BIGGEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES
I sent some of my researchers to ask 10 small-scale business entrepreneurs what they consider their biggest business challenges. Their target was entrepreneurs who had started and grown their business appreciably within the past 15 years. Of course, it meant their companies have at least 10 workers and a maximum of 100 workers. Geographical location was limited to West Africa and organisations handed down from parents were excluded.
The reports were quite interesting and deserving of further specialised studies but one thing stood out for me; lack of finance was not the topmost problem. I was stunned. We talk about funds so much and how lack of access to funds has crippled many businesses; however, the practitioners had other things that they felt were bigger challenges.
60% of the respondents, that is, six out of the 10 CEOs spoken with said their biggest challenge was getting a reliable workforce. They said that no matter how brilliant your ideas are and how thorough your plans are, if you don’t get quality and dependable manpower, your efforts would be in vain. I know about this. Many companies have come up and gone under in just a few months. Some of these organisations had amazing potential with brilliant and enterprising chief executives but somewhere along the line, they just fizzled out. Their demise was always blamed on poor management and these six CEOs have said that their greatest challenge in about 15 years of running their own companies is getting the right calibre of workers.
One is tempted to ask how manpower would be a problem when there are so many jobless graduates walking the streets, picking up menial jobs because the job market is ‘extremely’ saturated. I have seen televised documentaries about some graduates who are forced to take up jobs as commercial bus drivers, barbers, shop attendants etc. just because they have searched in vain for more befitting jobs. Most times, the tendency is to blame the government for not creating jobs or the entrepreneurs for not being thorough in their vetting of candidates at the hiring stage.
Let me introduce you to a young man named Jonah, an Economics graduate from the University of Ibadan. He made a second class upper result and went on to take a postgraduate course in Marketing in Ghana. He returned to Nigeria and the jobs that he thought would be chasing him were all taking a nap. After many months of various types of “we’ll get back to you” responses from hiring organisations, Jonah decided to do something radical. He went to a bookshop and asked the owner to give him books on credit to market for him at an agreed profit. The bookseller agreed.
I met Jonah selling books, inspirational books, DIY books, etc. He had taken time to read what the books were about so he was a sort of guide to potential buyers. He went to banks and other big organisations and sold those books because he knew that the workers there would easily pay for such books and he hoped that in the course of the sales, he could run into someone that would help him get a better job. It worked. Jonah was intelligent, amiable, and humble. He also seemed to have a resilient spirit. People liked him.
My secretary told me about Jonah and suggested that he might be just who we needed to fill a position in the marketing department of one of our subsidiaries. I invited Jonah in and had a chat with him. His story impressed me, and his qualifications were adequate too. When I told him the salary that went with the position, he practically shed tears. He was grateful for the opportunity and swore to do his best to push the performance of the department from 55 – 60% where it currently was to at least 80% within 100 days. His enthusiasm fired up my own optimism. I told him to bypass all protocols and report to me directly on what he needed to accomplish what he just promised.
He made his demands including a company car with a driver, accommodation in a certain part of the city (Lagos) and a very handsome inter-state travel allowance. I instructed the management of the organisation to meet all of Jonah’s demands. 100 days didn’t come with any jubilant news. I was patient. In six months though, sales had plummeted to 45 – 50% with great tendency to go further down. Jonah had travelled round Nigeria to ‘feel the pulse of the buyers’ and had run up a huge bill with his fat travelling allowance and astounding hotel bills. It was as if he was having a paid vacation touring all the cities of Nigeria with no appreciable improvement in the performance of the department. What he picked up though were all the reasons why sales was poor and could not improve. As it was, he had also managed, in just six months, to siphon almost half a million from the already ailing marketing account.
He is just one example of someone who seemed desperate to earn a living but got caught up in the tragedy of ‘here’s my chance to line my pocket’ that besieges workers.
So, 60% of the CEOs said their biggest challenge was the untrustworthiness of workers. Some criticized the level of graduates being churned out from schools; they said that many would hardly make intelligible conversations for 10 minutes and quite a number didn’t seem to have any appreciable knowledge of the courses they claimed to have majored in. They said the brilliant ones are always on the move; for a ten thousand naira increase, they can switch jobs with zero concern. One of the CEOs said that he had paid more attention to blocking avenues of fraud in his organisation than to the development of his brand. “Block one avenue and they chart another one, bring in new workers and the same pattern is repeated,” he lamented.
There were several cases. One of the entrepreneurs said that she had empowered her COO, sending him on overseas trainings and conferences to brush up his skills and just when she felt she could rely on him, he resigned along with half of her staff to start a similar business just a street away from hers. Of course, it is nobody’s guess that he also stole a number of clients. There were several tales of woes about disloyalty and professional misconduct. One of the respondents summed it up by saying “every entrepreneur prays for staff that would buy into his vision and run with his ideas. That is the only way that a micro organisation grows into a small scale or medium scale organisation. It gets very laborious when you are working at counter purpose with your staff – you to grow the brand and make it beneficial to all and them to pull it down and share the carcass.”
Quite a sad tale!!
In the next publication, I will share the other challenges and how an entrepreneur can surmount them.
Fatherhood with Ibe
CHECK THAT BAD HABIT NOW
Have you ever been in a situation where a child misbehaves so massively in the presence of his/her parents that even you the onlooker are embarrassed? I am a father and for years I have shared stories about the lives of my children and my role in them. I mostly write about the things that caught my attention, mainly for entertainment and hopefully so that any of my readers may learn something from my mistakes or my good judgements. One thing that I can’t understand is how African parents reach the point where their children shout at them and humiliate them in public. How did you get here, I feel like asking the parents. How did you get to the point where the adolescent child is so bold and irresponsible that they can behave as if you don’t exist and you condone it?
This one happened recently.
One lady who we called ‘aunty’ had lived with us growing up and she was as formidable as they came. If you misbehaved in her presence, there was no ‘wait till your father returns’ in her case; she would dish out punishment there and then. Everyone behaved responsibly when she was around. Aunty got married and left our house but remained in touch. Her children as expected were well-behaved and were almost like family to me and my siblings. Aunty’s husband died recently and her entire family came around for the burial and that is how the drama started.
Her second daughter Ufoma came back from America with her husband and three children – a daughter and two sons. I don’t recall seeing the girl and the older son because they stayed in the hotel throughout and did not care to join the rest of the family. Well, one could understand that. The younger son who couldn’t be more than 15 years old showed up. He smiled politely at people as they introduced themselves to him. I noticed that his parents were looking apprehensive as the introductions were going on. Soon, the main discussions about the burial started. The young lad picked a can of beer from the drinks that were on the table, opened it and took a mouthful. There was a momentary silence.
“Arthur! The drinks are not for you!” Ufoma remonstrated at her son.
“Who are they for?” The unperturbed Arthur asked as he picked up a spare can and walked to his seat. Ufoma was clearly embarrassed. She apologised to everyone and told us that kids start drinking beer quite early in America!
Really? I thought to myself. Everyone muttered something to the effect that seeing a young lad walk into a meeting of elders and pick up two cans of beer was no big deal. The meeting continued and then the smell of cigarette gradually filled the room. It was young Arthur again! He was enjoying his beer with a stick of cigarette.
“He smokes too?” Aunty asked her daughter. Ufoma’s husband called out to his son to go outside if he wanted to smoke. The boy didn’t even turn a hair. The man stood up, walked to his son and tapped him on the shoulder. Before he could say a word, his son stood up and glared at him.
“You lay your filthy hand once more on my body you son of a b***h and I will extinguish this cigarette in your remaining eye.”
Re …re what? It was then that I realised that indeed the man had one bad eye. Could it be that his son had a hand in the story behind the eye issue?
The one that got me totally baffled was that Ufoma just stood up, pulled her husband back to his seat and tried to restart the conversation as if nothing happened. Just like that? Were we all going to be taken hostage by a 15 year old and forced to inhale his smoke? We were all embarrassed and possibly, if the others were like me, looking for a way to end the meeting. But, Aunty though in her eighties was still the woman I knew her to be.
“I can’t believe what I am seeing? Ufoma, is this how you have raised your children? They have no respect for you or any other person for that matter.”
“He is not always like this. I think it is the jet lag.” Ufoma explained lamely.
“You have ruined his life. If neither you nor your husband can caution your children, you have failed woefully as parents.”
Aunty was not through yet. She turned to the young boy who was still puffing away.
“You! Arthur! Go outside and extinguish that cigarette; nobody smokes in my house.”
“Come and make me!” Arthur said to his grandmother and blew a smoke towards her.
Before Arthur reached that level of recklessness, he must have started with little traits like throwing tantrums and feeling entitled and his parents may have overlooked them. Perhaps he would talk trash about his older ones and it would go unchecked. It could even be disappointment in some decisions that his parents took that had pushed him into such unruliness.
Nobody wants to be around a badly behaved child. There is no need to wait until things get out of hand, check that bad habit now. Correct with love and make sure the child understands what he did wrong and the impact it would have if unchecked.