• Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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90 percent of our students get jobs by graduation – Dean, LBS

90 percent of our students get employed by graduation – Dean, LBS

A few months ago, the Lagos Business School (LBS) clocked 30 years, a milestone for an institution that has been redefining business education in Nigeria. CHRIS OGBECHIE, a professor of Strategic Management, and Dean of LBS, in this interview with CALEB OJEWALE, discusses the school’s evolution and track records in producing graduates he says have defied the unemployment phenomenon in Nigeria, and even contributing to job creation. Excerpts:

It has been 30 years of the Lagos Business School in existence, can you take us through a bit of the journey, especially in view of what the school set out to achieve and where you are now?

Actually, the school clocked 30 years in November last year, but we decided to celebrate it over a period of one year because it is an important landmark. Lagos Business School is today the business school of Pan Atlantic University, but Pan Atlantic did not start 30 years ago. It is a situation where the child gave birth to the mother (to put it in the Nigerian way).

It started in 1991 aiming to help in uplifting the quality and standard of management in Nigeria, most importantly, responsible management. At that time, many organizations used to send their top management team to school abroad to enhance their own quality and to acquire the skills necessary to run a business. So when it started, it was not a university and we started with a program called the Chief Executive Program. It was like building a house from the top. Most would like to build a foundation. We thought if we could start influencing the chief executives, it will be possible to drive down the culture and if the chief executives were happy with what they saw, chances are they will send their subordinates to attend programs.

Later, several function specific programs were introduced like total quality management. An MBA program needed to be introduced but since we were not a university, we decided to partner with our sister school, IESE business school in Barcelona which is one of the top three business schools in the world. They helped us in starting our MBA program as the Executive MBA Program, and our participants were initially awarded the IESE degrees since we were not a university.

By 2002 we got a university license called Pan African University but now it is Pan Atlantic because at some point, the African Union decided to set up a Pan African University, and although we were the first to register, we had to defer to them and change our name to Pan Atlantic University.

The school has grown from one executive MBA, and we now offer four variants of MBA: executive MBA, modular executive MBA, our full time MBA and then a modular MBA. These are still the same MBA but targeted at different people in terms of who they are, the kind of convenience they want and when they can come in and do the program.

You mentioned earlier that before LBS, those who wanted this knowledge mostly went abroad, since you started, how much do you think you have contributed in reducing the need to go abroad for an MBA?

Why did they choose to go abroad? They wanted quality education. So for us to be able to attract them and keep them here we need to offer the same quality. And how do you assess that the quality of the MBA is high? It’s through international accreditation. Now, we have two international accreditations, AACSB and AMBA and these are the two top most international accreditations. For AMBA, only about 2 percent of business schools in the world and for AACSB, only about 5 percent.

Having those accreditations is an endorsement of the quality of programs we offer which is critical for us, and we can then attract quality students. But let’s not kid ourselves; look at the population of Nigeria. There is no way we can satisfy the need of all the people who want to go to school. So we still have some people who go to do their programs abroad. But one thing we know and that distinguishes us from schools abroad is that we have a competitive advantage, which is, we know how to do business in Africa.

So no problem they can go to Harvard, and there’s nothing wrong with it because they can network with other people. But when they come back, they have to see how they adapt what they have learnt to their own environment. But for us, we are already immersed in the environment. Our faculty is made up of people who have actually worked in industry, so they have practical experience in Nigeria. In addition to their academic background, they are at the same time engaged in research work to help Nigeria, and African businesses, and even institutions. In addition to that they do consultative work so they bring in expertise about doing business in Africa into the classroom.

Read also: How SMEs in northern Nigeria are leveraging gas to grow their business

In practical terms, what has been achieved in 30 years, in terms of your delivery of business education, compared with older institutions that started it before?

Two things that are peculiar about what we do and also set us apart is that business ethics is critical to whatever we teach here, for the simple reason that we want to produce responsible leaders and managers who will run businesses responsibly. What do I mean by responsible business? It is not just about how much profit I am going to make but in trying to make profit, am I conscious of the needs of the society where I operate, am I conscious of the needs of the environment. So that’s the reason why we have the sustainability centre. We set up a sustainability centre to try and embed that in whatever we teach, not just our MBA students but also people who come for any executive program.

Business ethics makes you responsible so we are talking about responsibility in terms of corporate governance, the way you treat your employees the way you treat your customers the way you treat your suppliers, the way you treat your distributors, but at the same time I can’t be making money in an environment where 70 percent of the people are poor, what am I doing to help alleviate that? I can’t be making money in an environment I am destroying the land by polluting, because it affects the health of these people. That kind of business sense is what we bring in and we were the first to have a professor of business ethics in Africa (not just Nigeria).

Considering you started by affiliating with IESE, a Spanish school, how have you evolved in terms of keeping the curriculum relevant in an economy like Nigeria?

The environment is also dynamic and changing it is not static. So if you look at what we taught 10 years ago, it is a little different from what we have today but the framework is the same. The accountants will tell you profit is revenue minus cost so the concepts are the same but how you now start using and applying them will change in the environment.

We upgrade our curriculum regularly by being in touch with different industries. We have an advisory board made up of industry captains across different industries. They advise us on the kind of managers they need, the kind of problems businesses are facing.

About 15 percent of our MBA students go on to start their own businesses, but in the next five years we want to take it up to 25 percent

90 percent of our graduates get employed by the time they leave school. And within 3 months of leaving school maximum 6 months, all of them get jobs.

We also organize an annual survey of what’s going on, what are the challenges businesses are facing and on the basis of that, we update our curriculum. So what should we be teaching our people, how can they fit into the industry when they leave here?

It has been said that more than half of businesses in Nigeria die within 5 years. Do you think the business education here has contributed in any way to changing this narrative?

The biggest problem with small businesses in Nigeria is that most of them are family businesses. So when you talk of the mortality rate being high, five years is even too long. First challenge is succession planning, the second is they have not actually developed business skills that will enable them to develop the business.

We started an owner management program, for those who started and own businesses. We bring them in and help them to upgrade their skills, teaching them finance, HR, operations, marketing, strategy, and show them how they can go beyond the first generation by setting up boards. So the issue of corporate governorship should matter to them.

Then we also train people on entrepreneurship. About 15 percent of our MBA students go on to start their own businesses. But in the next five years we want to take it up to 25 percent. Because the only way we can grow the economy significantly is to produce more entrepreneurs and because we’re interested in that, the Bank of Industry just signed an MoU with us and partnered with us to set up an entrepreneurship innovation centre in the school, which will drive innovation.

Many of our young people are doing extremely well in the tech area, in the entertainment area. But how can we drive that into the agric area? Because the biggest opportunity we have today in reducing unemployment is to grow the agric sector. And because of that we started our agri-management program here. We’re not teaching them how to till the land; we’re teaching them how to run it as a business. Whether you’re producing cassava or you’re producing yam, or processing plantain, how do you do it as a business so that you can thrive. In addition to making sure that there’s that reduction in the mortality rate, we also started a family business program here. We have seen that most of the small businesses in Nigeria are family businesses, so this family business program is helping families, to see the need to plan for succession. So when the founder is no more there, there is someone to take over, who has been prepared to run the business and take it to the next level.

Let me also say that we have a sister institution called Enterprise Development Centre. It is within this premises and was set up about 20 years ago to address the problems of micro and small businesses. At LBS we’re looking at medium size, but the woman who’s making boole (roasted plantain) is a business, how can we help her to make it better. The woman making moi moi (bean pudding) is a business. Over 1,500 people go through the training across the country every year, so it is not a Lagos affair. These are the contributions we are making in driving small businesses to survive and thrive in Nigeria.

You mentioned 15 percent of your fulltime MBA graduates go on to establish businesses, what has been the success and failure rates?

No failures yet. Because they were prepared for it, they know what they are going into.

In December 2021, LBS became the first Nigerian academic institution to receive an ISO certification. Can you give us a clearer picture of what this meant in terms of how you qualified for it and the offerings at LBS?

For the manufacturing companies it signifies the quality of the product, for us, what is our product? Knowledge and how we deliver the knowledge, which is the experience participants have when they come in here. And the experience starts from when you know about the program, how you register, when you come in, the knowledge and how you apply it. And while studying here, it is not only the classroom, but the entire environment, creating a conducive learning environment. When they come here, the processes we put in place, from admission, training, taking care of you while you are here even and when they leave us, those are the kind of processes we want to ensure that they have a pleasant experience.

So that is our own quality and then the content they get and how relevant it is to them when they go back to their businesses. Being able to maintain that high standard is a measure of the quality of what we do here, both in terms of the product and processes. When people pass through here, they are excited and they can come back and also recommend us to their friends.

Over the years, LBS has attained other rankings recognising it for excellence in one way or the other, can you talk a bit about some of these and what significance they actually have?

For us, it is three areas. First I’ve discussed accreditation which again is a measure, but also ranking, in terms of comparing with peers. The first one was Financial Times ranking of business schools all over the world in terms of open enrolment program. We have been ranked since 2007 among the top 70 business schools all over the world which is a big endorsement for us. In addition, our MBA program has also been ranked by Economist magazine, and these rankings also place us with our peers all over the world, so it’s not a ranking of just Nigerian universities or African universities. For us, it is an indication and also an endorsement of the quality of the programs we deliver here.

What would you say you are getting right at LBS, which, if perhaps replicated could uplift the delivery of other educational institutions in the country?

The starting point for us is our culture. The school is like a community. We are Professional. Integrity is critical to us. If we’re preaching business ethics, we must practice what we preach and it’s a community where decision making process is collegial. We have a management board, so I as the dean cannot impose my views. That collegial approach means that nobody has monopoly of knowledge. We don’t have barriers, between faculty and students; we eat the same food with them in the same cafeteria, we use the same toilet and other facilities.

Because of all these, communication barriers do not exist. At the same time we ensure the quality of the facilities we have is top notch. These are the things that we do to get the students to be in a relaxed environment and at the same time know that they have access to faculty.

You’ve spoken so much about your graduates, however, Nigeria’s unemployment rate can be said to hardly be a respecter of degrees. How much of an exception have LBS graduates been?

90 percent of our graduates get employed by the time they leave school. And within 3 months of leaving school maximum 6 months all of them get jobs. One of the things we find out is that if you quit your job and come do an MBA here by the time you leave, you’re better off and would get a better job.

Those who have done the Executive MBA they are working, so they are coming Fridays and Saturdays. By the time they graduate, they move to at least 30 percent pay rise, often moved to jobs with more responsibility. However, we don’t want our MBAs to be sending CVs, we want them to collect CVs, and that’s the reason we lay emphasis on entrepreneurship. Let them create jobs.

The best way of growing our economy is to create more entrepreneurs and that’s how we can get these young ones fully employed. Small businesses employ more people if you look at the total number of people they employ. It is by far more than the total number of people big businesses employ. It is not peculiar to Nigeria but everywhere in the world. So we pride ourselves by saying that when our students graduate, they get jobs, and also internationally.

Generally speaking, is there empirical proof of a relationship between quality of business education and business/economic performance in a country, more so, a place like Nigeria?

Let’s not forget that businesses operate in the context of an environment. But the education we give them helps them to navigate these difficult terrains, and also helps them to fit in as the environment changes. If you train them on critical thinking whether there is recession or boom they still have to use it. When we talk about Emotional Intelligence, whether there is recession or boom, they still know how to manage it and manage people. So definitely for economic growth, we have to invest in education. You have to look at all the countries that have grown, third world countries like India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Rwanda, check how much they invest in education as a percentage of their total budget. For Nigeria, the gap is enormous.

There is a perception of cost as a limiting factor for people who may want to study at LBS, are there ways of getting promising but financially constrained candidates into LBS?

Every year we award about four scholarships to indigenous students. We have now set up a scholarship fund to see how we can expand that. But of course we cannot give everybody a scholarship, so we’re also discussing with some financial institutions, not commercial banks, on the kind of financial instruments that can make it possible for the students to have a loan of single digit interest rates. That is already in the making so we are hoping that before the end of this year we should have a clear picture of how it is going to be. The student loan will be the first of its kind in Nigeria when concluded.

Apart from that, we are also developing programs that we can deliver online, in an asynchronous way where you can buy the tape or the video and play it and learn at your own pace.

For instance, if you want to learn a particular skill, you don’t have to come and spend two years to do that. That is a way of making education more accessible but at the same time developing specific skills that will help people fit into industry or business.