To mark his 70th birthday, corporate strategist and boardroom guru, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa will be presenting his latest book at a virtual book launch tomorrow. I had the privilege of getting an advance copy.
Oh, what a book! Not since I read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography have I read a book so rich in business, management and leadership lessons. Ohuabunwa’s book is titled WIRED TO LEAD—Life from many years of organizational leadership. It’s a small book of 213 pages but mighty with experiential wisdom of a man who has lived a full life in corporate Nigeria as a manager, marketer, salesman, CEO and Chairman. All his experiences in the corporate world has been packaged into this compact book and “wired” to us as a teaching book for anyone who wants to learn business management. The book is written in a captivating style. It is divided into 21 short easy-to-read chapters. At the end of every chapter is a personal case study or “testimony” which is a blend of success and failures. I enjoy stories of failures because of what they teach. Ohuabunwa writes: “I have been involved in starting several companies and businesses…a number of those business failed essentially due to little or inappropriate planning.”
From investing in mining and energy drink and transport business, Ohuabunwa has had his fingers burnt. On energy drinks, he writes: “I personally got sucked into the project because of the apparent popularity of energy drinks. We invested nearly one hundred million naira in a massive importation of our brand of the products. When the goods arrived, we rolled the brand into the market. I was shocked when we received very cold reception in the market. After weeks of poor sales, I decided to find out what was going on. First, I was shocked that the energy drinks market was saturated. There were actually 22 brands in the market!
“I have had quite a lot of experience in leaping before looking in business and consequently burnt my fingers and learnt my lessons,” he laments. “Now, I cannot get into any investment or business without a detailed feasibility study, detailed business planning, full SWOT analysis and detailed validation of the planning with prototypes, mocks or test runs. As a result, I am no longer losing money in most of my businesses.”
Another story I found amusing was when he invested his brother’s money, a younger brother living in America who had sent down a big amount of dollars which Ohuabunwa invested in inter-city transport business, trusting a sweet-talking man called KOS but who turned out a total disaster after the six new L-300 Mitsubishi buses all ended in business failure. He writes: “I need not tell you of all the excuses he made and all the battles we had to fight in the over two years the partnership lasted. When I could no longer stand his shenanigans, I asked him to park the vehicles so I could sell them off and see how much could be salvaged to return my brother’s money. On hearing this, KOS quickly transformed the two additional vehicles bought for the business into his own, and left the six old ones for me. Out of the six, three were in good condition; two were “accidented”, while one was in police custody. The case ended up in court and it took more than six years to bring it to a closure. The court asked him to return the two buses, as they did not belong to him. He never did till date, and even if he had, they probably would have been of no value. Eventually, I had to find money to pay back the loan and the accumulated interest to my younger brother. I also paid the legal expenses and licked my wounds. Incidentally, it was while the case was on that I began to hear the true stories about this guy. He had been involved in similar incidents and was a regular face in the courts.”
There was also a case of a driver he employed without background check and it “turned out that the guy was an ex-convict and had changed his name after release so that he could get a job. His job was eventually terminated, but that was after he caused me much pain.”
One chapter I found most interesting is titled: “Don’t assume…negotiate everything.” Here, Ohuabunwa reveals that there were flaws in the Management Buy Out (MBO) of the 60 percent Pfizer shares in Nigeria, which they bought, giving birth to Neimeth. “Unfortunately, soon after we began to operate the agreements, we found that we were literally working for Pfizer (a classic demonstration of the ‘baboon dey work, monkey dey chop’ Nigerian analogy). When the load became unbearable, I went to Pfizer headquarters in New York to complain and to my utmost surprise the officials in New York claimed ignorance of the mostly one-sided agreements, blaming the AFME team. Nevertheless, following my remonstrations, they gave us some reliefs. They reduced the billing prices for the raw materials, as well as reducing the royalty rate from 5 per cent to 3 per cent, and so on.
“So, why did we allow such unfair (in our view) agreements, in the first place? Were we naïve? Perhaps, yes. Could we negotiate? Not exactly so. The truth was that we had thought it was a relationship between ‘father’ and ‘son’. We had not applied to buy the company; it was Pfizer that had the decision and, being our ‘father’, we had nursed the misplaced belief that they would structure the deal in our favour, at least, not against us. As it turned out Pfizer Inc. was just a business partner and since we franchised our right to negotiate to them in the forlorn belief that they would protect our interest, they naturally protected their own interest first, leaving us with the short end of the stick. Of course, when we woke up from our slumber and protested, they gave some reliefs, though a little too late, as much hemorrhaging had happened. This is not to put Pfizer Inc. in a bad light. Many other multinational companies or even local companies might have done the same—that is, take advantage of a weak negotiator. If I knew what I know now then, we certainly could have gotten a much better deal.”
This book is a masterpiece! Trust me. Buy it!