Convocation Lecture: The Emergence of Successful Young Entrepreneurs in the Current Nigerian Economy: The Place of Integrity *By Kafilat Araoye

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Convocation Lecture: The Emergence of Successful Young Entrepreneurs in the Current Nigerian Economy: The Place of Integrity *By Kafilat Araoye

THE EMERGENCE OF SUCCESSFUL YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS IN THE CURRENT

NIGERIAN ECONOMY: THE PLACE OF INTEGRITY*

By Kafilat Araoye

(MD & CEO, LOTUS Bank Limited)

 

The Chairman and Members of the Governing Council of Yaba College of

Technology;

Engr Obafemi Omokungbe, Rector of the College;

All Principal Officers of the College;

Prof Wahab Egbewole, SAN, VC, University of Ilorin and Chairman of this Occasion;

Esteemed Alumni of the College;

All Graduating Students and their Well Wishers;

All Other Guests;

Gentlemen of the Press;

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

Good afternoon.

Welcome

For me, it is indeed a case of mixed feelings! I feel simultaneously humbled, honoured and elated to stand here today to present a convocation lecture to an array of eminent personalities, graduating students and their loved ones all gathered here, at the 34th graduation ceremony of our country’s premier tertiary institution, the Great Yaba College of Technology, popularly known as YabaTech.   I am also excited to be part of the first gathering of this nature after the pandemic that taught us great life lessons like no other phenomenon before it.  

In fact, I consider it appropriate to congratulate all of us for successfully graduating from the fearsome school of COVID-19.  Actually, it should be double accolades for the classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021 (especially the last two sets) for surviving the agonising learning and life conditions imposed by the pandemic.  Perhaps, the best way to appreciate how fortunate you are to be here today is to recall how many of your colleagues in school and other acquaintances did not survive the pandemic, or even still, your years of studying in this College.  Or better still, you can imagine how frustrated and dis-satisfied you would be today, if the pandemic was not yet over, and your graduation was

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* Being a paper presented at the 34th Convocation Ceremony of Yaba College of Technology on Monday, 21st November, 2022

holding online instead of physically here.  I have devoted these few opening lines to issues around the pandemic to show appreciation to God for His mercy and for creating humanity (as epitomised by Nigerians to be resilient).

Distinguished Graduands, I would like to emphasise early in this paper that I shall be addressing you most of the time on three key areas all linked with the topic of today: entrepreneurship, the current economy and the place of integrity.    On a general note also, I will offer you some tips on how to successfully navigate life after school, hoping that you will be able to derive some lifelong lessons from this encounter.

 

Introduction  

To start with, it has always been the dream of most people to be their own bosses and their own employers, which is exactly what entrepreneurship is about and allows us to be.  In this age when virtually all young persons want to blow as quickly as possible, the natural short-cut seems to be through the route of entrepreneurship.   I am aware that thinking of entrepreneurship as a way to wealth is appropriate, because where entrepreneurship is done properly and sustainably, it is a veritable avenue towards sustainable wealth.  The emphasis here is deliberate, and we shall come back to discuss pertinent issues later.

The world over, it has been established that the bedrock of every robust national economy is not just the large corporates and industries but essentially the Micro-, Medium- and Small-Scale Enterprises (MSMEs).  MSMEs are actually the starting point of industrialisation, and the engine room of every economy.  They play a big role in the development of national economies because they create job opportunities (for self and others). For instance, MSMEs (about 50 million of them) account for almost half (50%) of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product.  MSMEs promote stability and development of regional economies, and produce much of the creativity and innovation that fuels economic growth; they promote economic     diversification,        high    value-added            products,      competition, partnerships, progress and prosperity.  I must quickly mention that the last three attributes (partnership, progress and prosperity) are dear to us at LOTUS Bank, which is why we readily come across as natural partners to MSMEs.

Dear Graduands and Distinguished Audience, one of the unforgettable positive outcomes of the last pandemic is the emergence of a new wave of MSMES, building essentially on the pre-pandemic foundation of digital or social media skills or internet connectivity -- digital marketing, blogging, vlogging, content creation, YouTubing, and so on. We also witnessed a surge in other activities like online FX trading and cryptocurrency trading.  Incidentally, the same pandemic and the presence of a connectivity backbone also spawned an upsurge in dark web activities including Fraud-as-a-Service, Business Email Compromise, blackhat hacking, and in short, what we generally have come to know as Yahoo Yahoo, or even the version called Yahoo Plus.  Away from the web, we have had a frightening spike in the areas of negative entrepreneurs engaging in banditry and kidnapping, and these obviously have done our society no good.

Distinguished Listeners, you will kindly permit me today to switch roles and hats intermittently as I move along in this paper.  As much as I can, I want to speak from the perspectives of a mother, a counsellor, a bank executive, a Human Resource professional, a preacher, a teacher, an entrepreneur, and much more, even though I am primarily a banker by profession.  Also, I am a staunch believer in God, integrity and morality.  I also believe firmly in the position of Marcus Aurelius, the second century Roman Emperor who said, “Waste not time arguing about what a good man should be.  Be one!”  I rose through the ranks in my career to where I am today, I have demonstrated and experienced both intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship, and so I believe I can speak confidently and authoritatively from experience on the subject, and to the benefit of the target audience.  Therefore, kindly permit me at this point to take the sub-topics one after the other: the current economy, entrepreneurship, and the place of integrity.  

 

The Current Economy

I am an optimist.  As far as I can see, the current economy holds a lot of promise for youths, especially considering the abundant resources around us. I am conscious of the fact that a lot of people may not readily agree with me on this.  From my viewpoint, I will compare the situation of differing perspectives to the well-known analogy of whether one sees a half empty or a half full glass.   I have an intimate and real-life example of the promise held by the country’s economy.  LOTUS Bank, where I am currently the Chief Executive, processed and got its licence, and started operations right in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, when our society was generally despondent, withdrawn and rather not adventurous after a global lockdown.  Our mantra in LOTUS Bank is to grow and prosper wherever and whenever – totally regardless of circumstances.  And in reality, this has given us an edge and a flip over what would have been limiting circumstances.  All around us, we have chosen (please note the power of choice again) to see opportunities, possibilities and prospects, rather than challenges.   We strongly believe in relentlessly and tenaciously pursuing the actualisation of our vision and mission.  This is how we live daily.  And this has positively influenced our business outcomes.

Yes, it is the dream of most youths to land a well-paying white-collar job after the rigour of tertiary education.  However, the reality of our economy today is that the jobs are quite few.  Perhaps, the most important positive influence of the japa factor is that it has helped create some more openings in view of the vacancies created by emigrating youths.  In spite of that, our tertiary institutions are fuelling the labour market at a rate much higher than the number of available jobs.  In fact, some not-so-positive forecasts have predicted scary unemployment rate for the next years.  The logical inference from this is that entrepreneurship, rather than white-collar jobs, is the solution for smart graduates, going forward.

 

The Chairman of the Occasion, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen; I must pause here to discuss the irony of our situation, especially now that I want to wear the cap of an employer.  I am aware that while candidates think there are no good jobs out there, employers think good candidates are too few.  This is truly the irony of our society.  Clearly, there is a systemic gap here that requires urgent, critical and concerted attention.  Today, most banks in Nigeria have in place academies to take fresh graduates through another “degree programme” to make them employable.  As a way forward, I believe that tertiary institutions and employers need to cooperate more along this line, so that the specific skills and attributes desired by employers can be infused into the academic curriculum in schools, to make graduates more readily employable.

 

The other side of the situation is that graduates who are unable to secure whitecollar jobs now turn to entrepreneurship, but without any adequate training or preparation for the life of a businessman.  In quite a number of cases, youths become serial entrepreneurs, because they keep trying their hands on various business types.  I would like to recommend that; the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) should make it obligatory for tertiary institution to infuse at least one module on Entrepreneurship or Business Management in all degree or diploma programmes. This will help our society, our youth and our future. 

Along this same line, I would like to advise all graduands of today and those still in school, to consider adopting the options of making themselves more attractive to employers.  Learning and self-development are never ending. An additional qualification may be all it takes to distinguish yourself. There are professional certification programmes and a lot of free Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) on edX, Coursera, Udemy, Alison and others.  Please start that journey of self-development immediately.  It may make all the difference.

According to Zig Ziglar (an American motivational speaker and author), “the foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity”, among others.  Even the great musician, Robert (Bob) Marley observed that, “the greatness of man is not in how much wealth he acquires but, in his integrity, and ability to affect those around him positively.”   Sadly, our society today has chosen to jettison these positive values and rather opt for the Machiavellian position that “the end justifies the means.”   However, my dear graduands, while shortcuts may seem to make you thrive in the short run, they potentially impose a limit on your ability to become the best you can be.  One of the greatest mistakes you can make is to do what is wrong because others are doing it.  I will be quick here to quote Roy Bennett (an American author): “Do what is right, not what is popular.”  Again, I will also refer you to Zig Ziglar, who says, “Integrity gives you real freedom because you have nothing to fear since you have nothing to hide.”

 

Entrepreneurship

Much like the moot question of which comes first between the chicken and the egg, there has been a similar debate on which precedes the other between an intrapreneur and an entrepreneur.  While the former is an employee with entrepreneurial skills or mindset (treating the employer’s business like his own), the latter is a business owner or employer.  Without doubt, an intrapreneur is already well equipped to transit to an entrepreneur, in a better way than someone who just springs up as an entrepreneur.  In the first instance, he has learned the ropes (as they say) of running the business of someone else.  His transition is analogous to that of an apprentice, perhaps through being a journeyman, to mastery.   For instance, you can imagine how an account officer responsible for a bank’s MSME customers will fare if he chooses to transit to an entrepreneur and run his own MSME later.  He has run the business for someone else, so he knows how to go about his own to be successful.   I would therefore like to counsel all serious aspiring entrepreneurs here today to consider starting by learning, and transiting from intrapreneurship to entrepreneurship.   It makes the journey easier.

However, whether one starts as an intrapreneur or as an entrepreneur, there will always be questions and challenges – the challenges of entrepreneurship:

  • What specific products or services are to be produced, sold or offered by the business?
  • Where will funding, especially the capital, come from?
  • What if products or services are not well accepted?
  • What is going to be the target market and the marketing strategy?
  • How exactly will the business make money?
  • How will the best and most efficient staff be identified and brought in and managed?
  • What will be the level of dependence on public infrastructure, and how will that be augmented where infrastructure is non-existent or inadequate?
  • What collaborations or partnerships will be required?
  • How will the books of the business be managed?
  • How will the business pay its costs and produce profit?
  • What type of structure and governance will the company run?
  • What code of ethics will the company adopt?
  • How will tax and other regulatory requirements be managed?
  • What will be the vision and the mission of the company?
  • How will the business continue to be in existence?

The questions are actually endless. These are just samples.

Other Essential Requirements for Entrepreneurship

  • Grit: Incidentally, there may not be consistency in income for an entrepreneur the same way a salaried workers get paid consistently. 

The entrepreneur needs a lot of grit to remain focussed and survive

 

  • Resourcefulness: To be successful, an entrepreneur must present a product or service that functionally and creatively solves a problem in society.  That is what he sells

 

  • Empathy: Empathy pushes an entrepreneur to continually identify pain points around him and proffer solutions towards the elimination of such

 

  • Patience: The entrepreneur will make mistakes.  His employees will make mistakes.  The entrepreneur must be able to demonstrate grace and learning in treating all these mistakes   

 

  • Prudence: Remaining thrifty in the early days is a necessary ingredient in becoming successful over the long term

 

  • Discipline:  An entrepreneur must be disciplined in managing his schedule, conquering the tasks before him, and sticking to his plans 

 

  • Resilience:  Entrepreneurship is generally a bumpy journey requiring a lot of perseverance

 

Scaling the Hurdle of Funding

One of the issues I raised earlier as a challenge for an emerging entrepreneur is that of funding. How will a fresh entrepreneur raise start-up capital and working capital?  A couple of options are open:

  • Save towards starting 
  • Try Social Capital:  Start with people who know and believe in you and are likely to want to invest in you.  Jack Ma of Alibaba started with a loan of RMB20,000 from his parents
  • Approach angel investors.  They may just be interested in your idea.
  • You can partner with persons of like minds.  The business idea may be yours, while funding comes from your partner
  • Crowdfunding works!
  • Participate in pitching competitions (the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s African Entrepreneurship Programme comes to mind here)
  • Apply for loans or grants from government or international organisations
  • Approach a bank.  LOTUS Bank has been actively involved in nurturing eligible and viable MSMEs.

Some Possible Entrepreneurial Options

While the options to entrepreneurship are virtually inexhaustible, I would like to mention here some that are particularly attractive and viable, especially because they require minimal capital to start:

  • Blogging, Vlogging or Content Creation
  • Cleaning
  • Courier services
  • Digital Marketing
  • Entertainment and Art (Singing, Acting, Painting, Writing, etc)
  • Farming and Agric-Business (export-oriented activities, etc)
  • Fashion and Beauty (Dressmaking, cosmetics, etc)
  • Fintech (Payments gateways, etc)
  • Tutoring (Home tutoring, remedial classes, etc)
  • Interior decoration
  • IT-based Ventures (web design and development, app dvpt, etc)
  • Photography and Videography
  • Rentals
  • Solar Energy (Solar lamps, etc)
  • Trading
  • Travel agency
  • Waste Recycling (This is an untapped goldmine, especially in urban areas)

 

I am particularly aware that though some export-oriented types of farming may not bring immediate returns, farming for export is certainly a winning formula guaranteeing future wealth.  For instance, cashew nuts from Nigeria have great value on the international market among other non-oil export products from Nigeria.  Cocoa, oil palm, sesame and ginger continue to earn dollar income today for farmers who invested years back in them.

 

Waste recycling is a potential money spinner.  The most important raw material is readily and freely available all over our urban cities.  The business also promotes a sustainable environment and may attract international funding.

 

For each of these options, and any entrepreneurial venture for that matter, there will always be obstacles.  However, there is always a solution also.  According to Jim Rohn, “If you really want to do something, you'll find a way. If you don't, you'll find an excuse.”

 

Since most MSMEs are one-man businesses, the features of the company are built around the features of the individual owners.  For instance, the business can only be as ethical as the owner.  In other words, the character of a business is, to a large extent, a reflection of the character of its owner.  This point will lead me to a discussion on Character Formation and choices.

 

Character Formation    

Distinguished Listeners, kindly permit to ask questions around the most important reasons we are in existence.  Is it to:

  • enjoy life?
  • rule the world?
  • serve God?
  • touch lives and make an impact?
  • leave a legacy?

I am sure that most of us will readily pick a combination of the possible reasons listed above, and that the list will almost invariably include “To serve God.”  But how do you serve God?  Serving God is most perceptible in the way we touch lives, the way we relate with others harmoniously, the way we seek to deposit into the emotional bank accounts of others, borrowing Stephen Covey’s expression in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  By the way, that is a book I so much love, because it has had monumental impacts on my life.  I have no reservations recommending that all of us here should read or re-read the evergreen book.  Borrowing more from Covey, I want to observe that we all need to reduce our circle of concern and expand our circle of influence in this whitewater world, and create our unique identities/characters, akin to our fingerprints.

In the process of creating our unique characters, we all exercise choice, over which we have power. Every choice we make translates a possibility into reality.  Furthermore, all choices have consequences and demand new response-ability, or the ability to choose how we will respond to a given stimulus or situation.  

Choices may come in form of 

  • The unconscious choice:  reaction, addiction, compulsion, obsession, etc.
  • The conscious choice: response, becoming aware of our intentions, etc
  • The responsible choice: choosing when prepared to assume responsibility for the consequences

The main lesson here is that, every human being, has the power to choose his character.  There is a saying that who we are today is a result of the choices we made yesterday.  By inference, the choices we make today will define us tomorrow.

How to Choose

  • Decision making – Think before you act
  • Purpose – Consider objective and outcome of choice.
  • Analyse result of Choice
  • Be flexible and take responsibility

If we look at legends such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, they are revered and followed because of their character.

According to Dwight D. Eisenhower, “the supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.”

 

Developing Your Character

Whether as an entrepreneur or as an employee, we all need to consciously develop an affinity with our reality.  Imagine what society would be if we choose to allow our personal interest to have the upper hand over us.  We might end up creating the Hobbesian state where “life is poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  That state is not sustainable.  Therefore, we all have a responsibility to facilitate a better and sustainable society by developing a character of integrity.  We can enhance our entrepreneurial skills (infused with integrity) by taking the following steps (among others):

  • Be self-aware
  • Set realistic and acceptable goals
  • Make promises you can keep, and keep promises made.  Always ensure to close the gap between your intentions and actions
  • Do not join a rat race.  Benz or nothing now leads to an early crash.  You should understand that there is always time for growth
  • Be deliberate about interacting with people of integrity, and about learning from them
  • Get a role model, coach and mentor of integrity

Always remember the great author, C.S Lewis: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”   We have a popular saying in the banking circle that if you take integrity out of a banker, there will be nothing left of him. By extension, if you take integrity out of an entrepreneur, there will be nothing left of him. In the words of another great writer, Cheryl Hughes, “the truly scary thing about undiscovered lies is that they have a greater capacity to diminish us than exposed ones. They erode our strength, our self-esteem, our very foundation.”  Even when it is undiscovered, lack of integrity destroys a person.  

In his contribution to the discourse on integrity in business, Dawid Bednarski says integrity

  • gives business a competitive edge
  • helps save face during a crisis
  • makes otherwise difficult decisions easy
  • costs less in the long run
  • helps secure favourable publicity
  • gives employees confidence in the employer

According to Dawid, approaches to demonstrating integrity to the customers of a business include the following: 

  • Making integrity part of the culture of the business
  • Offering exceptional customer service
  • Ensuring quality work
  • Practising transparency

 

I would also like to use here an excerpt from a November 2012 Forbes publication:

Success will come and go, but integrity is forever.  

Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. 

It takes having the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences will be. 

Building a reputation of integrity takes years, but it takes only a second to lose.  So never allow yourself to ever do anything that would damage your integrity.

Dishonesty may provide instant gratification in the moment, but it will never last. Unfortunately, that momentary result comes at an incredibly high price with far-reaching consequences.  That person has lost his ability to be trusted as a person of integrity, which is the most valuable quality anyone can have in his life.  

 

Integrity and Competence

Dear Graduands, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I make bold to aver that integrity and competence are linked at the back end.  You are a person of integrity only when you do what you have promised to do.  You are only able to do what you have promised to do only if you have the competence to do it. It is therefor important that you develop your entrepreneurship competence, if you are going to be an entrepreneur of integrity.  To develop your entrepreneurship competence, you need to  

  • Understand your strength 
  • Understand your (target) industry or market
  • Have a growth mindset
  • Acquire relevant skills
  • Technical skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Business management skills
  • Teamwork and leadership skills
  • Communication and listening skills
  • Financial skills
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Strategic thinking and planning skills
  • Time management and organisational skills
  • Branding, marketing/sales and networking skills
  • Seek knowledge
  • Strong emphasis should be on learning - reading and research 
  • Invest time in practice to hone your skills
  • Interact with knowledgeable people and learn from them

 

All in all, let me borrow an acronym VDPC (Vision, Discipline, Passion, and Conscience) from Steven Covey’s book titled the 8th Habit. 

 

General Tips for All Graduands

 

Distinguished Graduands, as you move on to other things after school, I urge you to please pay heed to these tips:

  • The essence of your technical education is to promote entrepreneurship.  You are already well equipped to make it in life, if you use well what you have
  • Your diploma (higher or ordinary) is a means to an end, and not an end in itself 
  • Please see learning as life-long.  We start dying, the day we stop learning, as the popular saying goes.  It will always be necessary for you to sharpen your saw.
  • Get a mentor early.  This makes navigating life a lot easier for you, since you have someone else’s footsteps to follow, and an experienced person to handhold you
  • Always set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound) Goals for yourself and measure yourself against the set goals.  Celebrate great achievements, and refuse to normalise not meeting your set goals
  • You need a Personal Development Plan always.  Invest in yourself
  • Remember that your network will continue to influence your networth from now on
  • Stay in touch with your classmates and friends.  They will offer you support and joy later
  • Whenever you start work (as an employee or as an entrepreneur), start thinking of planning for your retirement.  It is never too early to start.
  • Always live below your means, and never above it
  • Build a great personal brand.  Be known for something great
  • Invest in any positive thing that makes you happy
  • Align only with people of positive values
  • Remember always that technical skills help you build a business or get a job, but you succeed mainly using your soft skills
  • Social media will always portray others as living great and large.  This is not always a reality.  Believe in yourself
  • Change will happen.  Be ready and willing to embrace it.  Only those who embrace change will survive

Food for Thought 

 

  • “One man    cannot           do       right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any     other departments. Life is one indivisible whole."   

- Mahatma Gandhi

 

  • “A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness -  they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in”

                               - C. S. Lewis

 

  • “It always seem impossible until it’s done.”

                                - Nelson Mandela

 

  • “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”

                               - Nelson Mandela

 

  • “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take just gets you to the wrong place faster. “   

                               - Stephen R. Covey

 

  • “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”  

                               - Steve Jobs

 

Conclusion

 

Distinguished Graduands, I would like to leave with you these parting words:

 

The success of today, as well as the failure of today, are both a stepping stone to a greater success or a greater failure.  Please let me repeat that:  The success of today, as well as the failure of today, are both a stepping stone to a greater success or a greater failure.  I hope you spend some time to ponder on that statement every now and then, as you move ahead in life.  The statement only buttresses John Wooden’s position that “success is not final, nor is failure fatal.”  Each depends on what we choose to make of it.

In the words of the American author, Theodor Seuss Geisel (popularly known as Dr Seuss), “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”  

Wherever you go, remember that it is good to be great, but it is always greater to be good.

  • Make the most of your life and career. Make responsible choices.
  • Love yourself and your work. Make the love visible through your work.
  • When you express your love through your work, desirable experiences are created, including higher productivity.  

Always be guided by the words of John Wooden, the great American coach: 

“True success is attained only through the satisfaction of knowing you did everything within the limits of your ability to become the very best that you are capable of being.”

I commit you into the hands of God for divine guidance and a successful future. 

Thank you for listening to me, and congratulations!

 Kafilat Araoye

Managing Director

LOTUS Bank Limited

November 2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bibliography

Covey, S., (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Wooden, J. (2005). Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization. California, CA: McGraw-Hill Professional.