In his book, The Business Angel as a Missionary, Prof. Pat Utomi gave details on his “evangelical” stewardship in the Nigerian business terrain; his efforts at promoting social good through entrepreneurship and management education. In the book, he made it clear that contrary to the pervasive drive for material acquisition which underlies most capitalist pursuits, his big, audacious goals were driven more by an altruistic commitment to social welfare rather than personal enrichment. His commitment and those of many like him have yielded Africa’s premier management learning organisation – the Pan African University.
I have, in previous essays, noted that his life has in many ways engendered my own commitment to the development of men and women in the marketplace, whose primary motivations are driven more from long–term social good, rather than the immediate bottom line.It is a path that I have, in my own little journey so far, found to be very educating with numerous challenges. It is easy to understand why this path is not appealing to many; hence the aim of this article is not to disparage those to whom it would be an anomaly but to embolden those to whom such has earlier occurred.
Recently, in a speech to a group of NYSC members who had just arrived the city of Lagos to undertake the mandatory one year service to motherland, I had cause to share with them my reflections on similar chains of thoughts which I seek to describe and expand below.
Solving Nigeria’s biggest problem
Our unemployment statistics is no longer news.We know the figures.What I believe we are too quick to miss are the implications of the status quo and our current disposition. For one, more than 70 per cent of our population are young people who naturally constitute the greater bulk of the unemployment data. Of this population, employers believe that a lot of them are not employable.
Our problem is more of a human capital problem than anything else. By human capital I refer to human capital management and development.In spite of our peculiar challenges, a lot of organisations in Nigeria would do a thousand times better if their leaders had a more capable followership.
According to a study by an indigenous consultancy firm, Conceptual Strategy Limited, the following constitute the critical skill-set required by employers in the global marketplace.
- Business communication skills – Employers know there is a big problem when they have to write every letter and review every corporate communication from their organisations. When the CEO has to draft every concept note himself, the centre is not exactly holding. This skill-set includes achieving structure in thinking and writing; knowledge of Basic Englishand the ability to write concept notes, proposals and project/business plans.
- Analytical skills – Seeing the big picture is essential here.The ability to put two and two together is not necessarily an inherent trait; it is a product of consistent use of the analytical part of our brains. The “cram and pour” education system in Nigeria has succeeded in dulling the greater majority of her products; students no longer read to understand. Analysis is impossible when understanding is lacking.
- Strategic thinking, problem solving and value creation – This is a product of the interplay between technical, conceptual and analytical skills. In Nigeria, the greater majority of employees have just the technical skills – i.e., sufficient skill-set to get the designated job done (as written in the job description). The problem with this is that, in a knowledge economy, the job description is not constant, it is a moving target.
- Office tools – This, essentially, is the ability to use MS-Word, MS-Excel, MS-PowerPoint, MS-Access and MS-Outlook.
- Leadership and organisational skills–Organisations are as big as the number of good leaders they have and not in the size of their captain-leader. An organisation with ten good middle level leaders and an average captain-leader will always outperform one with one very good captain- leader but mediocre middle level leadership.
The international dimension
From the above, it is evident that we do not have sufficient human capacity for our present challenges. The situation looks even grimmer when we consider the effects of global competition. It is not just that we are losing our best brains to Europe and North America; our import-driven economy is helping sustain a culture of consumerism that does not encourage the development of the enumerated skill-set.
A case study of the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry points out the obvious – greater than 90 per cent of our workforces are salesmen.Not that there is anything wrong with sales, but we are made of more.Even the Pharmacy curriculum did not fathom that the demand for our skills would be so skewed in the sales direction. Also, there is always the threat of foreign competition when our manufacturing sector is non-competitive.
The challenge therefore is to expedite human capacity development andcreate a demand for such development in such a way that could be self-sustaining with the government providing the necessary catalysts for favouring the forward direction of such a chemical reaction.It is a challenge that only business leaders – bishops – can make happen.
The role of bishops
A bishop, by definition, is an overseer, a leader. Bishops play critical roles in religious settings, in academic settings and in political arenas. In this context, however, I wish to limit the definition of bishops to that of business leaders. To me, the role of business leaders in the development of societies is one of the most crucial roles in any society, particularly in capitalist societies like ours.
Business leaders play the following functions:
- They win and administer the contracts that comprise the majority of the government’s budget.
- They administer the pooled resources of the society – the insurance, pension funds and savings of the public and the government in banks are all managed by bishops.
- They manage the resources of the government, e.g. oil wells, firms, etc.
- They employ the greater majority of the society directly or indirectly.
- They directly and indirectly influence the quality and quantity of the food on the table of the society in the form of wages and salary.
- They influence the election of the personnel into government positions.
- They are lobbied by government to bring in investment and drive economic growth.
- They lead efforts in the creation of new products and services and determine the level ofindustrialisation of the nation.
- They are great leaders and are often paid premiums for administering the funds of the nation.
The role of bishops in the society is a noble one.They are critical to the advancement of the public good and their focus on profit maximisation or national development would make or mar any civilization. Their commitment to reversing the human capital trends in Nigeria is going to be the critical factor in our quest for national renewal and survival.
Business leaders are more equipped to engage the ruling elite than the mass of the population put together.They are articulate enough to fashion win-win situations for advancing the cause of the Nigerian nation and, much more than labour, they are in the best position to make governments move in a particular direction.
In essence, the problems of the Nigerian polity as it is presently constituted are mainly because business leaders do not know that they are the ones that will change things and partly because of pervasive selfishness.
In the pharmaceutical industry, if we keep waiting for the day the Nigerian government will form the Nigeria Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council, for example, we might wait forever. A cohesive strategic thrust between business leaders in the pharmaceutical industry will achieve a lot more than any single government intervention, much more when such government interventions are at the impulse of business leaders.
This, however, is not to say that our business leaders are not thinking and acting in this light. I know they are; what is being canvassed is the nobility and urgency of our task.
A particular biblical reference in 1 Timothy 3:1 reads, “He that desires the office of a bishop desires a noble task.” I have found that passage particularly enlightening as it emphasises the power of a noble desire.The rest of the passage outlines the characteristics of a bishop, which, essentially, is that he should be someone able and worthy of influence; the individual should be able to build up the people under his headship so that they can attain to greater heights. This deliberate commitment to capacity development is pretty scarce.
I suggest that firms develop internship positions that are focused on giving management experience to personnel that desire to gain such at the pay they can afford. From my experience, I know that there are many young people who know that such exposure is their only passport to demonstrating their unique contributions to national development.
The bishopric of some of Nigerian business leaders is such that doesn’t bring the level of guts required to take Nigeria out of her current quagmire.It is as if we are all in it for ourselves. As shown above in the roles of bishops, the effects are far-reaching.
Capitalism, as it is presently defined – the maximisation of shareholder’s wealth – is often tilted to the wealth part rather than the shareholder part. We often forget that, as long as we maintain our market share, the growth of the society will reflect in the growth of our private economies.
In Nigeria, the greatest shareholder is the society, whose collective wealth bishops are directly and indirectly supervising.Their actions and inactions would, to a large extent, determine the nature of the nation at the end of the day.We saw such in the banking industry – a few greedy individuals, by their actions, squandered the collective commonwealth of some of us.
Noble is not necessarily easy
Now, nobility is not necessarily easy, at least in Africa. The path to industrialisation for Nigeria would mean going against global expectations; it would mean renegotiating the terms of our partnerships and suffering the punishments that would come from our “late enlightenment”.Yet it is the only path we can take to escape being the perpetual recipients of global pity parties as is presently witnessed by our siblings in Liberia and Sierra Leone. To do that we must tell ourselves the truth – that our biggest asset is our people and that to be a bishop is much more than a survival engagement or a wealth club – it is a noble calling that reckons with God and man.