Linda Uneze is the Managing Partner/Founder of Maurice Xandra Solutions, an HR consulting firm that supports organisations to thrive through the deployment of HR strategies, initiatives, programmes and interventions.
She is a certified transformative coach and works with individuals and organisations in leadership development programmes. As a coach and member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), she has coached over 100 executives, business leaders and professionals interested in challenging their status quo.
Linda has an MBA from Manchester Business School and a B.A from Anambra State University where she graduated with First Class Honours. She is certified by the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI), USA as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHRi); by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, Nigeria as a full member (MCIPM) and by the International Coaching Federation as an Associate Certified Coach (ACCA).
Uneze also has a Human Resources Practitioner’s License as well as a professional diploma in Human Resource Management, both from CIPM.
She is passionate about solving real-life issues and supporting businesses. In this regard, she is the Convener of the Doing Business in Nigeria Conference, a platform created to encourage experience sharing on the business environment in Nigeria to attract more investors as well as enlighten entrepreneurs and other business leaders.
Take us down memory lane to your youthful days and inspiration
Growing up was pretty interesting. I grew up with love, loving parents and siblings as my buddies. I come from a modest family, and my parents, who were civil servants, were very interested to see us study to the highest level of our education. They were strict in a loving way, but I wanted to make some decisions of my own. During my secondary school days, I was not quite like my older siblings. They were in science class for their senior secondary and then, some schools based on your grades in Junior secondary will categorise students into various classes. If you are smart, your name will be on the published list for science class. So, after my junior secondary exam result was published, I saw my name on the list of people for science class. I was not interested in anything science. In fact, at a very young age, I could already knit scarves, and braid hairs and later on, I could fix weaves and make wigs. Those were innate abilities I had. I became the school’s cartoonist as I could draw at that time and I discovered more skills about myself as I got older. So, back to my story, I didn’t want to be in science class even if it was considered prestigious at that time. And if you do not want to be in science, you have to get a letter from your parents confirming their approval to go to a class of any choice. I stayed back at school and wrote the letter. The next day I submitted the letter without the knowledge of my parents and got admitted to Art class. My parents later found out but it was already too late. Anyway, they asked me why and eventually accepted my decision but I was scolded for not getting their input.
Another incident that makes me smile whenever I remember was when I finished secondary school at the age of 16. Unlike now, where students can intern and learn, back in the day, the parents will protect you and provide for you so working before the university was not common. I wanted to work. My older brother and older sister tried but Dad vehemently said no. Anyway, I got a job through my friend’s dad at an advert agency in Ikeja and we used to live in Surulere then. So, I would shower early hours of the morning and chill until my dad left for work then I would quickly get dressed and also leave for my job. Mum knew; she was our confidante and always guided us. I would always return before my dad and when I was paid my first salary, I took everything to my dad because I had heard that the first fruit goes to your parents. I remember giving him my salary and looking away with fear but I noticed he was smiling; I could tell that he was proud of me. Of course, he told me to keep the money and we had a long conversation.
Fast forward to today, we still have our long talks.
As founder of Maurice Xandra Solutions, why was it set up and what is the success story so far?
Maurice Xandra Solutions was set up initially to support SMEs. When I was doing my MBA, we had a group assignment in one of the courses. While working on the assignment, we were talking about businesses we would build and why. And I started discussing my plan to support small businesses in the areas of HR processes and talent discovery and the more I spoke about it, the more passionate I became. This is why it is important to document your plans and speak about them because as you do that more, you give them life and make them more attainable and realistic.
The business was registered in December 2015, and our first year of business was 2017 as we had offered two freemium services in 2016. A call came through in January 2017 that redefined our mission. We got a call from a global firm to facilitate their team bonding sessions during their retreat. I remember asking myself, “Do you want to do this because this company does not fall into the category of SMEs”. Long story short, we said yes as we thought it was a good opportunity to market our brand and position ourselves for growth while giving value. That sole decision has influenced our journey as the majority of our clients have been repeat clients or based on referrals. The decision had a ripple effect.
Success for us mirrors the movement of a heartbeat. The lows, the highs, the learnings and majorly a journey of achievements. We have great clients and it has been a pleasure working with them.
In deploying workable solutions across various industries and borders, what are your observations and advice to companies generally?
I would say that running this business has allowed me to work with companies in different industries. My observation is that what works for company ‘A’ might not work for the structure, size, and other factors of every organisation that need to be understood to deploy solutions that are suitable and implementable. Some organisations are guilty of “copy and paste” and I know their intention might not be this but because they need to save cost, they end up doing this. Any solution being offered to you must be customised to suit your needs.
Also, we have noticed that organisations still place a lot of emphasis on the class of qualification. While we recognise the importance of a good grade, we also acknowledge that there might have been situations beyond the control of the talent while in school. For example, we have heard of victimisation in the universities or even lack of funding. So, if you are looking at an experienced talent’s profile who is a high flyer, why should class of first degree be important? Organisations should begin to look at the growth of the talent between when he/she graduated and the time of engagement for possible employment amongst other things.
Lastly, do not engage based on sentiments. Remove tribal, religious, and cultural affiliations from your daily interactions with colleagues, clients, and the community at large. Promotion, hiring, selection of vendors and so on should all be based on clear criteria which has no bias.
Share your experience working in the capacity of Group, Head of Human Resources for various organisations
My experience working as a consultant allowed me to work with clients in different industries, and to work within an organisation’s HR department to provide strategic guidance, support, and expertise on various human resources initiatives.
I was involved in strategic planning, policy development, talent management, and fostering a positive workplace culture. I worked with the senior management to ensure the HR initiatives supported the company’s growth, profitability, and long-term success.
What experiences with Environmental Accord, an environmental and sustainability company as the Human Resource Manager; and MTN Nigeria in the Finance Department, would you want to share
Very interesting times in my career as those were my formative stages. My role in finance allows me to get familiar and comfortable with financial matters. However, my interest was always HR so I never lost track of that. I took professional courses, sat for exams with CIPM and became a certified HR professional so I was hungry to apply the knowledge. I would volunteer for anything related to HR.
I remember being on the team bonding committee of the finance operations department and I was always in the programme committee that comes up with activities in line with the goals and theme for the year. I worked with amazing managers at the time, a lot for the short period I would say because the company develops its people through frequent job rotation. The opportunity to work with different managers made me take training on “How to Manage your Boss” and I still apply the learnings to date. I grew, I learnt, and I transferred all the skills acquired when I transitioned to HR. My first HR role allowed me to develop HR strategy and business plan as well as a mechanism for effective monitoring of its achievements.
All of these skills and experience, I have put together in running Maurice Xandra Solutions.
As a certified transformative coach, what are your responsibilities and why the choice to be one, including results so far?
Transformative coaching is a method that involves guiding individuals through significant shifts in their mindset, behaviour, and self-awareness, facilitating enduring change and growth.
One key motivation for embracing transformative coaching is my genuine passion for personal growth and development. I wanted to be able to help others embark on their journeys of self-discovery, harnessing their potential for positive change untapped capabilities and achieving personal breakthroughs.
The opportunity to make a meaningful impact on my clients’ lives is another driving force behind becoming a transformative coach. Transformative coaching enables me to support clients in dismantling barriers, surmounting challenges, and realizing their goals. By facilitating profound shifts in mindset and behaviour, transformative coaches enable my clients to create lasting changes that transcend short-term fixes.
The holistic approach of transformative coaching allows me to address various dimensions of my client’s life – relationships, career, health, and overall well-being. I can empower my clients to take ownership of their journey rather than offer prescriptive solutions. During the coaching sessions, my clients discover their insights, make informed decisions, and chart their unique path towards transformation.
Over the years, my clients have reported increased self-awareness, elevated confidence, improved communication skills, clearer decision-making abilities, and a sense of empowerment to instigate positive shifts in their lives.
What is ‘Doing Business in Nigeria Conference’ about?
Doing Business in Nigeria Conference (DBNC) was set up to promote experience sharing among business leaders and professionals in a bid to equip potential investors, entrepreneurs and professionals with the right knowledge of the business environment in Nigeria in addition to addressing some of the gaps and challenges peculiar to a developing nation like Nigeria. The importance of the DBNC hinges on magnifying the experience of leaders to reach a larger audience of both individuals and businesses who will gain from such sharing to foster collaborations, partnerships and growth which can bring about the sustainability of Nigerian businesses.
It also provides an avenue for business owners to pitch their businesses to potential investors giving room for job creation and nation-building.
We have had three editions. The editions in 2021 and 2022 were virtual, but we wanted to create an avenue for networking and allow for physical interactions hence the third edition being physical. It took place on the 28th of April 2023 at the landmark event centre.
Feedback from the participants has been positive as we have had notable personalities speak on pressing issues and topics of interest. Also, we have supported an SME through the provision of a 10,000 USD grant. With the support of the government and various entities, we intend to reach a larger audience and support more businesses.
Is it really easy doing business in Nigeria or is the phrase a cliche?
I would say it is a goal. No doubt, we have some developmental challenges, including insufficient infrastructure such as power, governance issues and security challenges. But we cannot shy away from these challenges; we must speak on them to come up with solutions that can buffer their effects.
We have seen some changes to the process of company registration, tax administration, and other business-related procedures, and this is a step in the right direction. Although this improvement has been countered by the challenges encountered on the portal.
Practically speaking, what can government do to ease business processes in Nigeria?
Starting a business in Nigeria is getting easier with the digitalisation of the business registration and tax filing process; the 2022 Start-up Act includes provisions for tax incentives should any business invest in innovation and entrepreneurship.
However, other pain points need addressing and for these to be addressed over time; we need regular and continuous dialogue between the government and business community, so collaboration is key to policy improvements.
Also, access to credit is often a significant challenge for startups and small businesses. The government can establish credit guarantee schemes that reduce the risk for lenders providing loans to these enterprises. This approach encourages financial institutions to extend credit to businesses that might otherwise be considered risky. By promoting these schemes, Nigeria can unlock funding opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs, fostering innovation and economic growth.
In supporting businesses with grants and business literacy, how can both be accessed for those who need it?
Supporting businesses with grants and business literacy programmes is a valuable strategy to foster entrepreneurship, encourage economic growth, and empower individuals to succeed in the business world. Through the DBNC platform, startups, small businesses, and individuals can access the grants. We call for applications two months before the conference and eligibility criteria are spelt out. The selected applicants pitch to a panel of judges on the day of the conference and the winner is announced and given the grant.
DBNC seeks to support these businesses by providing initial capital, helping them expand, supporting innovative ideas and/or showing them to potential investors, partners and customers.
Business literacy programmes like mentorship and other resources will be deployed to further support DBNC participants especially the pitchers to develop a well-rounded understanding of business principles and prepare them for funding and business sustainability.
A call for applications for the 2024 grant as well as the unveiling of the 2023 conference will be published on our website.
As a mentor on various platforms including WIMBIZ, Afrikindness and Manchester Spring Mentoring for Manchester Business School, share your mentorship experiences
The experience is always rewarding for me, as it allows me to make an impact on the growth of others. It is a combination of sharing my expertise, providing guidance to my mentees, building relationships, and helping my mentees set attainable goals and action plans.
So, it is always an honour when invited to mentor anyone because it is an opportunity to give back and make an impact. The experience is also humbling because I met really smart women who are not shy to discuss their passion and explore ways to achieve those dreams.
Just being able to walk the journey with them fuels the fire in me to do more. It is inspiring.
How important is mentorship? How has it also helped you personally?
Mentorship is highly important and can have a significant impact on personal and professional development. A mentor is someone who offers guidance, support, and advice based on their own experiences and expertise. Having a mentor can provide numerous benefits that contribute to your growth and success.
Mentorship is a two-way street. While mentors offer guidance and support, mentees also contribute by being receptive, open to feedback, and actively seeking opportunities to learn and grow. Reverse mentoring can also occur in the relationship where the mentee can also offer guidance and support to their mentors.
Mentorship doesn’t always have to be a formal arrangement. It can happen naturally through interactions with colleagues, supervisors, or industry professionals. It’s also worth considering mentorship in both your personal and professional life, as mentors can guide a wide range of areas.
I have been fortunate to be guided and supported by peers, friends, colleagues, senior colleagues and my life mentor, Cees Uijlenhoed who is now late. I learnt a lot from my life mentor as he always brought different perspectives to the many matters I have tabled before him. And I am grateful that he was there to support my journey.
Is work-life balance a myth or reality? How do you navigate yours?
Whether it’s a myth or a reality will be dependent on whether an individual can achieve equilibrium between work and other aspects of life.
For me, achieving a balance between work and personal life is unattainable so I have embraced work-life integration and harmony. I can be there for my loved ones when I need to as I can work at a later time. I am largely focused on results which means I manage my time according to my priorities so I can focus and refocus based on urgency and importance. I do not have to wait for a specific work period or personal period to do any of this. This might not be easy for those who are not running their business and for organisations yet to recognise the importance of work-life harmony and integration.
I am happy to work while on vacation because I love what I do. It does not affect the fun or time with loved ones. I am also happy to hear from loved ones during work hours or take a short break for a massage.
I also do not shy away from saying no when expectations are not realistic. You cannot always give; you need time to refill. So, say a confident but polite NO if it will affect your mental health.
Share your never-to-be-forgotten day and why?
This is easy, my birth date. It reminds me of how far I have come and God’s mercies upon my life.
It has been a pleasure conversing with you, Kemi. Thank you for the invitation to share my story with the world.