Subomi Profile picture
Jul 22, 2018 16 tweets 3 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
THE OLD MAN'S TALE: I met the old man at a presentation. I was a brand consultant on a large corporate project. The client insisted I sit on a panel to select marketing agencies. The gentleman; old enough to be my father, represented an agency in #Nigeria. #HR #Entrepreneurship
As he stepped in for the presentation, I saw the expression of the young 20-something year olds on the client's side. They were bright eyed top shots from Ivy League Universities. They were recruited to revitalise the DNA of the decades old institution.
I heard the hushed sniggers as they wondered what this "old papa" was doing there. Didn't he have staff capable of running through a PowerPoint?
Afterwards, I spent some time with the gentleman. I thanked him for honouring us with his presence, but remarked that I'd have expected him to show up at the next stage when companies would present to the Board. I saw a flash of pain shoot across his face as he told me his story.
He had been one of the trailblazers in his industry; painstakingly building a company from scratch for over 30 years. Unfortunately, he came from the school of thought where staff were not to be trusted. So, he withheld responsibility from them.
Staff couldn't sign checks without his endorsement. They couldn't prepare proposals without his input. When he traveled, work almost ground to a halt, as his staff couldn't make promises to clients in his absence.
The company founder never built structures & the company purse became an extension of his bank account. Staff soon got wise & began to use the organisation for their private ends too. They collected kickbacks and misstated invoices. This made him even more paranoid about control.
The brilliant ones among them, soon left to work for competitiors after he had trained them. In response, he stopped sending his staff for training abroad.
A decade ago, he recognised his folly and tried to change. He brought in new staff. But, he found it difficult to relate to the younger generation. They didn't seem to think like he did nor relate to some of the good values he tried to instill.
For instance, he found some really intelligent managers. But while they were proficient at work, they didn't appreciate the finer points of business politics.
His managers would go for meetings, but wouldn't spend extra minutes talking about current affairs or enquiring about the families of those they were meeting. They didn't forge social connections.
They weren't interested in taking up the company's offer to help them join social clubs and rarely took clients out to lunch.
They didn't study the power dynamics in companies and government institutions, to see who could be a useful ally or font of information - sometimes the receptionist, other times an Executive Director.
Now he was tired, he said. He didn't expect the company to live on for a long time, after him. His sons had already made it clear they wouldn't return to Nigeria after their Master's Degrees abroad.
His only goal now was to help as many young managers as possible, to learn from his mistakes. He may write a book or two. He would also work for a few more years to ensure his wife never suffered if he died before her.
I withdrew from the discussion, sober. I thought about how paradigms shaped the different facets of our lives - business, relationships, governance & religion. I wondered how many of us are able to bounce back from our mistakes to forge new paths. Our legacy may well depend on it

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