Changing of the guards: Partial or full control?
Nike Anani is a speaker, author and expert in next generation consulting. She was rated as the top 100 family business consultant globally. She helps her clients bridge the gap between the senior and younger generation, as a result they communicate, collaborate, and collectively gain clarity to increase profit and productivity in their family businesses.
This edition of My Family, My Business, features excerpts of her interview for PwC Nigeria’s NextGen Talk Podcast.
Can you share your NextGen story?
Nike: Family business is my life story. My father set up our first family business the year I was born. He was a medical doctor, my mum was a young teacher, and they couldn’t afford to give me the standard of living they wanted, so my father started an entrepreneurial venture on the side, and a couple of years later went into it full time. At age nine, myself, my brothers, and my mum moved to the UK. After university, I worked in Deloitte.
I trained to be a chartered accountant in corporate tax. But something in me was yearning for more. It was for my deeper purpose. I remember having a phone conversation with my father and he suggested “why don’t you come to Nigeria and see the real business world, maybe you are just bored”. The plan was to come to Nigeria for three months and then go traveling, and then go to business school. I got to Nigeria and saw it through a completely different lens.
I experienced entrepreneurial Nigeria and I fell in love with it. I stayed in Nigeria for 10 years. I started working with my dad in the family business. I was 24, quite young, but I was given so much responsibility and I found that challenging. I had to learn how to manage and lead teams of people that were significantly older.
So is it fair to say you were thrown into the deep end
Yes, just coming in, no training. In a culture where there is a lot of emphasis on the elder dominance and respect. I was used to a linear corporate culture. In the family business it felt like a wild race. There was no structure. I had to find myself, find my own leadership voice. I noticed that decision making was quite interesting in the family business. Decisions that would typically take 3-4 months to take in the corporate world would take my dad thirty minutes.
The reverse was also true. Decisions that should take us thirty minutes, my dad will sit on them. I found it difficult to suggest my ideas, to try to effect change. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t being impactful and persuasive enough in my communication style. I came across as a critic rather than a catalyst for change. My entry into the business disrupted a lot of things, some of the people were happy, some were not.
How did you get these impressions? Was this from reactions? Or you just don’t feel like they were collaborative?
A couple resigned. There were some people unfortunately that were profiting off the lack of structure, and they did not like the change in culture. There had to be reorientation of staff. Others who enjoyed the transition found that they were empowered, which was quite exciting, and there was the entrance of new corporate staff as well, with a different mind-set. It was a lot of learning. It was tough, but I absolutely loved the experience. It was a lot of work. It was a lot of change.
From your experience, if your dad were to hand over the business to you, would he want to handover completely with zero involvement or do you think there will still be some level of involvement?
My father is 59. If he had told me he is retiring tomorrow and he was giving me full control, I would laugh like yeah, I would see you tomorrow in the office.
Read also: Solutions to family business issues from an African perspective – A review of Nike Anani’s Lifetime to Legacy
Is that because of his age, or it’s a personality thing?
Both. His age and he is passionate about entrepreneurship. What will he be doing on a day-to-day basis unless I find him a job. A complete changing of the guard currently in our family’s journey is unrealistic. Maybe in 10-15 years, it might look quite different. I gave the analogy of those on the battlefield and those on the fight lines, so it is just my father and I working on the business, but behind the scenes, my brothers and I, we had started forming a siblings partnership and evaluating and exploring between ourselves what is our vision for the family enterprise, where are we going, how are we going to get there, how are we going to influence change starting now and we formed the family council. We are waiting until we are formally handed over the keys.
Was this done with your father involved in that process or was it just the siblings?
It started with just the siblings. We first had to gain clarity on who we are as siblings or as a sibling’s partnership rather. I think a common issue we see in our side of the world is that siblings have a lot of experience being siblings, but not enough experience being partners, and that partnership usually is called to the test in moments of crisis, so usually, the founder passes away and suddenly we are scrambling around who is going to take over the business, who is going to sort the assets, and they are forced to go into partnership then.
The challenge is it is a high stress situation, coupled with the fact that the siblings typically have not had experience on working together, collaborating, communicating or even understanding who they are and where they are heading, so there is very little cohesion. Ideally, you want to be forming that partnership during the lifetime of the founder, such that when the inevitable happens, we can hit the ground running. Obviously, it is still going to be bumpy. Death is not linear, grief is hard. There will be surprises, but for sure the journey will be a lot smoother having practiced collective leadership, having had clarity together.
What you have just described sounds like what all family businesses should be doing. Do you think family businesses in Africa are preparing? Or is it still very new?
It is still very new. Unfortunately, in Africa, we are conditioned to think very short term and it requires the reorientation of the mind set from lifetime thinking. To build legacies we must be long termist and build deep foundations. It is counter intuitive.
Digging deep is not just investing in the business and coming up with a great strategy. It is also the investments on ourselves as family members, taking time to have considered conversations ‘’where is this going” ‘’how are we going to get there’’ ‘’what are our individual roles in this wider picture’’. Having these conversations and ironing things out are very important.