Thursday, 15 September 2016

4 Crazy but Effective Lessons Learned from Seasoned Entrepreneurs

By Dipo Tepede

I take business as a game; nothing personal. It is a game that has rules, goals and time restrictions. If you follow the rules accompanied with the right skill, you will excel. 

My work experiences played a big part in the way I conduct my business. I am fortunate to have worked both in Access Bank and Globacom because I have learnt from the gurus that run these great institutions. 

I realize early that there is a different skill called "business" different from a chosen vocation. Just because you have 15 years experience working as a doctor in a hospital does not automatically mean you can run a successful hospital of your own. This misconception of technical aptitude replacing business acumen has failed professionals quitting their jobs for business.

The standard perspective suggests that 80% of businesses would fail within 5 years; this statistics should hinder "wanna be" self-employed because business is definitely not easy to manage not to talk of start-up. The guys that have bootstrap their way to the top echelon of business have been unusual dreamers, non-conformist and out of this world individuals and they make up 1% of the world's population. Do you think you fall into this category? I have discouraged every single person that has asked my advice on resignation to start a business. Why you may ask? Simple, you do not need confirmation from me to do what you have to do. Remember the word "non-conformist".

I am of the school of thought that business cannot be taught formerly except through induction (learning from those who are taking real time business decision and are succeeding) not through textbook and listening to professors who may not have practically started a business of their own. 

The whole essence of MBA and other major business degrees is to cultivate the right business language and manage other people’s business. There are so many skills you will learn from working with real life entrepreneurs that you will never get from the pages of textbooks. 

Mohammed Yunus defied banking standard and operation modus by establishing the first bank for the poor known as Grameen Bank, which became the richest and the most popular bank in Bangladesh. Yunus - a former professor and head of Economics in Chittagong University, admits there was not textbook knowledge that could have supported his practicing economics.

Having the above argument in view, one would realize that internship with a successful entrepreneur is priceless so is my experience with Access Bank and Globacom. 

Most of the lessons here may sound crazy, inhuman and may even surprise you but these are principles adhered to by those that have succeeded in this obviously difficult path. 

My first encounter with these lessons was a struggle of acceptance but time proved these lessons to bring results above contrary opinions. Seat tight; let me take you through my journey with Aigboje Aig Imokhoude (Aig) –  Former M.D. Access Bank PLC and Otunba Chief Mike Adenuga - Owner and founder of Conoil Producing Limited, Globacom Limited and the majority share holder and Chairman of Conoil PLC:

LESSON 1: Team Work Attitude: I learnt this lesson on my first day as an employee with Access Bank at an inaugural meeting held in the headquarters conference room. Aig was all suited up in the normal banking attire facing 20 newly employed interns. His story on team work was easily articulated: if you want to take a canoe through a river from point A to point B and you are 4 guys inside the canoe taking turns to row the boat. On reaching the middle of the journey, you realized that one of the member of the crew was very sick and throwing up. Aig looked at us and asked; "what do you think the other crew members should do?"

There was a huge silence hanging in the air and almost everybody muttered heroic answers but Aig looked at us and said;

"If you want to be in business, you must carry the sick member and toss him inside the water to drown".

This definitely was a shock to everybody but with time I have come to terms with his reasoning after seeing the bible interpretations; if your eyes or hands cause you to sin, pluck them out or cut them off for the hands. Jesus on making us understand the importance of fruitfulness in John 15 literarily said if you are not fruitful, I would cut you off. This is definitely the principle behind effective teamwork and I have learnt from personal experience the importance of this particular principle; how toxic individuals can kill your fruitfulness and how sentimentally attaching yourself with energy sapping individuals can demean your strategic success.

LESSON 2: The Conscience Flip: In the same meeting while trying to advice the newly employed interns; he came up with another lesson that has given me tremendous success in my career and life. Aig said when you intend to do something and you have a conscience flip (you have a second thought about the intended action), the intended action is most likely wrong.

He gave an example of a guy who was part of the management team who has a cousin who supplied paper to the bank and there was a top management meeting about choosing a preferred paper supply.

Though the guy would not have violated the company's policy if he did not tell them the supplier was his cousin. It would definitely have been morally wrong for him not to do so and if the management found out his cousin was part of the suppliers they were deciding on without knowing it, they would definitely feel betrayed.

This is because in the process of selection, they would have said nasty things about one supplier or the other. It is possible that this guy in the management team may have had a conscience flip but because he was not going against the bank's policy, he may have felt the need to keep it quiet. The bible puts it this way; "all things are lawful but not all things are expedient."

LESSON 3: Blood Relations in Business: 3 days after I was employed in Globacom, I was having training with 5 other newly employed colleagues. The 6 of us have been bonding with each other and happily having our training when one of us was called to visit the Human Resources (HR) Department. She walked back into the training room after the visit to HR, took her bag and walked away from our lives; she was SACKED!

You could imagine the presumption, the tension and the curiosity that filled the training room. She called me that night and was surprised to be sacked herself and told me something she had never discussed with me before. She told me she was the first cousin of Mike Adenuga and she never knew until the day of her interview with Mike Adenuga.

She had mentioned her name in the interview and Adenuga inquired if she was the daughter of the uncle. She was shocked that Adenuga knew her father and mother and confirmed it. Adenuga told everybody in the room that the lady was her first cousin. She was offered the employment and 3 days after, it was taken back from her. 

We were summoned to one of the Director's office the next day and were told by the director that Chairman does not employ his blood relative. This was very surprising to me and wondered why someone would do such a thing. The director said it was simply business. I have over the years pondered on this action; why sack someone because he/she is your blood relative? This decision sounded outrageous then but I realized after some time the wisdom behind such decisions on a personal level. The bible puts it this way; Jesus admonishing his disciples by saying you must leave all relatives if you intend on following him so is business; you must leave all relatives out of it if you want a successful business.

LESSON 4: Managing Receivables: While working in the International Gateway arm of Globacom, I learnt the importance of proper management of receivables. Ordinarily, receivables are very important to any business-to-business operation but without proper management of receivable, you could run on a very heavy loss. You will learn first hand the time value of money. Our unit at Gateway broke all standards concerning receivable collection after losing close to 2 million dollars owing to improper management of receivable.

Almost all businesses go down due to improper management of receivables. I have learned first-hand from Adenuga on his stands on receivable; for approval into any receivable, a bank guarantee must be put in place or no business would be done.

If I had not witness this loss first-hand, I may not have consciously taken it seriously. I implement strong receivable management system in all my business and most people I deal with especially friends are not happy with it. I realized that most people prefer to hold on to receivables for too long causing a total stand still in cash flow. It's quite unfortunate that friends are not happy with me due to my stands on receivables but I have personally seen businesses go down because of inefficient receivable collection.

Those are the 4 crucial lessons I received from these gurus and if you have been in business for a period of time, you will definitely identify the wisdom associated with them. Despite numerous lessons churned out by these gurus, I have isolated these 4 lessons as critical to business maintenance and growth. What do you think about these lessons?

Dipo Tepede is an experienced Process and Project Management Coach and Consultant.
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