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Late Dick Kramer, tireless builder, inspired BusinessDay

Dick Kramer:1934-2022

The Oxford English dictionary defines an era as a long and distinct period of history, especially one marked by distinct events.

The life of Richard ‘Dick’ Kramer was remarkable enough that it he was once described as a ‘modern-day pioneer and management missionary.’ That was what immediately came to mind when the death of Dick on April 18, 2022, after a brief illness, filtered in. He was 88 years old.

His death marked the end of an era that was defined, for the purposes of written record and literature, by many firsts when it comes to management principles and its application, not only in corporate Nigeria and academia, but also globally.

“Just heard Dick Kramer has passed away. He didn’t touch my life as much as he touched many others in Nigeria (especially the Arthur Andersen gang) but he had a very positive impact on me. His impact on Nigeria surpasses that of many ‘leaders’. May he rest in peace and in power,” Andrew Alli said on Twitter.

We consider the time of Dick an era because it was a fixed point in time from which a series of applicable management principles, through several years, were reckoned. His walk and works can be seen through some memorable dates and events, especially on how they touched individuals and corporations.

Using a system of chronological commentary computed from some given dates as basis, Frank Aigbogun, CEO/publisher, BusinessDay Media Limited, said, “Dick was a father, teacher, friend and mentor to us at BusinessDay.

He inspired the setting up of BusinessDay and told me if I ever made the decision to launch BusinessDay, I should count on his support. Not surprising, he became both a director on BusinessDay’s Board of Directors and served for many years as chair of our Editorial Advisory Board to which he singlehandedly attracted brilliant talents as members and thereafter working tirelessly to hand hold our people for many years. We will all miss him sorely.”

On hearing of his death, Uduimo Itsueli, chairman of BusinessDay Editorial Advisory Board, described Dick as a pioneer, visionary, and a giant who will be greatly missed, saying he had known him since 1979 as a gentleman who was central to the establishment of many great companies.

“I had a great relationship with him and those of us that worked with him on the Vision 2010 for Nigeria saw that he was very passionate about the country’s growth and development. He will be greatly missed,” Itsueli said.

Laoye Jaiyeola, CEO of Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), described Dick as one of the founding fathers of the NESG and he remained at the forefront of its activities.

He said: “The NESG cannot talk about the role of public-private partnership without mentioning him. He helped us see the need for regular dialogue with the government as he focused on how Nigeria can have good governance in place.

“Although he will be sorely missed, Kramer has left his footprints in the sands of time.”

On his part, Chuka Mordi, CEO/MD at Ellah Lakes plc, said throughout the course of his long stay in Nigeria, Dick touched and inspired numerous people in the most positive fashion, contributing a significant amount to the development of Nigeria in so many important aspects.

“I was privileged to work with him for a few years, and I had a great deal of respect for his clarity of thought, his perspicacity, and his willingness, whatever the circumstances, to ask difficult questions in order to uncover truth,” Mordi added.

In an earlier write-up in BusinessDay to celebrate him, ‘Dick Kramer: Modern-day pioneer and management missionary,’ it was noted that Dick grew up in Kansas, where he watched his parents and grandparents, who were pioneers, built farms, schools, businesses and communities from the scratch.

It was from them and from the vast plains of Kansas he learned hard work, honesty, discipline and commitment to building communities for posterity.

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He spent his entire life living tirelessly these lifelong principles and devoted just as much to imbibing them in others. Dick, as was known to friends and even first time acquaintances, strove to do right consistently.

Protégés, friends, colleagues and business partners all can remember him firmly footed in his beliefs, even decades after their first encounter. He was a down-to-earth, straight talker, patient listener, mentor, father, friend and lover of Nigeria.

He was the pioneer and management missionary that led the startup of Arthur Andersen offices in Buenos Aires, Brussels and Lagos from the scratch.

Dick, in a book ‘Making Change Happen: Partnering to Build Nigeria,’ published to mark his 80th birthday, said the parents of he and Wanda, his teenage sweetheart and wife of over 70 years, were children of “the strong pioneer families who built vibrant communities throughout rural America”.

The idea of modern-day pioneers comes from Wanda. In the book, she likens their decision to come to Nigeria in 1978 as a late response to the call missionaries of their church made to them as teenagers to come to Africa.

In an interview with BusinessDay to mark his 80th birthday, Dick related how his background shaped his tireless commitment to building a better Nigeria long after retiring as managing partner at Arthur Andersen, Nigeria in 1994.

“You have to realise this is the result of the way I was born and raised. My grandparents were pioneers who settled in the part of Kansas that I grew up in. There were no school systems; there were no towns, nothing at all.

And then they started the process. It was my parents’ generation that renovated a lot of those buildings and we were raised with the idea that we are supposed to leave the world better than we found it.”

How then does a modern pioneer work to leave a better world? In the case of Dick, it was through management, as a leader, mentor and investor.

In the book, Ernest Shonekan, his friend and business partner for decades, called Dick a “missionary manager.”

Other management-related pioneer works of Dick in Nigeria, apart from the startup of Arthur Andersen, include the Lagos Business School, NESG, African Capital Alliance (ACA), American Business Council, Harvard Business School Alumni Nigeria, and BusinessDay.

One way to depict Dick, the leader, mentor and investor, is through his involvement in the founding of BusinessDay.

During the early years of NESG, he got Aigbogun, who was then Editor of the Vanguard newspaper, involved. Dick recognised the role of the media in pushing ideas for reform in a military era, particularly when, as Aigbogun narrated, soldiers and businesspeople were considered the twin enemies of Nigeria.

Later on, Dick inspired Aigbogun to set up BusinessDay in 2000 and ACA invested in it. Dick, as chairman of the Editorial Advisory Board of the BusinessDay (long after the private equity firm he co-founded divested), was pivotal in its journey to become Nigeria’s first and leading daily business and financial newspaper.

Every first Monday of the month for 14 years, the board met without fail at his house. Unless Wanda was around, his house was opened all evening for the editorial team and other advisory board members to test what we heard or thought we knew.

So long as you thought straight and talked straight, you had the attention of Dick.

Otherwise, he would lean forward, stare you in the eyes and ask for the logic behind your conclusions.

Putting the diverse views together, and just like the proverbial expression will put it, “Dick taught many to fish without necessarily giving them fish to eat.” Adio mentor!