Yesterday, May 23, I was at Teslim Balogun Stadium to represent my CEO, Segun Ogunsanya, at a Lagos State Youth Leadership Programme organised by the Lagos State Youth Parliament under the auspices of the Lagos State Ministry of Youths and Social Development ably led by Mrs. Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf, the Honorable Commissioner. It was one of the more sensible activities to mark the golden jubilee of Lagos State.
I also represented myself, in a way-because my boss asked me to go and present his tips on how to manage small enterprises successfully. Knowing him, I was not unmindful of the fact that he knew I would tell the youths my Ethelberts story in driving home the points he asked me to make. And that's exactly what I did.
If the youths were fascinated by the humble story of how and why we established Ethelberts and how much value we have created for both our customers and our employees, they were blown away by the handy, simple, useful tips Segun graciously asked me to pass on to them. By the way, Segun (at 50) has been CEO over the past 20 years-so he sure knows what he's talking about having become a leader of big businesses (CEO of Coca Cola Ghana ) at 30!
His 10 tips:
1. Don't make your business all about money. Whereas people go into business to make money, having a purpose and mission should be the main focus in building a business that will last.
2. Look after your staff but never accept mediocrity. Consequence management will reward good guys and not poor performance.
3. Stick to what you're good at (your core competencies) and hire people who can work on other parts of the business -in accord with your vision.
4. Accept that you're not perfect (in actual fact no one is!)and continue to seek self-improvement-via training, reading, mentors.
5. Start a rainy-day fund in case things go wrong. Never eat with 10 fingers, as they say. This will take pressure off you.
6. Do not diversify into areas of no competence or diversify for diversifying sake. Stay your lane. Invest more in your business than in new businesses.
7. Work harder and not just smartly. Building a business takes hard work.
8. Stay focused on the micro. We can't control what happens at the macro. Don't ignore business news but don't let the doom and gloom in the news dissuade you. After all, people must wear clothes-and make calls!
9. Go beyond the call of duty. Social investment earns good image. Go the extra mile for your employees. A health insurance scheme for tailors will make it hard to lose them to poachers.
10.Never stop improving. The Principle of Continuous Improvement assumes you cannot rest on your laurels!
Then, I offered two additional tips:
1. Get social: Social media is the market. Facebook is the largest "country" after China! Also, get off the keyboard and meet people-mentors, fellow entrepreneurs and policy-makers, and friends (to relax).
2.Defer Gratification: This is great lesson I learnt from reading The Jewish Phenomenon. You don't start living a life of luxury when you've not built and grown a lasting business. The Rolex, Mansions and expensive cars can wait a bit.
From the applause I received after, I believe the youths were blessed by my presence. And I hope this blesses you too.
Emeka Oparah is the Vice President,
Corporate Communications & CSR
at Airtel Nigeria