Still in a great mood from the UBA Red Tv rave over the weekend, I spent my Monday with five outstanding young men and women – Daniel, Ifenlota, Francess, Olaoluwa and Nnamdi from the United Bank for Africa. I’d like to think of them as part of the next generation of young leaders at the bank.
Throughout our informal session and our open conversation over lunch, I listened to them talk about themselves, their families, their careers and ambitions, and some of their concerns as young people in today’s Nigeria. We spoke about work, the economy, their futures and even migration overseas! Lol. It was so much fun to share stories and trade perspectives with them, while gaining insights and useful suggestions from their experiences working with us. In order to build to last, an organisation must cultivate systems and feedback mechanisms to encourage this type of dialogue. Open, frank discussions to listen, learn, inform, engage and educate.
As I answered their questions around my childhood, my days as a young banker, the merger experience between STB and UBA, and how I balance work, family, faith, exercise and my love-hate relationship with food (lol), I recognised in their eager faces myself thirty years ago, keen on beginning my career and buying my very first car. That familiar streak of ambition and passion to succeed against all odds. Spending this time with these young ones is always worth it. Leaders who do not do so are failing in Leadership 101.
At lunch with five outstanding UBA professionals: Olaoluwa Rufai, Ifenlota Onyemeh, Frances Odiegbo, Daniel Chima, Nnamdi Chinasaokwu
I thought to share a few points from our interaction, particularly useful tips for other young professional hungry for success:
Starting out right:
Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur, or you prefer to climb the corporate ladder, the importance of structure and working in a structured environment cannot be overestimated. It helps to cultivate discipline which is directly correlated with your productivity and ability to produce results. While the corporate structure is beneficial in helping to instil certain work ethics, your work environment should be one that is conducive for learning, growth and opportunity. The best organisations for young people are those who recruit objectively and transparently (not based on who you know or who put in a phone call), train and capacitise young professionals, place round pegs in round holes, i.e. deploy talent to where it is best suited, give people access to the right tools to execute their tasks, keep them challenged, measure and appraise staff fairly, and finally, reward and commend results and sanction failures. Any organisation that follows this merit-driven chain will give you a great career start.
As a leader at the highest level, I often worry about hiring the right people, the induction process – and whether it is comprehensive enough, and training and development mechanisms across Associated companies, but meeting and interacting with these five young people, I am proud of the job that the UBA GMD, Kennedy Uzoka, and his HR team led by Group Head, Patricia Aderibigbe have done – the recruitment certainly identified some of Nigeria’s brightest talent, and the deployment and job posting was spot on except for one who could have been better placed in my opinion. I commend the UBA leadership for paying attention to the career progression of its young people and making sure that the next generation are being focused on and prioritised.
Your dreams are valid:
Your aspirations and yearnings are normal. As a young analyst, I still remember my own feelings of anxiety — itching to know when I would rise through the corporate ranks and finally earn my first N100,000. It’s okay to want more. But you must remember that you must deserve more to desire more. You must put in the hours, the long nights, the sacrifice, and the diligence. While it is okay to yearn for more, you must work hard enough to earn the promotion, the pay rise, the title change, the salary increases etc. Have a clear picture of the destination you desire but instead of letting frustration set in, let those desires become the fuel that drives you to attain your goals. In a merit-driven system, people are rewarded for their hard-earned results, and leaders never take credit for the work of their subordinates. You will rise according to your productivity, advance in your career, and be exposed to even more responsibilities. As you climb the ladder, remember that you owe it to those coming after you to train, teach and inspire them as well.
Strive to be the best version of yourself:
The best spent money is that which is spent on your self-improvement. With the rising digitization in today’s world and the ubiquity of the internet, ignorance is no longer acceptable. Your generation has unhindered access to quality information, much more than those before you, so you should take advantage of it and develop yourself. Read, learn, feed your intellect, and strive to expand the horizons of your mind. Learning is a long-term investment, and it never stops rewarding. I like to hear about leaders who walk this talk, and unsurprisingly, whose intellect and boundless knowledge fascinate their team members. For instance, the case of Muyiwa Akinyemi, one of our pillars at UBA. One of the young staff from yesterday, Nnamdi, works with Muyiwa. When I asked about his manager, his face lit up as he exclaimed “Muyiwa!”. Muyiwa recently won an excellence award at this year’s UBA CEO Awards, so I was interested in hearing more. I commented that I had heard stories of Muyiwa likened to being an athlete on steroids, and before I could complete my sentence, Nnamdi chimed in, “steroids!”. The room burst into laughter as he continued, “Muyiwa is amazing. I have learned so much working with him in such a short time. He has taught me everything I know in corporate banking so far. He is a motivator and eager to train us. The breadth of his knowledge and his skillset continue to inspire me.” This is leadership. This is staying true to your craft and becoming the best version of yourself.
The People Factor:
One question I’m often asked is how we got it right at UBA post the merger. And my response remains that we managed our people well. The people issue is extremely important and as Leadership 101 dictates, if you hire the right people in an organisation, they will fire the organisation on to scale all targets. In the same way, prioritise the people you work with. Never take others for granted. Nurture your relationships. I was fortunate in my career to have a network of people who identified my potential early on and created the right pipeline of opportunities for my growth. In the same way, as you start out in your career, build your relationships, seek to learn, don’t be afraid to understudy the experts, reach out to potential mentors and learn from them. I shared with them how a former manager once wrote in my appraisal, “Tony can walk on waters”. Till this date, I have not and will never forget this. He wrote this because he recognised my interest in learning and getting things done. Develop these relationships with managers and mentors while leveraging them as a spring board for more opportunities. At the same time, don’t neglect your peers. Needless rivalry, cliques, office gang-ups and gossip in the workplace do not benefit anybody. Stay away from these distractions.
On leaving Nigeria for overseas pastures….
You don’t have to check out, to travel out of the country to become successful. I hear of many young people traveling abroad as a way to escape the economic challenges. What I often say to them is that yes, challenges are real on the continent, but so are the opportunities. Of course, I did not always think so. As a young teenager, I also wanted to ‘checkout’ to America in pursuit of what was sold to us as the better life. Luckily for me, but unluckily for me at the time, my parents could not afford it. That seeming lack of opportunity opened me up to a future in Africa that I could not have had anywhere else. This is not to say there is anything wrong with aspiring to live abroad or relocating for studies, but never forget that there are immense opportunities available to you right here on the continent. If someone like me, from an ordinary background could make it, what makes you think you can’t?
L-R: Ifenlota Onyemeh, Nnamdi Chinasaokwu, Tony O. Elumelu, Frances Odiegbo, Daniel Chima, Ifeoluwa Rufai
Final words… It is all about balance
While it is true that you can have it all – a thriving career, robust relationships, a sense of purpose, a rewarding career etc. – you may not have it all at the same time. Life comes in phases and seasons. As a young professional, this is your season to sow. This is the time to toil to build the right foundation. This is the hour to learn voraciously, to work hard and gain all the experience that you can. This is the time to put in the work! Reaping and harvesting will come at a later time. Some others may call it balance, I call it prioritisation. Doing things step by step, because indeed there is a time for everything. Sequence things well. What is most important to you at this time?
However, your health should remain a constant priority, and any respectable workplace will give you time to refresh and recuperate.
Good luck in your career sojourn!!