Dick Kramer:1934-2022

The remarkable life and times of Dick Kramer who passed on recently are such that in this editorial, there will be a departure from the usual style. Rather, among other things, we will rely directly on the comments of a number of eminent Nigerians who had intimate knowledge of this deep and profound gentleman.

Such individuals include: Uduimo Itsueli, Laoye Jaiyeola, Frank Aigbogun, Eyo Ekpo, and the late Ernest Shonekan.

Dick Kramer. Has any non-Nigerian inspired the largest number of us to give our best to our country and to ourselves like him? I doubt it. His passing at 88 heralds the exit of one of Nigeria’s greats. Simple, plain, incisive, forthright but always leading, mentoring, teaching

The death of Dick Kramer marked the end of an era that defined, for the purposes of written record and literature, many firsts when it comes to management principles and applications, not only in corporate Nigeria and academia but also globally.

According to very credible sources, his impact on Nigeria surpasses that of many “leaders.”

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. Dick’s 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, stated, “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 single handedly attracted brilliant talents as members and thereafter working tirelessly to hand hold our people for many years. We will all miss him sorely.”

In the same vein, on hearing of the death, Uduimo Itsueli, chairman, BusinessDay Advisory Board, described Kramer as a pioneer, visionary, and a giant who will be greatly missed, noting that 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, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), noted that Kramer was one of the founding fathers of the NESG and he remained at the forefront of its activities.

“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,” throughout the course of his long stay in Nigeria, Kramer touched and inspired numerous people in the most positive fashion, contributing a significant amount to their development.

Reacting to the shocking news, Eyo Ekpo, a member of BusinessDay Advisory Board, said on his Twitter handle, “Dick Kramer. Has any non-Nigerian inspired the largest number of us to give our best to our country and to ourselves like him? I doubt it. His passing at 88 heralds the exit of one of Nigeria’s greats. Simple, plain, incisive, forthright but always leading, mentoring, teaching.

“Lagos was the third Arthur Andersen office that started in 1978 but something made him stay…and Nigeria, I’m sure, has been the better for it in spite of our fulfilling the promise he saw so clearly. His memory is one of deep affection and his path is richly blessed.”

In an earlier write-up in BusinessDay to celebrate him, ‘Dick Kramer: Modern day pioneer and management missionary, recorded Dick grew up in Kansas where he watched his parents and grandparents, who were pioneers, build 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. The immedeate sheds some light on what made Dick Kramer tick throughout his life on this side of the divide. Little wonder therefore that, he spent his entire life, living tirelessly these lifelong principles and devoted just as much to imbibing them in others.

Dick, as he 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 rooted 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 (AA) offices in Buenos Aires, Brussels and Lagos from the scratch.

To understand the pioneers of America is to catch a glimpse of the formative years of Dick. Red Cloud, Nebraska is 494 kilometres north of from Hugoton, Kansas, where Dick was born in 1934. Red Cloud is the setting of the epic novels of Willa Cather, particularly her prairie trilogy: O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark and My Antonia, her most celebrated novel.

The fictional lives portrayed in the works of Willa Cather give a window to the early years of Dick Kramer.

Reading about Cather and her works gives one tasked with writing about Dick the free rein to imagine his upbringing. It makes one understand those years he spent with his parents and grandparents as they farmed the uncultivated prairie land of Southwest Kansas.

Otherwise it would be difficult to understand how he became a modern pioneer and management missionary.

In O Pioneers!, the first of the trilogy, was written in 1913, 21 years before Dick was born. It was the first of many books that Cather wrote based from her memories of Red Cloud. She drew inspiration for the novel, and subsequent others, from the

farming communities she encountered as a child in the plains of Nebraska. The flat, sombre land, the work of the pioneers as farmers and their rural lives were the subject matter of her novels. She composed her stories from the lives of people she

knew; from the experience of immigrants from Germany, Poland and Sweden who first lived in the plains. The grandparents of Dick were European immigrants.

In the works of Cather, “the land is the hero,” notes David Stouck in a historical essay on O Pioneers! In her debut novel, Cather depicts the grit of the characters, of life lived close to the ground as they make the wild land succumb to their labours to yield grains.

While their youthful romances, church communities, shared joys and sorrows, love of family and friends, the lifelong lessons learned from mothers and grandmothers, the quiet example of fathers and grandfathers serve as a backdrop.

This is probably the closest description to the early years of Dick.

How Dick met Wanda, his teenage sweetheart and wife of over 70 years, is a living example of the youthful romance Cather wrote about.

Both were children of “the strong pioneer families who built vibrant communities throughout rural America,” wrote Dick in the first chapter of Making Change Happen: Partnering to Build Nigeria, a book published to mark his 80th birthday in 2014. They were born the same year, grew up together attending the same school, church and youth activities.

Dick reckoned his parents fell in love with Wanda faster than he did and approved their marriage before they left for university.

The idea of modern-day pioneers comes from Wanda. In Making Change Happen, 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.

O Pioneers! was dedicated to Sarah Orne Jewett, “who advised Cather that the things ‘which haunt the mind for years’ are the proper material for serious literature.”

You can tell memories of Hugoton in Kansas were Dick was born and raised never left his mind. And like Cather, remembrances of these past times forged Dick.

In an interview with BusinessDay to mark his 80th birthday, he 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. Ernest Shonekan, his friend and business partner for decades, called Dick a “missionary manager.”

Itsueli, also his close friend who worked with him for close to 40 years, said, “…working with Dick is akin to being permanently in a Harvard or Cambridge Executive programme specialising in emerging environments, with a focus on Nigeria.”

Other management-related pioneer works of Dick in Nigeria, apart from the startup of AA, include the Lagos Business School (LBS), the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), African Capital Alliance (ACA), American Business Council, Harvard Business School Alumni Nigeria (HBSAN), and BusinessDay.

One way to show up Dick, the leader, mentor and investor is through his involvement in the founding of BusinessDay. During the early years of NESG, he got Frank 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 narrates, soldiers and businesspeople were considered the twin enemies of Nigeria.

Read also: In memoriam: Dick Kramer, tireless builder, inspired BusinessDay

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 learn 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.” Certainly, corporate Nigeria is going to miss this peerless gentleman who gave his all and even more! to Corporate Nigeria. Therefore, it is only appropriate that we should quote again from Frank Aigbogun, one his visible mentees who contended thus: adieu mentor!

Certainly, and as the stock phrase goes: they do not make them like that any more.

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