Legacy that Preserves Legacies

Omobola Johnson

Omobola Johnson
FBNQuest Trustees Limited recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. FirstBank of Nigeria (FBN), which is your parent firm, celebrated 125 years a few months back. So you were born in your parent’s old age which makes you very wise,and wise you are indeed.

You have been through three name changes – Standard Trustees Nigeria Ltd, First Trustees Nigeria, FBN Trustees Limited and now FBNQuest Trustees Limited. But these are not changes for changes sake. Each name change came with a re-alignment of the business to changing market conditions; to your customer expectations and of course to your positioning and contribution in the FBN Group.

Today, your share capital has grown from N30 million in 2001 to N3 billion, your near liquid assets under management stand at N50 billion and you are managing estates valued at over N2 trillion. Our profit after tax has grown year on year for the last 20 years, which brings me to the substance of this keynote address. A closer and deeper look at the construct of legacies.

A legacy is something that is left behind when someone passes. With this definition, we tend to think of the ‘something’ left behind as a thing of financial or monetary value and this is where Trustee businesses such as FBNQuest Trustees come in. A legacy is also defined as something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. Sometimes this could be financial and sometimes not.

But there is broader definition of legacy that I came across that I really like and it reads: “A legacy is more about sharing what you have learned, not just what you have earned, and bequeathing values over valuables, as material wealth is only a small fraction of legacy.” I like this definition because I have some personal experience of it.

We can also think about the legacies that famous people have also left– Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and Marie Curie. The theory of relativity, non-violent protests, love for the poor and downtrodden of the earth, tolerance and forgiveness, the invention of penicillin. Impactful legacies that have transcended their lives from people of little to moderate means.

And then there are the legacies that have been left through the significant wealth that individuals earned in their lifetime. The Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and in the Nigerian context, foundations like Dangote, TY Danjuma, Tony Elumelu, Aigboje AigImokhuede to name a few. All focussed on moving the needle on what they are most concerned and passionate about.These are all individual legacies, driven by the passions, interests and concerns of the individual.

But because we are celebrating an institution today we must expand the notion of legacy to talk about institutional legacies. What exactly is an institutional legacy? An institutional legacy is the visible outcome of internal processes, systems and behaviours that are deployed to run an organisation on a daily basis. These could be processes, systems and behaviours which could include: governance, profitability, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, innovation and industry leadership.

An institution could choose to build a legacy of good governance possibly evidenced in a strong and deep leadership bench and succession plan that facilitates smooth and non-disruptive transitions at the board or management level.

An institution could also choose to build a legacy of employee satisfaction by focussing on exciting career opportunities for young people, a transparent meritocracy for career progress within the organisation, competitive compensation.

These are just examples and this is not to say that one must choose to build only one type of legacy. Indeed, one company can choose to build legacies in all of the areas and examples I have just mentioned.
Now I don’t think that any institution or individual ever sets out to build a bad legacy. But the truth is that there are many examples of institutions and individuals who have left bad legacies.

Let me use the notion of profitability and the history of corporate America to illustrate this point. In the 1800s in America, companies were run on the basis of creating value for all stakeholders. This approach to running a company was apparently quite inefficient and the financial owners of the companies felt that they were being short-changed. This ushered in the era of efficiency and profitability – where satisfying the shareholder became the sole purpose of an organisation, the implication being that profitability and dividend distribution should be the focus of the company.

This era justified the short termism of processes and systems – companies lived from quarter to quarter. Hitting or missing quarterly profitability targets was a death knell for company share price and the CEOs compensation. The general belief then was that if a company focussed on profit then everything else would fall into place. This was a widely held belief.

Management and boards across the nation relentlessly pursued profitability and they genuinely thought that were building great companies and great legacies that would last forever.The global financial crisis of the 2000’s demonstrated quite painfully that this was not the case. It was clear that profitability was a necessary but not sufficient goal for an organisation. In the meantime, these bad legacies resulted in spectacular failure of companies with substantial collateral damage as well.

For individual legacies, there is the story of Alfred Nobel whose obituary was erroneously published instead of that of his brother who had just passed. It read ‘The merchant of death is dead….Dr Alfred Nobel who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.’ This was because Alfred Nobel was a chemist and innovator who invented dynamite. Alfred Nobel was devastated that this was the legacy that he would leave behind when he passed and so in his last will and testament he set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel prizes. Now he is mostly remembered for the Nobel prizes and not the invention of dynamite.

So how does one go about leaving a good legacy. One school of thought says that you should have the end in mind and then live your life to work towards the end that you want. Defining what impact you want to have on the world and then going out and doing it. Some schools of thought say you should first of all decide what is important in your life, what you care about and then focus on and prioritise those things. That will be your legacy.

These are very valid ways to being purposeful about leaving a legacy and you can’t fault them. But the truth is that life happens and sometimes focussing on only what you think you care about could end up with you leaving a lesser legacy and not living as impactful a life as you could.

It is one thing to be purposeful about having the end in mind and thinking through what impact you want to make in the world. It is not enough to shout it from the rooftops; one has to be very deliberate about it as well.
May we as individuals and owners and employees of institutions live to leave good lasting legacies.

.Johnson, who is Senior Partner of TLcom Capital and Minister of Communication Technology, presented this address at the 40th anniversary of FBNQuest Trustees Limited, held in Lagos, recently