What does it take for companies to grow and thrive on the continent? Many would say leaders who drive forward thinking companies that lean on the principles of integrity and perseverance. In their book Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, authors James Collins and Jerry Porras lay out the framework for building successful companies, with a view to addressing continuity and change; what elements that make up a company’s core remain untouched, and those elements that should be open for change. Keen and astute business leaders understand the importance of maintaining tried and true elements that ultimately define a company’s character. This in essence lays the foundation of building a business that supersedes others in the face of competition. Using Collins and Porras’ principles of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG), Home Grown Management and Cult-Like Cultures, we learn from four long standing business leaders* on the continent who have built successful companies, even as they continue to navigate the challenges that come with growing their business.
Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHG) Mossadeck Bally started working in his father’s company, which was in the import-export business, when he decided that he wanted to branch out on his own. The hospitality industry caught his eye. With a loan, he took a gamble and refurbished the oldest hotel in Mali and started what is now known as the Azalai Hotels Group, the first African private hotel chain group in West Africa, providing employment to thousands of direct and indirect employees. Many years and several acquisitions later, he continues to see opportunities in the hospitality industry.
“It is a capital intensive industry, but it is important that we remain a full-fledged African run company”, Bally said.
With a presence in Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Benin, Lagos, Niamey, Dakar, Conakry and Abidjan, Bally’s goal is to continue to expand across Anglophone and Francophone countries across the continent within the next few years.
Home Grown Management According to Kenya’s Mary Okelo, the first female bank manager at Barclays Bank – East Africa, sometimes it is okay to keep things in house. The founder and executive director of the Makini Group of Schools recognizes the difference between training and promoting talent up the ranks and bringing in outside talent.
“We previously brought in a retired educator, but that did not work out well because we came from two different and distinct value systems”, said the proprietor.
The Makini Group of Schools was established in 1978 as a nursery school and currently has over 2,000 students on various campuses. The pioneering institution has proven a tried and true blueprint that works.
“With the type of services we offer, it is easier to manage and grow your culture from within than bringing in people externally”.
Cult-Like Cultures Collins and Porras highlight the need for employees in a company to adapt to a leader’s vision and remain loyal to the vision in order for the company to survive. George Etomi, Founder and Principal of George Etomi & Partners is a renowned Nigerian lawyer who laid the foundation for his firm’s culture long before it was established. Etomi didn’t start out with the intention of running his own practice. After discovering dissatisfaction with teaching the law, he pursued an opportunity with the law firm of Chris Ogunbanjo & Co, a leading international law firm. Four years later, upon realizing a vacuum in the area of commercial law, he launched his own practice — in the middle of a recession. Impeccable quality, hard work and the use of good judgment served as core values with which he grew his firm during this period, and they are ones he continues to instill in his employees today.
“Cult like companies are often a function of challenges. We retrain the people we hore and instill our values”, he said.
Employees who are non-malleable are eventually let go. “Over time, our ethos was developed that centered on quality. Our employees check and re-check their work among their peers and direct reports before it is handed over to clients”.
Bally also emphasizes establishing a local footprint as a part of building a cult like culture. “To have a long lasting business, it is necessary to define your culture, while maintaining international standards of service”.
Cult-like cultures remain important to both Bally and Etomi as they begin to think about the future of their companies. Etomi looks forward to leaving a legacy and the expansion of the Etomi brand.
“We are faced with globalization, and many Nigerian firms face the pressure to merge with foreign firms. Regardless of what the future holds we need to remain competitive and hold on to our culture of work”, he concluded.
*The leaders presented at the 17th Annual Africa Business Conference at Harvard Business School.