like home’. Besides, the country has potentials for growth and a lot of human and natural resources that require proper nourishment. I have always said it that Nigeria has what it takes to become one of the greatest economies in the world if her resources can be well harnessed.  To me, apart from the fact that we have poor approach to governance, I also believe experts should not shy away from providing necessary professional advice and services from time to time.

It is stated on your company’s website (ayobenson.com) that it helps transform businesses in the UK by getting remarkable results for big companies. Could you please tell us more about MBC Konsult?
MBC Konsult is a UK based company with a presence in Nigeria. The impressive results that are referred to in our profile are as a result of our unconventional ways of approaching business problems. Our experience has shown that the business school solutions are sometimes too complex to achieve quick result, so we devise our own ingenious ways of looking at providing solutions for our clients and the results speak for itself.

What do you think is the major challenge preventing Nigerian big companies from getting to the next level to compete internationally?
Let me take the question from unique perspectives; when you refer to major challenge, I would further divide it into two parts namely; internal and external challenges. Let me take the external challenges first because it is a great excuse for mediocrity. In today’s Nigeria, they include; the infrastructure, low per capital income, corruption, legislations, regulations and others. There is a limited chance of changing these factors directly as it is considered outside the control of the companies. However, the internal challenges are within the purview of control by the companies, which I will try to look at some of them and proffer solutions now.
The first one is people and in my practice when a company comes to me with a gigantic business challenge, I usually don’t jump in to solve the problem the way they expected. I analyse the leader of the company to see if there is any blind spot he couldn’t see himself. I call it blind spot to explain the fact that most leaders have tremendous skills and energy which is why they got to that position but for obvious reasons, it is difficult for them to see their own fault and people around them are unlikely to tell them the truth! The qualities that get a leader to the top may also stop them from getting to the next level.

You are saying the attitude of the CEO can make and break a company?
Yes, let me give you a practical example. A client of mine with presence in the UK, US and South Africa recorded losses for three years in a row and he was introduced by another client. My diagnosis revealed that the success achieved by the company through expansion got into the head of the CEO and he was running ahead of time to get things done! The simple solution is usually the best solution in my experience and according to the geniuses of our time. When I told him to slow down to the speed of life, he was resistant because speed was the key to his initial success. It sounded counter-intuitive to him. How can slowing down achieve success, he asked. He eventually complied and we worked together for two years monitoring his activities periodically; the loss stopped in the first year and by year two the company returned the biggest profit it ever achieved. Without help, this company could have continued to haemorrhage until it collapsed. There are many companies in trouble but they are looking for the complex solutions to their problems; I advise they look for help in the right place and remember the simple solution is the most appropriate.
Training is considered optional by some companies and it is one of the areas they cut off when there is a little sign of trouble. Training is not a cost head in my opinion, it is an investment in the future of the company and the value created by companies may be directly attributable to the sum total value of its employees’ know how!

You identified ‘processes’ as another problem confronting business owners, can you explain this?
Yes, this is also the belief of many experts. The truth is that most big companies are paralysed by complex Standard Operating Systems. What does it mean? SOP helps companies maintain standard by setting out specifically how things must be done to maintain quality and safeguard the assets of the company. There is a saying that ‘what gets you here may not get you there’! You need SOP to run a business successfully but companies must not allow it to stifle initiatives of the team. I usually help my clients simplify their SOP so that the team may be allowed to act with initiatives when required without breaching the protocols. In today’s global world of technology, automating replicable processes may save companies a fortune but people inside the business sometimes cannot see possibilities because they have been too involved to think outside the box. A client of mine in the UK implemented SOP solution for one million pounds but our cost benefit analysis shows that the system generates savings of around half a million per annum. If this system runs for 10years, then the return on investment is four million pounds.

Can you explain how products and packaging can enhance growth for brands?
Let me cite a recent development to answer the question. There was an outcry in the press lately about garri importation from China. I just laughed because we have been making garri for thousands of years in this part of the world; did you ever ask why we still make it exactly the same crude, dirty and inefficient way? Is it our culture not to think of continual improvement about our products? In the UK, I have a friend who is also an accountant but he produces plantain chips. If you are wondering why should he stoop so low? If you asked that question then it means you are thinking he fries it in his kitchen! He designed a machine where he feeds the plantain at the beginning of the process and it spits out packed plantain chips (ipekere) from the other end of the machine. He supplies major stores like Tesco in the UK and he is a very rich man just by thinking differently about product improvement. We are too much in love with familiarity which is understandable and companies are not immuned to this detrimental psyche. Companies must look beyond their success based on a familiar modus operandi and look for a new method which may propel them to greatness. The challenge is that people within the business may not see it which is why a knowledgeable consulting firm may help them see things differently.

What roles do you think marketing communication will play in all these, especially promotion and advertising?
Let me take you on a journey to a few years ago. If you wanted to promote your business, you will pay for newspaper advert, radio jingle, tv ads, magazine, billboards and other platforms. This is not only expensive but ineffective and if you don’t have a big budget then you are going nowhere. Today, it is different because the Internet is a leveller! This means if you can work hard by learning and spending a little money, you may rapidly take your business to the next level of greatness leveraging on online marketing. I have studied the online marketing intensely for the past eight years and let me give you some ideas of the pitfalls. If you jump on the bandwagon without learning or using a skilful consultant, you may lose your shirt. The reason is that there are rules about online marketing and you must obey the rules to succeed. Another warning is that the rules change so rapidly, you may not be able to keep up with it. A client of mine sells a sole product (handset protector) online and he runs a campaign online spending 10000 pounds per month and he makes a profit of £40,000, that is 400 per cent profit. He doesn’t even touch the product because he orders them from China and directly delivers to Amazon in the UK and US to distribute them for him. His core competence which he does so well is online marketing. He doesn’t do it alone as well because our team also helps him tweak his campaign reflecting the constant change in online marketing space.

What is your advice for companies in Nigeria?
Well, I would have to write a whole book to do justice to this question, but let me try and keep it brief because of time and space. If you look around the world most big projects usually take longer than planned and cost much more than budgeted for. Why am I talking about project you may ask? You cannot run any significant business successfully without undertaking projects whether you call it that or not. The major reasons for project delay or failure is the method being used e.g. Gant chart et al. This was a second world war invention but modern companies still use it for their project management and no wonder the results are usually haphazard. I am going to talk about a new method (not quite new but much more flexible and effective)! It is called SCRUM. If you have a big project and still using Gant chart, drop the moribund method and go ahead and research how to use SCRUM. It may save you a fortune! The sum total of it is that you must find new methods constantly and more importantly adopt continual improvement in your business. Secondly, I think it is easy to fall for the story of difficulty about doing business in Nigeria but we must stop worrying about those things we have no control over because if we focus on those external factors then we may actually lose control over the issues that we have control over. We can control our internal resources; therefore, we must focus on it intensely to achieve success. Hard work is not enough, we must engage in intelligent hard work. Learning is the key to growth and few companies in Nigeria do this systematically and deliberately. In the last chapter of my book ‘Goldmine of your Mind-Your Fast Track to Abundance’ I advocated for life-long learning not just by entrepreneurs but by everyone in our community. Mark Twain said, ‘a man who doesn’t read has no advantage over a man who can’t read’! We have this notion that we know everything there is to know the moment we have a little bit of success but that cannot be further from the truth. Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Live as if you will die tomorrow but learn as if you will live forever’! We must develop the habit of reading and learning new things to have the chance of getting near the success of the developed world. The world will not wait for us but we must at least start walking towards the path of progress in our endeavor as a country.