First university black student union president, Chukwuka Monye is Africa’s leading Innovation Strategist and Change Management Expert. He is a University of Oxford trained innovation strategist who has dedicated the last 20 years to building businesses, mentoring leaders, and impacting lives. He is the founder of Ciuci Consulting, one of Africa’s foremost multinational operations management consulting firms through which he has transformed numerous private and public institutions. As a social innovator, he has led several social impact initiatives ensuring the projects he gets involved in ultimately lead to sustainable socio-economic development. He is an Amazon, Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author for his contribution in the book – Business Success Secrets. Monye, in this interview with MARY NNAH expresses the belief that Africa’s growth would be propelled by empowering its people to build sustainable enterprises and embrace systems thinking
Tell us the story that made you who you are today?
I am an innovation strategist, corporate development and consumer intelligence expert. My experience covers several industries including financial services, healthcare, agriculture, telecoms, media, entertainment, FMCG, retail and the public sector in Nigeria & the U.S.
I have a Masters in Business Administration and a PGD in Strategy and Innovation, both from University of Oxford, UK. I also have a BA in Business Administration from Warner University, Florida where I graduated with honours and was also the university’s first black student union president.
I have received several awards including “Who’s Who” in American Universities and Colleges’ and the United States Achievement Academy Award given to top students in the country. I also received the United States’ Golden Bridge award for Most Innovative Executive of the year in 2018.
I am passionate about the development of the African continent, which was why I returned to Nigeria a year after I got my Bachelor’s degree. When I interacted with executives on my return, most of them mentioned ‘people problem’ as one of the challenges businesses in Nigeria face.
I saw this as a gap because the development and use of human capital are crucial to economic productivity and growth. This led to the establishment of Ciuci Consulting with two objectives – to provide advice to businesses in Africa and to develop locally based human capacity amidst a challenging educational and economic environment.
I have also led the development of several social impact initiatives aimed at taking the capacity building focus to corporate Nigeria and the society at large in sectors such as agriculture and healthcare on a pro bono basis as a sign of Ciuci Consulting’s commitment to its ideals.
I have been involved in the incubation of several successful products and companies including the City of Lagos edition of the Monopoly board game and the Healthcare Leadership Academy (HLA), a leadership institute for the healthcare sector with collaborators such as Cambridge and Duke Universities.
I have featured as a keynote speaker at several business and youth conferences focused on youth, capacity development, education and entrepreneurship. Many of my published materials have been featured in several media platforms including the Nigerian Guardian, CBS, NBC and Huffington Post.
I am currently the Director General of The Delta Economic Summit Group, a private sector led think tank focused on influencing and delivering positive and strategic change most especially economic development in Delta State, Nigeria.
Through this platform, I led the establishment of the ‘Unsung Heroes Awards’; an awards ceremony that celebrates identified everyday individuals that have impacted their communities in significant ways with little or no recognition.
Each edition has moved the audience to tears as they marvel at the amazing work being done by the honorees – from providing free eye surgeries to taking care of orphans with limited resources. I believe entrepreneurs cannot achieve true impact if the impact that they desire is not tangible. This is what makes entrepreneurship worth it, fulfilling and purposeful.
Let’s talk more about your company, Ciuci Consulting
Ciuci Consulting is a leading execution focused management-consulting firm that specialises in the optimisation of business operations through innovative strategies and consumer intelligence with a focus on socioeconomic impact.
It is one of the fastest growing consulting firms in Middle East and Africa, and has an international presence in Africa, North America, and Europe. In 13 years, Ciuci Consulting has executed over 350 projects with significant social and economic impact and published over 150 research reports and articles.
The firm consists of ethically driven professionals who strongly believe in integrity and partnership as key ingredients for delivering high-quality results to clients.
While Ciuci Consulting started out in the telecoms and banking sectors with strong competences in research, analytics, strategy formulation and capacity building, it has developed robust proficiencies in consumer intelligence, human capital development, interim management and advisory services, business planning, business turnaround and restructuring, financial management system, and feasibility studies.
Today, Ciuci Consulting has a fully diversified client base in the private and public sectors and a world-class analyst training program for its consultants.
Ciuci Consulting has developed a solid legacy of adding real value to its clients. It has been recognised by many as a market leader – Jobberman, the largest job placement in sub-Saharan Africa recognised it as one of the 10 most innovative companies to watch out for.
It won the Stevies Award for the Middle East and Africa Category for its contribution to social and economic impact in Nigeria through human capital development and several social interventions; and also won the Middle East and Africa Category for its innovative solutions for clients.
The firm played a prominent role in the Covid-19 response in Nigeria by managing strategic assets including a molecular testing center, a 200-bed hospital and a 340-bed treatment center.
What are the key factors to your success?
Great leadership and great businesses are always defined by three critical components – vision, good systems and people. My vision has been very clear, thereby making my convictions easy as I am not easily swayed or distracted.
The principle of systems thinking helps me achieve quality outcomes in projects and situations. It emphasises the relationship among a system’s parts rather than the parts themselves. This includes the willingness to see situations more holistically; recognise that they are interrelated; acknowledge that there are often multiple interventions to a problem; and utilise unique insights and discoveries to develop interventions that will dramatically change the system in the most effective way.
Through systems thinking, I have learnt the inevitability and imperative of delegating tasks. The focus is always about the overarching goal.
People Matter! Despite the educational system and challenging economic environment, I have been able to successfully build a strong base of talented professionals. This has been a major competitive edge – building an organisation that believes that people matter.
What has been your worst decision and how did you bounce back and still get to where you are today?
The worst decision, which in retrospect was a necessary decision, was when Ciuci Consulting took a bet on a major public sector project. This project was the largest deal size we had done and a number of variables such as change in government were out of our control.
We were optimistic that our payment was guaranteed despite possible change in government. Unfortunately, irrespective of the impact of the project, the new administration did not pay contractors and consultants that worked with the previous one.
It was a demoralising experience as we had engaged both local and foreign professionals who had to be paid. Although this was a major financial setback for the firm, it taught us how best to structure similar deals and mitigate certain risks. We have since then successfully carried out various projects in the public sector.
This experience had the potential of making me depressed, as it was a very difficult time. How do you explain to all the local and foreign experts that were staffed on the project that the client owes, therefore you cannot pay them?
My reputation was at stake. While a number of people tried to convince me that this happens and there was really nothing I could do until the client paid, I was restless and very uncomfortable with not fulfilling my end of the agreement so I sold some off my assets to pay all the experts.
My approach to resolving this crisis, though not popular at the time, felt like the honourable thing to do. I have had to be at peace with myself and since then, several opportunities have come my way. My word is my bond, it may cost me relationships but ultimately, I owe it to myself to be true and honourable.
What has been your best decision?
It was the decision to move back to Nigeria to establish Ciuci Consulting and influence so many young people. This for me is fulfilling especially because many business owners and entrepreneurs are less interested in capacity building. It is rewarding when I see people’s lives change because of the support I gave.
I am proud of what Ciuci Consulting has become in 13 years – not many companies survive up to five years in difficult business climates like we have in Africa. We have developed strategic solutions for both public and private organisations in Africa.
Having carried out over 350 projects, with 80 per cent of them focused on SMEs, Ciuci Consulting has developed significant capabilities that have enabled it to support several SMEs thereby impacting the economy in major ways.
What is an unusual habit you have as an entrepreneur that helps you succeed?
“You must have Business Voodoo”. This is what a client said to explain how well I was able to articulate his requirements for a project he wanted to engage our firm on. This ability is something that I have exercised over the years.
My colleagues have often argued that it is a gift and not an acquired skill. On a number of occasions, I have been able to not only articulate a client’s problem but also helped to depict clients’ visions.
For a society that can be religious and believes in ‘spiritual’ sources for insights and solutions, this ability makes me somewhat qualified to be ‘believeable’. Combining this with technical and analytical skills creates combined assets that become really powerful. I can then reel out “spooky” (intuitive) and non-spooky capabilities to deliver cutting edge solutions to my clients.
Another habit I have is transparent leadership. This is not a common leadership style. Some say it is a style that is not appreciated by people in Nigeria, where being secretive, bossy and mostly dictatorial is believed to be the style that is effective.
On the one hand, I appreciate some cultural nuisances that are centered on ‘respect for elders’, however, the expression of this culture tends to undermine subordinates or team members. It often suggests that if you are a team member and not the leader that you are meant to listen and not share your opinion. This cultural element is also seen in the process of problem solving where the leader is the moderator and solution provider in a brainstorming session.
I believe that no man is an island and that problem solving is comprehensive when it incorporates inputs from several people. I can recall when a security guard was engaged to contribute to the development of a survey instrument for a research project.
The team developing the survey found the questions suggested by the security guard most valuable. This leadership style is ultimately linked to an important essence of entrepreneurial existence that I shared earlier –people matter!
With the knowledge and experience you have now, what would you have done differently if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey again?
I will not change a thing because everything we have done was required and necessary in making us who we are today. Sometimes I am tempted to say that perhaps raising money upfront would have helped but I think that a lot of the grit the company has today, is because the resources weren’t available so we had to be innovative and creative.
What do you do when you feel unmotivated and overwhelmed?
I listen to inspirational music. I am quite sensitive to music, so it helps me. The messages in the songs I listen to are typically powerful and positive. It may also make me dance, something I really enjoy too.
I also immerse myself in things that reinforce my vision because when it is re-enacted and reinforced, I begin to work towards it again. I am a visionary so if demotivation has reduced the visibility of where I am going; I speak with other like-minded entrepreneurs to make it clearer again.
What is that one secret to your business success that would be helpful to current and aspiring entrepreneurs?
We simulate environments and situations to prepare us for difficult moments so that employees are ready and better prepared when they encounter similar conditions in the future.
Using this approach, we mirror real life challenges that teach employees possible scenarios the business can face. This enables the management team to identify weaknesses in the system and evaluate its responses to different types of disruptive events.
As a result, we are able to make improvements to our systems and procedures based on test findings.
Employees on the other hand are able to improve conceptual knowledge and gain a better appreciation of business strategy and the systems of business management.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are still struggling?
It is very important that entrepreneurs evaluate why they are struggling. Most times, they forget that perhaps they were not meant to be entrepreneurs in the first place. I am not of the school thought that suggests that entrepreneurship is for everyone who desires to build an enterprise.
Entrepreneurs should evaluate if they are meant to be entrepreneurs; if yes, then they should find mentors that can provide necessary guidance and begin to tackle the prevailing issues. Remember – no man is an island.