A number of the readers of this column have sent me notes requesting that I share with them tips I picked from the successful people I have interviewed. They want tips they can apply to their careers, businesses and life, generally. In the first part, I decided to pull out one key nugget shared by each of the persons I have had the privilege of interviewing in diverse areas. This is the second part.
Industrialist and Spiritual Leader
WITH A CLEAR VISION NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE
Until I was 40, I never believed I could amount to anything. I was after many meaningless pursuits and I was scared that I could die without any meaningful achievement. I discovered later that God created everyone for a specific purpose and nothing would make sense until this is discovered and pursued. It can happen at any age. My discovery came the day I was 40. I was just reflecting on my life generally alone in my room, asking many personal questions, and suddenly, I discovered that I had a passion in me that must be pursued. I was trained as an engineer in India but I had never used that skill until that time. I suddenly began to see that I could start a company that specialises in fabricating machines. The pictures were just coming in flashes. It was like a sleeping lion in me suddenly came alive. The moment God showed me my vision, I decided to push it with everything inside of me. At the time, I had just N1000 in my pocket but I discovered something very interesting: When you have a vision that you are passionate about, many obstacles will give way.
I gave my wife N400 out of the money and I used the balance of N600 to rent a shop in an uncompleted building. I had the shop, and I was ready to work, but customers were not coming. I didn’t have money to place advertisements. In fact, it was only Daily Times and Business Times and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that we had then. There was no way I could get myself into the newspapers or appear on television.
I kept thinking of what to do until one day I just stumbled on the letters to the editor column in Business Times. Some of the letters were actually about people requesting contacts of people who could supply one product or the other. I got hooked on that, and I realised that I could use the maiden name of my wife to write to the editor requesting some products. I did that and it was published. Then, I wrote another letter in my name, positioning myself as the specialist who could supply the equipment I had listed. I put the physical address of my office in the paper and it was published. The following day four rich businessmen who wanted the machines traced my office. Once they were assured that I could produce the machines, they paid money. It was their money that I used to open my First Bank account and open another shop. I was able to deliver the orders to their satisfaction. That opened more doors for me as those people spread good reports about me. I have never looked back since then. It occurred to me that you have to keep an open mind to receive ideas from God. One single idea can make all the difference in the pursuit of your vision.
Banker, former CBN Deputy Governor and Chairman, Titan Bank
DO MORE THAN YOU ARE PAID TO DO
The first lesson I learnt in my banking career is that if you must make a success of your endeavour from day one, you need to be different from others. I made up my mind that I would do more than I was paid to do. I saw a lot of my colleagues just putting in the minimum, just getting by. I refused to join the crowd. Interestingly, I was not bothered whether I was rewarded or not. My attitude was that even if my current employer did not reward me, I would have learnt some skills that I could employ to run my own business. I was doing my best, and I didn’t know that those little things were being watched. Ultimately, I made it to the top as I was made the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Wema Bank five years after joining the bank.
Leadership Coach and former CEO of Cadbury Plc
LIVE READY AND BE PREPARED AT ALL TIMES
First, in 2005, I planned to leave Cadbury at 55, which was in 2008. Second, I travelled abroad for a week and so was not present when all of the issues and press were going on in 2006. Third, the UK internal auditors conducted a comprehensive audit in July 2006. As with any audit, they made observations but nothing shattering. PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) brought in to audit did not speak to me or the Finance Director at all. They admitted this in the report which I only got to see about eight months after. That was handy when I later decided to sue, especially as efforts I made at an amicable resolution failed. It was also gratifying that the company’s public statements confirmed that money was not missing.
Naturally, I went through many emotions, but quickly decided I had to look ahead. Fortunately, I had long chosen a moderate lifestyle and was not a social bird. The first thing was to extend my stay abroad for several weeks and enrolled in French lessons to occupy myself. That gave me time to reflect on the next steps, including better managing my investments. Retirement is the outset of a new phase of life (something to look forward to), not the beginning of the end of life (something to be downcast about). It’s wonderful to be finally free of school fees. Remember that at 60, you are barely two-thirds of the way through your life. Keep pressing on no matter what, and as one gets older, keep mentally and physically active. Learn something new after you’re done with your career. George Eliot said: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” By the way, I would rather live by God’s statement in Genesis 6:3 that “…yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” than by what David said in Psalm 90:10 that “the days of our lives shall be seventy years ….”
Consultant and Boardroom guru
FOCUS ON THE LONG TERM
One of the things I learnt from Dick (Dick Kramer, his late boss and mentor) is to focus on the long term. Dick would always tell us that life is not a 100-metre dash, but a marathon. It is not how you started, but how you finished. So, in everything you do, think of the end. What that teaches you is having much patience, perseverance and doggedness. Once you are focused on your objectives and goals, even when all kinds of challenges come, that focus on your objective is what keeps you going. So, you are mission-driven, and that sets the agenda for all other things you do in life.
Again, something we learnt from Dick is that there is always a tradeoff between being an ‘inch wide and a mile deep’ and being a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’. It is a tradeoff between breadth and width. I chose depth.
Industrialist and elder statesman
DON’T BOTHER YOUR HEAD OVER WHO WILL SUCCEED YOU
As far as I am concerned, only God knows who will succeed who. A lot of us are worried about what will happen when we are no more. What you need is simply to make sure your business is set on the right principles and values. It is not your duty to determine who succeeds you. What if the person you have in mind is not interested, as I have experienced? What if he pretends to be interested, and as soon as you die, he squanders everything? All I can do is tell God to show them where their talents are for them to be successful in life. These are my thoughts and policy because only God knows tomorrow. He owns wealth and gives it to those to whom He wants to give it. All that you can do is just advise them and help them to live an honest life.
Industrialist and apostle in the marketplace
INTEGRITY HAS CASH VALUE
The nature of my business is contract based. You finish one project and you don’t know when the next one will come. That means at the time there is no contract; you would be paying salaries to people who are doing nothing. We prayed and the Lord answered our prayers.
There was an advert for a project. Every time we were putting in our bid, we laid the bid on the floor and prayed over it before submitting it. Seven contractors put in their bids, but we won. We were happy. There was however a big hurdle: according to the terms of the contract, we were to finance the project and be paid 15 days after delivery.
For me that was not a problem; I thought I could just go to the bank and raise the money. Unfortunately, that did not happen as all the banks we approached for a letter of credit refused, insisting that we must have our own cash or good collateral for a loan.
I was about to go back to the customer to tell them sorry, I couldn’t raise the funds to execute the project when the Holy Spirit told me to go to the manufacturers of the equipment abroad and tell them to manufacture them and ship them to me that I would pay them as soon as the customer paid. That didn’t sound possible, especially given the negative reputation of Nigeria and Nigerians. But as a last resort, I made the request and it was granted.
They did the manufacturing and delivered it to us and exactly 14 days after, the customer paid the full amount into our account.
I transferred the manufacturers’ money to them and since then we have been doing business together and they have never asked for a letter of credit.
That is integrity in business. Integrity is money. I have had instances where people started a business without money.
SAM OHUABUNWA: Consultant, industry leader and former CEO of Neimeth Plc
I have also discovered that to be on top of your finances, you have to get accustomed to budgeting. I budget for everything including the money I give out to charities and benevolence. If you do not budget your finances, you would get accustomed to spending on impulse and that is not the way that leads to wealth. Let me share my experience with budgeting, especially when it has to do with giving. A lot of people think they can just come to you and demand money. What I have learnt to do is to budget how much I want to give per time and once it is exhausted, anyone asking will have to wait till another time. In that way, I don’t allow people to put me under pressure.
Again, a long time ago, I decided I would be saving a portion of my income for each of my children and that has helped a lot in the sense that they were given a head start in life. When they started to grow up they already had something they could build on. They can decide to further their education with the money in their account. Budgeting is a form of control. It enables you to track how you are doing when it comes to money matters. For instance, when you budget for a particular type of expenditure for the month, it would make it possible for you to stick to the items. It does not mean you cannot exceed what you budgeted but budgeting allows you to stop and reflect and ask yourself questions. Why did I exceed my expenditure target? Was the item I spent it on really necessary? Could I have avoided spending the money? What can I do to avoid such next time? Without a budget, such questions would not arise.
I have also learned that managing money is as important as making it. If you can budget, you will realise that what you thought was not enough can accomplish much. I must warn however that it takes discipline to budget but it can be learnt.