There is power in CIN; Business lessons from Belo-Osagie

Competence, Image, Network

Two different people just sent me these thought inspiring compendia for business and personal success.

I felt compelled to share them..

Here is the first, from a successful business mogul, reproduced exactly as received:

Six lessons Nigerian tycoon Hakeem Belo-Osagie has learnt in business


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by many and that has made all the difference.”

Hakeem Belo-Osagie recited these lines from a poem by Robert Frost while addressing a recent conference at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. Belo-Osagie is regarded as one of Nigeria’s richest businessmen, having made his money in industries such as banking and telecoms. He is currently chairman of mobile network operator Etisalat Nigeria.

Belo-Osagie shared with the audience some of the lessons he has learnt in business.

1. Have a healthy scepticism of data

Belo-Osagie says much of the market data and information about Africa he has come across in his career had been incorrect.

One of his biggest mistakes in business was when he was part of a losing bid for the first mobile network licences in Nigeria. At the time some of the world’s most well-known consultancy firms advised that the Nigerian mobile phone market could not exceed 20m subscribers. Based on this figure, Belo-Osagie’s partners decided not to bid more than US$265m. The winning bids came in at $285m. Today Nigeria has more than 100m mobile phone subscribers, and in hindsight Belo-Osagie says the value of the licence was probably closer to $800m.

He did not make the mistake of relying too much on expert data when he bought United Bank for Africa (UBA) in the late 90s. The Nigerian lender was for sale for $15m. Many advised him that buying the bank was a bad idea, but Belo-Osagie felt it was an undervalued asset and stuck to his guns. He approached a large South African bank to put in $8m for a 51% stake in UBA, but this was deemed too risky an investment. Belo-Osagie however went through with the transaction. A few years later the same South African bank made him an offer that valued UBA at $300m.

“So when I tell you to have a healthy scepticism [or] disrespect for data, I mean what I say.”

2. Don’t exaggerate political risk in Africa

Many foreign investors are scared to invest in Africa due to the perceived political risks. Belo-Osagie says companies however need to look beyond only political risk, and take into account all the other risks that could be a threat to a business.

While there may be greater political risk in some African countries, firms in the west have higher “technological risk” with their business models constantly under threat from new disruptive technologies being introduced by companies like Google.

“The risks that you face in a lot of other countries are far higher than you imagine, and they often, in my view, outweigh the lower political risks that you have in the western world. Therefore, success in Africa needs a correct appreciation of political risk, not exaggerating it [and] not unduly worrying about it.”

3. The right team is essential

Belo-Osagie says winning teams are critical to the success of any business. “Teams are crucial because they combine the differing talents of different individuals, and they make the whole better than the part.”

He notes large companies operating in Africa today typically have a mix of expat and local employees.

In terms of expat workers, Belo-Osagie says those with a need for structure, certainty and clear procedure often don’t do well in Africa. It is therefore important to appoint someone with “a spirit of adventure, a hunger for new things”.

“When the light packs up or the washing machine stops working, he or she doesn’t throw their hands up and head for the airport… That eagerness and desire to experience something new, is more important than functional intelligence.”

When it comes to local staff, there are broadly two kinds of people: the foreign educated MBA with an understanding of “what life could be”, and those who have lived in a country like Nigeria all their lives.

He says a winning team is a combination of those with international experience and streetwise locals who know how to work the system.

4. Relationships need to be nurtured

Weaker institutions and legal systems make personal relationships more important when doing business in emerging markets such as Africa. Belo-Osagie says these relationships need to be nurtured.

“You may not want to go [to] the CEO’s daughter’s naming ceremony. You may not want to go [to] his daughter’s wedding, but I’ll strongly advise you to go, in your own interest. These relationships are fundamental and they do not stop at five o’clock in the afternoon… they go round the clock,” he explains.

5. Be bold despite uncertainty

Drawing from The Fog Of War, a 2003 documentary film on the life of former US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, Belo-Osagie compares the uncertainty of business with warfare.

“When you go into war, it is like walking into fog, you cannot see very clearly precisely what there is on the other side. I love that analogy because I think that one of the key factors for success in business is you must have that mental attitude to walk boldly through the fog of uncertainty that is an inevitable part of business,” he says.

“There are some individuals who cannot make a decision until every fact is in, who cannot live with uncertainty. By the time every single fact is in, you are inevitably too late for the opportunity.”

6. Don’t sacrifice your personal life for business success

Belo-Osagie urged the audience not to neglect their personal lives in the pursuit of business success, even if one got the hotel for sale and now is planning to spend days and nights there.

“Your relationship with another human being, whether that be a wife or a partner or with your parents or with your family, is very important. I know many businessmen that are on the pages of newspapers and on the front pages of magazines, who return to their lives and their houses, who are deeply unhappy. In your desire to be great successes, I want to urge you not to lose yourself. It is far easier to change a job, to change an industry and to improve a business, than it is to change an unhappy life.”

Clearly, a sure way to learn is to listen to and emulate people who have successfully walked their talk

Someone else who has also made a great success of his life financially and in private life likes to talk about the three ingredients of success which has guided his entire life journey. The ingredients are:


Image / reputation


He is of the opinion that your network is the most important of these three. You can be competent all you want, have a great reputation..all these come to nought since nobody is an Island and humans, not faith, move mountains.

Carefully build worthwhile network, nurture a good image, assiduously keep developing your competence and success is sure, he quipped.

And here is the second

1. In the lifetime of most Nigerian family settings, there are 3 Dispensations of Power.

2. The 1st is the first 25 years in the life of the family (father, mother, children) where power indisputably rest with the father.

3. The 2nd is after the kids have grown & started working when the power shifts to the mother.

4. The 3rd is when the kids move out of the family house or start their own families when the power moves to the children.

6. We’ll start from the 1st Dispensation. Total dominance of the father. He is the Lion of the Tribe of his House. The boss.

7. During this dispensation, the father rules with an iron fist. He barks orders & determines what does or does not happen.


8. The father often metes out corporal punishment to the recalcitrant children. They grow to fear him more than they love him.

10. The father is the provider for the family & everyone is aware of that fact with all attendant consequences.

11. Then the 2nd Dispensation sets in. The children have finished school and have started working. Power shifts to the mother.

12. When the children start earning their own money, for some reason, it’s their mothers they decide to look after. They are closer to her.

13. While the father was in charge, he was busy with the business of providing. He didn’t have much time to be a friend to the children.

14. They spent more time with their mum and invariably grew closer to her. They also see their mum as co-victims of the father’s tyranny.

15. The mother takes centre stage at this point. She is the first to know what’s happening with the children & she has advantage.

16. Should any of the daughters give birth, she is the one that goes for babysitting and the children spoil her with gifts.

17. At this stage, the father is wishing for some bond with the children like they have with their mother but that boat has sailed.

18. Because the mother doesn’t rely much on the father for her needs at this stage, she is less likely to tolerate his lordship. Friction.

19. Then the 3rd and last dispensation. Power has shifted to the children. They are self-sufficient, live on their own & have own families.

20. More often than not, whenever there is a quarrel between father & mother, the children side the mother.Years of joint-victimhood at play

21. Children have been known to come to the house to warn their father not to ‘disturb’ their mother. Next thing, extended visitations.

22. Woe betide the father if his finances are precarious at this stage. You will be humble by force. The gang-up is real.

23. This causes most men to fall ill & develop different complications. By the time the forces are arrayed against you, you will think well.

24. Stroke, Hypertension, High-Blood Pressure. The man has a large family but no relationship with them in later life. Troubling thought.

25. Moral, dear men, while the power lies with us, let us wield it with posterity in mind. It won’t be with us forever.

26. With the way you are treating your wife now, how will she treat you when power shifts to her?

27. What relationship do you have with your family? Loving dad or despotic, tyrannical provider?

28. Remember, the children always side with their mother. Aim to do enough to at least get a fair hearing in future moments of family strife

30. Invest wisely for the future so that you won’t have to beg to be taken care of if despite your best efforts, you find yourself alone.

Parenthood is not easy despite its joys. There is no manual on how it works.

… Author Unknown….

While I think the immediate above is steeped in histrionics to drive home a point, there are a lot of lessons to learn in there.

It reminds me vividly of that controversial book, The Anatomy Of Female Power in its melodrama, but nevertheless, this does not obfuscate the glaring lessons.

You would notice that, in both lengthy messages, there is an emphasis on nurturing your network (your {immediate} family included) carefully.

The primacy of carefully cultivating your network, being courageous and adventurous, embracing change, building your competence and maintaining a good reputation as a man of honesty / integrity is what I have been able to extract from all these.

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