We had the honour of interviewing Former CEO of MTN Nigeria, Business Advisor and CEO of Africa Context Consulting, Micheal Ikpoki, in between his classes in March.
This video summarises Michael’s superb insights on some of the important nuances of doing business in Africa, gives excellent advice for rising leaders on the cusp of entering the “C-suite” and provides some context on why he chose to teach at ALU School of Business.
What is the key to doing business in Africa, that most people overlook?
“Actions from the regulator and government are the biggest risk to any business, bigger than the risk of market actions…we are all trained to deal with the competition but as leaders we are not well-equipped to deal with others issues in the external environment, namely government and regulatory issues”.
What brought you to teach at the ALU School of Business?
“It’s very clear that if you look across Africa there’s a lot of positive movements taking place and governments are becoming more accountable. citizens are now beginning to ask for change and in the midst of that there’s going to be a lot more expectations on companies and business leaders need to live up to that. That is where the gap is and what you are doing here at African Leadership University…trying to create Africa-centric leaders is critical and a big gap that we need to fill”.
What advice do you have for someone joining the C-Suite or making a partner for the first time?
I would capture it in one word, “PRESENCE”. Now your decisions have a lot more impact….you affect the lives of more people, because people now look up to you, you become a role model, it becomes your responsibility to cultivate more role models across the organisation”.
Watch Micheal Ikpoki’s fantastic full interview below!
Our MBA students return to Kigali every 4 months. They come to be inspired and to learn from tremendous leaders from across the continent and from awesome ALUSB faculty. They network, participate in social activities and spend valuable face time together. We have compiled highlights from this week to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into an ALUSB MBA intensive.
Saturday 3rd March
MBA students working in the conservation industry kicked off the MBA intensive week with ALU School of the Conservation-led visit to Akagera National Park. Students discussed the Park’s strategy to combine business and conservation with the Park’s leadership team.
Talking integration of business with Philbert from the Akagera team: “We are focusing on new business models, such as charging concession fees from eco-friendly businesses allowed to operate within the park”.
Sunday 4th March
Thank you Dr. Deqo Mohamed for inspiring us by sharing transformative work you have done with communities in Somalia. Your leadership and vision are a challenge to our generation to do more for our continent” – Yves Iradukunda ‘19.
In the run-up to International Women’s Day 2018, ALUSB’s first Women in Management session took place, guest starring two phenomenal role models, Dr. Deqo Mohamed & Ms. Ayesha Bedwei.
Monday 5th March
Class of 2019: Vice Dean & Prof. Catherine Duggan kicks off her blistering Political Economy course with the quote, “I think of your job as a leader as absorbing complexity and transmitting clarity” ~ Yaw Boateng. The Class of 2019 then explored 30 years Chinese economic development, preparing to project next 20 years: of African development.
CLO Ryan Findley leads the Class of 2019 through the Renaissance Dam Simulation, a pan-African Leadership lab exercise, combining V3 challenges with negotiation skills.
Tuesday 6th March
Guest faculty Gbenga Oyebode, a successful lawyer, business adviser and board member for several companies, including MTN Nigeria, led a Doing Business in Africa session with Classes of 2018 and 2019. He then joined a subset of students for lunch and discussion.
“You need to have a strategy to manage the success of your company”. Guest faculty Micheal Ikpoki, the former CEO of MTN Nigeria, currently business adviser and CEO of Africa Context Consulting, an Africa-focused business advisory company, explores the importance of stakeholders management in Africa with our Classes of 2018 and 2019.
Wednesday 7th March
ALUSB CAO, Dr. Emmett Tracy, led an all-day Business Strategy session with the Class of 2018, building on their McKinsey Academy courses.
Thursday 8th March
International Women’s Day #IWD2018, Celebrating intelligent, passionate, beautiful women who are changing Africa.
After spending a day in the field with local organisations, our Class of 2019 presented their BUILD-structured findings and recommendations.
Friday, 9th March
Guest faculty Nicola Galombik, Executive Director of Yellowwoods, leads her “Where Value meets Virtue” session, focused on the importance and pursuit of shared value in African economies.
On Monday, September 25, the ALU School of Business (ALUSB) formally launched classes in Kigali, Rwanda, welcoming its inaugural class to the continent’s first pan-African MBA. The diverse founding class welcomes students from over 22 African nations.
In an opening ceremony the night before, ALUSB founder Fred Swaniker and Dean Modupe Taylor-Pearce celebrated the class and challenged each student to make the most of this opportunity to grow as business leaders and transform the continent.
On the first day of school, students explored foundational concepts, such as vision, values, and leadership lessons from the continent. Swaniker called upon them to be co-founders of the programme by helping to solve problems, co-creating the experience, and building Africa’s MBA with ALUSB staff. Students also explored their personal visions and ALUSB’s vision by considering these three questions:
With ethical and entrepreneurial leadership being essential for transformative change, Dean Taylor-Pearce shared his leadership path from the United States Military Academy to the Sierra Leonean armed forces. He promised to build competent leaders of character at ALUSB and challenged the co-founders to help build and protect values of integrity while at ALUSB and throughout life. Students then debated leadership case studies and analysed Swaniker’s insights on leadership based on his experiences doing business across the continent.
With many first time visitors to Rwanda, the inaugural class toured Kigali and learned more about the country’s history and city planning. The tour also allowed students to start building relationships with their peers and they have started working together in Home Learning Teams and pan-African Groups on activities facilitated by ALUSB Vice Dean Catherine Duggan and Director of Learning Miguel Lameiro.
Day two welcomes McKinsey & Company Senior Partner, Acha Leke, to share his experiences from advising organisations across Africa as well as insights from the McKinsey Global Institute’s Lions on the Move 2.0 report. The remainder of the week will introduce ALUSB’s Leadership Lab and case studies on Doing Business in Africa (DBIA) from ALUSB’s All-Star Faculty of proven business leaders.
The other DBIA sessions will be led by South African entrepreneur and women advocate Wendy Luhabe, former African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka, Professor Catherine Duggan, and Standard Chartered Private Equity CEO Peter Baird.
Steve Boehlke has over 25 years experience as a leadership development consultant and facilitator for senior executives at various Fortune 500 companies. He has spent the last 7 years working as a Senior Advisor to the African Leadership Group, where he has helped shape the group’s leadership development frameworks and assisted the group’s senior leadership to become more effective. Throughout his career, Steve has helped leaders, without regard to position, to become more influential and dynamic. He currently serves on ALU’s Global Advisory Council. Steve is a graduate of Princeton University, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Princeton Theological Seminary.
“Students that want to learn how to do business on the continent need to learn how to develop political skills that are also ethical.”
Gbenga Oyebode founded Aluko & Oyebode, one of Nigeria’s top law firms, and is currently the Managing Partner. Oyebode was also one of the founding investors in MTN Nigeria and still serves on its board. Oyebode has developed significant experience in project finance, corporate law, energy and natural resources, telecommunications and aviation law. Oyebode served as Chairman of the board of Access Bank, and currently serves as the Chairman of Okomu Oil Palm PLC and of The Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc. He is also one of the most successful real estate investors in Nigeria. Oyebode received his undergraduate degree from the University of IFE and his masters in law from the University of Pennsylvania in the USA.
Why are you interested in supporting the ALU School of Business?
I’ve always thought that the biggest gap on the African continent has been education, more specifically from a leadership and entrepreneurship perspective. There not have been enough opportunities and/or colleges where we have been able to focus on the gaps that we all see. After all of the great work that Fred has done at ALA, I thought this was a natural next step… first with ALU, but secondly with the School of Business and MBA programme.
All across the continent, we find entrepreneurs and business people that essentially develop ideas, not necessarily because they are able to leverage experience from their education, but because they are instinctive business people. A programme such as the ALUSB MBA would serve as a training ground for learning from the experiences of other African businesses, and also serve as a good training ground for emerging entrepreneurs on the continent. For me, this is why I felt this was definitely a way to go.
What excites you most about ALUSB, and what is your vision for the MBA programme?
The best way to get us out of the poverty trap that we see on the continent is through the educational process and the creation of wealth. My biggest concern, and what I see the ALUSB MBA programme doing is, creating wealth through an educational process which increases the number of people that are trained with business skills. My vision for ALU is that we are able to build campuses across the continent, not just Mauritius and Kigali, and to increase our pan-African student body… essentially to develop and have an actual pan-African prorgamme for the continent.
If we do this and achieve that objective, then we will be able in time to create a significant number of skilled individuals who will go back into their countries to do the things that are necessary: to create jobs, to create wealth, to bring ideas around sustainability and the environment, and to make sure that we don’t wait for multinationals or people who don’t have the same ideas that we have on the continent for our communities and our stakeholders. If we are able to do this successfully, I believe we will be able to create change on the continent in a scale that will bring people up from poverty.
What do you hope to teach the students?
I have spent a significant amount of time within the practice of law in Nigeria and across the continent. I consistently deal with issues of corporate governance and business judgment, and from a day to day perspective, I have significant industry experience from sitting on the boards of different companies. For example, I sit on the MTN Nigeria board, and I was the chairman of the board of Access Bank Nigeria for over 10 years. Discussions on telecommunications, banking, convergence within mobile telephony, and broadcasting are all issues that I have grappled with closely over the last 15 years. Additionally, I have worked on corporate finance and structuring transactions, and provided counsel on project financing (e.g., infrastructure construction and privatization). I have also attended executive programmes at HBS (Advanced Management Programme) and INSEAD (Corporate Governance Directors Programme), and I think that these experiences at the best business schools around the world I can bring to bear as a faculty member at ALUSB.
If you were teaching a course on Corporate Governance, what would you encourage students to be most excited about in that class?
At the end of the day, what is corporate governance? It is all about transparency in the way you operate. We call it corporate governance from the perspective that we are thinking of corporate. In reality, the topic is also about full disclosure and transparency, and how this impacts the way we govern and how the government interacts and engages with its citizens. The reality is that this is more than just a corporate course. It is about how you engage with your citizenry, how you create an enabling environment and a level playing field in our countries, how you promote transparent behavior and total disdain for corruption, and how you enable people to engage with regulators and governments. That is what corporate governance is all about. Focusing on the issues, but also making sure that our stakeholders (and not just our shareholders) are accounted for – stakeholders from a sustainability perspective includes everyone in the country in which we operate. For me, that would be the underlying basis of the corporate governance course. Let’s treat ourselves the way we would like to be treated. Let’s treat our stakeholders, country, people, shareholders, and consumers in a way in which we share learnings and growth, and let’s be transparent about behavior, the things we do, and let’s pay attention to the rules.
Why do you think an MBA is important for African business leaders looking to make an impact on the continent and in their careers?
One of the great things about an MBA is the general management skills that you pick up as part of the programme. Lots of people get a basic first degree in liberal arts or the sciences, but then think to themselves that I would like to be a general manager in the business and understand what’s going on. The value of an MBA is that you look at HR issues, accounting issues, governance issues, and when you look at all of these things, you end up with the ability to actually develop skills outside your core area.
These general management skills that you are able to develop and refine prove most important in countries on the continent where there is a lack of these types of skills. We don’t have enough professionals who have a broad range of skills in their own businesses as entrepreneurs or when they work in-house for corporates. This lack of skills tends to cloud judgment sometimes. For example, you may not be able to understand the impact of hiring practices on the returns of a business, or you might not see the impact of sustainable behavior on your returns. General management knowledge and training will equip businesses to develop on the continent.
How do you feel leadership development will contribute to helping the continent?
One of the greatest things that I have always taken away from the African Leadership Group (through ALA, ALU, and now ALUSB) is an understanding that leadership remains one of the conundrums that we have to build on the continent. We often tend to end up with leaders who may have wanted power but didn’t understand what to do with it, or who may not understand how to create wealth through the educational process, primarily leadership and entrepreneurship training. This will be the way that we will change the continent given the quick population growth that we are seeing. We need to understand that power through governments, and governments themselves, will not be the catalysts we need on the continent. The catalysts for growth on the continent will be the entrepreneurs and people that understand where the gaps are, and education is one of those gaps.
For me, leadership skills and entrepreneurship programmes must be something that we encourage, because the change that we want across the continent will have to be change outside the limited skills that some of our governments have. Change will come primarily through armies of business people who understand that the bottom billion needs to be pulled up not at a slow pace, but at a very rapid pace, given the changes that we are seeing around the world. If Africa is the “Next Frontier”, we should not be willing to wait for this perpetually, but rather should wrestle with, grasp and deal with this opportunity as quickly as possible.
Francis Daniels has over 15 years experience investing in Africa. He is the director of Africa Opportunity Partners, the investment manager of the Africa Opportunity Fund, a closed-end investment company traded on the Specialist Fund Segment of the London Stock Exchange. He holds a LL.B degree from the University of Ghana, a LL.M degree from the University of Toronto, and a LL.M degree and a LL.M (Corporations) degree from New York University Law School.
What excites you about the ALU School of Business and the MBA?
There’s a dearth of writing and instruction on how to navigate the African business and investment landscape. This might be because the African Business landscape combines aspects which are globally common in the 21st Century with aspects that are peculiar to the African landscape. I thought it would be useful and instructive to discuss and debate with students how to think about some of those aspects.
For example, current corporate finance theory has a model called the capital asset pricing model for determining cost of equity of a company. A crucial ingredient of this model is that local currency-denominated government debt is risk free in that local currency. Zimbabwe Dollar denominated government debt or Kenyan shilling denominated debt was, or is, risk free in those currencies. Consequently, you start with risk free rates, add various factors to come up with the pricing of the equity of, say, a Zimbabwean or Kenyan company. Well, I have encountered situations where an African government defaulted on its local currency denominated debt, but private sector companies paid dividends at the same time that the government was in default. Côte D’Ivoire in 2010, which suffered a brief civil war after national elections, comes to mind. Investments in Ivorian companies proved less risky than owning Ivorian government debt. Yet, Standard & Poor’s claims that a private company cannot have a higher credit rating than its sovereign or government, implying that a sovereign or government must be more creditworthy. One probable reason for this oddity in Côte D’Ivoire was it shared a regional currency, the CFA Franc which is somewhat like the euro, and a regional central bank instead of owning a national central bank able to print Ivorian francs at will.
What I’m saying here is, there could be a lot more investigation of the kinds of investment and business theory appropriate for Africa’s institutional arrangements and investment landscape.
What will your focus be with respect to curriculum?
I’ll be working in the investment area. That entails certain aspects of accounting and assessing the known and unknown uncertainties you assume in buying security or investing in a company. Those uncertainties tend to be contextual. Context includes features like the characteristics of a country, its political patterns, and how it deals practically with disputes, and more. The effects of national electoral contests on fiscal deficits and the cost of money are much sharper in some countries than others. Meanwhile, you can have companies which in global operating terms are average, but in their countries have strong financial characteristics. How those cross-currents manifest themselves in the data and analyses of African companies will be a curricular focus.
What should people look forward to in your class?
I’d like to help students think about how to assess investment opportunities in an evolving Africa. One area to consider is the growing trend of industries spanning national borders. Africa has very little intra-Africa trade. It is picking up. How should those new trends be incorporated into the valuation of investment opportunities? Is there a place for incorporating ethical factors in the analysis of investments across Africa? Lastly, how should business people protect their businesses and investments through the volatile economic cycles of many African countries? Those are a few of the class topics.
Why do you think an MBA is important for African business leaders looking to make an impact, in their careers and on the continent?
That’s an interesting question, since I don’t have an MBA. One of the ignored aspects of economic development is the calibre of entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of attention on the calibre of public or political leaders and whether they can be more honest or more dedicated to national interest? We need similar levels of academic attention bestowed on African entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and corporate employees. That is a function of a well-designed MBA program for Africa’s managers and businesspeople.
Surely, it makes a positive difference when an African entrepreneur has a deep understanding of how business principles have been applied in successful and unsuccessful ways in various African countries. I’m not suggesting that an MBA is essential for doing that, but developing an existing body of knowledge that presents the African business experience in a systematic and analytical way will be useful and is a part of the process of upgrading the calibre and quality of African entrepreneurial business class.
There’s also the subordinate question of why not be content with going to school outside the continent. The answer is that there’s part of an MBA that is international and there’s a part based on local experiences. The facts used to compose case studies-a teaching tool of MBAs-are local-whether in the US or Japan. The landscape of business in India is different from the landscape of business in South Africa. Do we expect an Indian or American business school to build a majority of their case studies on South African experiences? The obvious answer must be “no.” Therefore, Africans have to design MBA programs based on their own experiences so they can compare and contrast their experiences with those in other parts of the world.
People cite corruption as a barrier to doing business in Africa all the time. What other unspoken barriers are there?
There are quite a number of other barriers to doing business, I suppose. The biggest example is volatile and high inflation or very high national tariffs. Is corruption a barrier? It’s bound to be. A climate of corruption nurtures more uncertainty for business people than is warranted and this is a big deterrent.
My own feeling is that, as much as possible, people who want to have greater security over the long haul have to avoid corruption. Returning, though, to unspoken barriers, I think that the low productivity of African agriculture is a huge barrier. It makes the cost of African labour higher than it need be and reduces the size of the potential African market for non-agricultural goods and services. The poor state of Africa’s physical infrastructure also ranks high on the list of barriers. A final example would be the multiplicity of small national markets in stead of regional markets. These barriers, though, present also big opportunities for members of Africa’s business and managerial class. Converting those opportunities into the profitable provision of goods and services that dissolve these barriers requires a high calibre of ethical African managers and entrepreneurs. Let’s hope that ALU’s MBA can make a modest contribution to expanding the supply of those African managers and entrepreneurs.