Life Lessons 10 : “Investment In People Brings Far Superior Returns” – Pat Utomi


The story of Patrick Okedinachi Utomi perfectly illustrates the saying that we are largely a product of our environment-the people we associate with and the books we read. Born in the North, schooled in the East and West, he is probably one of the most Pan Nigerian still around. More than anything else, however, Utomi’s early exposure to reading shaped the course of his career and the academic bent of his contributions to national discourse. By the time he was 9 year old, he had probably read more books than those who were 30 then would have read. He graduated at 21 and by the time he was 26 he had picked two masters degrees and a PhD. He became the youngest special adviser to a president ( Shehu Shagari) and the youngest managing director of a multinational company-Volkswagen Nigeria.

When I asked Utomi what he would regard as one great lesson he has learnt, without hesitation he said: “Investment in people. Investment in people to me is much more important than investment in stocks”. A multidisciplinary political economist, Business Angel, management and communications expert as well as a social entrepreneur, Utomi has devoted his entire life to building young people either as a teacher or a mentor. He also is consumed by the desire to see Nigeria prosper economically, given her abundant natural resources. Today he runs a value correctional institute, The Centre for Values in Leadership, whose objective is to tackle the ills of the Nigerian society from the root by imbuing in the young ones the correct values. Utomi has other interesting life lessons to share. Please enjoy

Lesson 1: Career
Know your boss’ key result areas (KRA)
There is something that came up frequently in my teaching at the Lagos Business School; I tell the students, especially young managers that one of the

easiest things you can do is managing your boss. Many people don’t realize this, they think managing the boss is massaging his ego, it is not so. You have to know your boss’ Key Result Areas (KRA)-that is what he is being evaluated on by his own bosses. If what you are doing advances his key results, even if he is the devil he will not hurt you. Without actually knowing this in theory, that is what my career has always been about. It has never been about me, it is about how can I advance the purpose, the course of this thing which usually is something that advances the course and cause of the boss.

When I went to work for Volkswagen, the company had a lot of trouble, terrible image in the public, there were labour problems and all sorts, I chose instead to look at the big issues, where the company was going. At that time I was not consciously looking at advancing my boss’ KRA, but that was exactly what I was doing. Of course I was rewarded for my efforts as I became the first Nigerian to manage the company. Besides as Paul Collier’s UNIDO supported study of China”s dramatic rise in manufacturing shows China triumphed going the way I had suggested Nigeria go when he interviewed me at VWN in 1987. You do not get on that side of history if you think only of your immediate interest.

So it was very important to focus on what is very important to the survival of the organization, not on yourself, what you are trying to get or to show your boss that you know too much.

Secondly, you have to imbibe the virtue of humility. The truth of the matter is that so many people are so focused on themselves that people can’t see them, they see their projection and many times that takes away from really feeling the person and their humanity is lost.

Lesson 2: Money and Investment

Imagination will take you farther than money will

Money is the most fungible of assets that can be converted into another kind of asset. It is something that can help you accelerate the pace of accomplishing something, but on its own, can accomplish very little in terms of real value. I tell people, imagination will take you farther than money will take you. People  do come to my house and begin to imagine that I must have spent a fortune building it, but it probably cost me about 10% of the cost of building an uglier house down the street. It is just that we were more imaginative the way we designed the house, working with the architect and so the effect that hit you when you come to the house is wow! What takes you far is the value that you create. You have to understand money as a facilitator not an end itself. There are many people who actually have a lot of money and live in misery.

Invest in people

One of the most important rules for me is invest in people. Investment in people to me is much more important than investment in stocks. As any of these people create wealth, there is an increase in pool for the whole society. Yes many will be ungrateful and will never come back to you, but like in venture capital, if it is only one that is grateful and comes back, it pays for all others.

Some of the companies I have help in building up from idea to start up include, Linkserve, Nigeria’s first ISP which put Nigeria on the Internet, Platinum Bank, BusinessDay.

Don’t eat your profit before it’s earned.

Some people project their profit and begin to spend it in advance. This is the reason you have many people who were rich yesterday, but today they are poor.

Number two: integrity is the most important asset in business. The day you lose it, you’ve lost everything.

Lesson 3: Health

Do everything in moderation

Don’t overdo anything. Don’t over eat, don’t over drink. Moderation is a very critical part of me. I do everything in moderation. Of course exercise is very useful. I have not been famous for a good regime of exercise. I will start and I will stop. But fortunately for me I’ve had a teacher’s life. A teacher who has my style, gets a lot of exercise in the classroom. Again there should be frequent medical checkups.

Lesson 4: Parenting

Family matters

I have been very fortunate, first of all I am a person of faith, I am also a person of family. One of the mysteries and miracles of my life, is actually an early engagement with the writings of Stephen Covey who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I asked myself early in life the big question, why am I here? What’s my purpose? Of course I eventually read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. I have never been motivated by what other people are doing once I am clear in my conscience that what I am doing is right. Even if I look foolish, I look small, I look poor, it doesn’t matter to me. I am a contented person. The rectitude of intention is really what matters. The righteous judge can gauge intentions and that where I get solace and my confidence.

The same was brought into my approach to family life. Covey’s influence led me to a personal vision statement and a mission statement very early. Your mission statement considers your relationship with all the stakeholders in your life and what basic principle should govern it. One basic principle I decided early on was that family matters. This is why you find out that in spite all the many things I take on, I probably spend more time with my family than most of my not busy at all contemporaries. When my colleagues are going to Ikoyi club, I am going home. As a matter of practice and habit, you will not find me in the office by 6.45pm on any day of the week, except for something extremely important that must be done. That has enabled me play a parenting role in spite of my apparently busy schedule.

The next great secret is, you’ve got to marry a great wife, it makes all the difference. I probably would have been completely useless if not for the kind of wife I married.

Lesson 5: Spirituality

God means everything.

God is about love about mercy, a fountain from which we draw strength, the goal to which we direct effort. If you then draw a set of values from the way you know him, they become a compass, then you can guide your journey better. In my concept of him, his love and mercy, when I make a mistake, I go back counting on his mercy. So I fall, I get up again.

I go to mass every morning except in circumstances where I can’t help it. One of the things it does is you have opportunity to not only fuel up, but you ask yourself, what’s important today and what’s the best way to go about it. I run examination of conscience in the evening to reflect on the day, what are the

things I did wrong, how do I avoid them the following day? And of course I go off on retreat where I get a chance for contemplation and reflection.

Lesson 6: Relationships

Keep an open mind

My house since I came back from the US some 35 years ago has been a bus stop for my contemporaries with whom I went school in US. They are all still in America, as they are coming home, they first stay in my house before they go to their various homes. One thing about me is that I keep an open mind. I tend to forget things that people do that can affect relationships. I am struggling to come to terms with a culture that people use you, people want to use you. These days people love things and use people rather than loving people using things.

Lesson 7: Environment

You are a product of your environment .

My story is a journey of impact of people on me. Everything is about how people impacted me and how my own growth has flown from there. I was born in the North, educated in the West and the East and because my dad worked for British petroleum and was moving around I found myself making friends with people from virtually all the major ethnic groups in Nigeria. But what framed my life most was when my father was transferred to Guzau in present day Zamfara State. I was an altar boy at the age of 7. Every morning by 5am I rode my bicycle to the church to serve mass after mass I would come back home to prepare for school and my father would take me in his car to the same place I just returned from, Our Lady of Fatima, Guzau. It was run at that time by American Catholic Priests. That was really the formation that I had. It just happened also that at that time America just elected its first Catholic President, JF Kennedy. The reading culture that I have today, the sense of service, all took hold during that period because they kept giving me books, anything Kennedy said I was given by those Americans to read. At age 9 I probably read more books than many 30 year olds. So the whole culture and ideal of service, of sacrificial giving of oneself, of delayed gratification which is so central to everything that I have done, was put in me by those priests.


There are many. One striking example is, when the banking industry was like you couldn’t make a mistake investing in it. People were investing and making

huge returns, I kept screaming at people, as I could not see the value driving the market explosion. Something told me it was a bubble that would burst soon. But I lowered my guard and borrowed N350 million and invested it in the bank stocks. I lost everything to the bubble just as I had predicted and had to go looking for money for two, three years to pay back the loan.

The second one was an insurance company, I was encouraging people to invest in and in other not to make it look like I was encouraging people to invest in a business I didn’t even have shares in. so I bought some shares. Since I bought those shares, the price has remained at the same point.


  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey


  • Self-Consciousness by John Updike, and Churchill.


  • The road to serfdom by Fredrich von Hayek, and Douglas North’s Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance



I relax by being at home quietly with my family, I also read books


I rise at about 5am, do my basic morning devotion, have my bath then I go for Mass from there to the office. Sometimes I have activities outside the office otherwise I stay in the office till about 5.15, 5.30, I leave the office and get home. Sometimes I have a small meeting at home, I have dinner with family then I will retire to reading some more.


That Nigeria does not have light keeps me awake at night. More importantly, I think about how Nigeria can make progress and I know that central to it is the energy situation. Of course I think a lot about the young people. Most of the things I have done in the last 30 years have focused on how do you provide the young an opportunity so that Nigeria can reap the demographic dividend. But I do not just worry I make stout effort to do something about them. The two major ventures I am currently working on will result in two brand new cities: one as an Agrindustrial town and the other as a Smart City of services, confront those things that keep me awake.

Role models and mentors

There are a number of people who have been of influence to me. I had two remarkable role models and mentors when I came back from graduate school. They are Dr. Pius Okigbo and Ajie Ukpabi Asika others are Dr. Christopher Kolade and Dr. Michael Omolayole


How would you score yourself on the wheels of life the school of life? We usually ask our guest to give their best estimates on the 10 key areas of life listed in the table below with each area carrying a maximum mark of 10. How would you score yourself in each these areas? We would expect it to be done with all frankness. Many thanks

1 Academics/Education 10 7
2 Career/Business/Investment 10 7
3 Friendship/ networking skills 10 9
4 Mentoring 10 8
5 Significance/Giving back 10 9
6 Parenting 10 7
7 Health 10 6
8 Marriage 10 8
9 Happiness/Fulfilment 10 8
10 Spirituality/God 10 7
Total 100