The 21st Century Capitalist’s Dilemma (1): VFD’s Balancing Act and Empathy as a new Core Value
(In conversation with Adeniyi Adenubi)
Adeniyi Adenubi (‘Niyi) is the Executive Director, Investment Management and Investor Relations VFD Group Plc. – a group of financial services companies in Nigeria. Niyi has over 15 years of experience in Institutional and Corporate Banking, Investment Management and Consulting. He is the Chairman of Anchoria Asset Management and also serves on the Boards of several companies. ‘Niyi is passionate about Corporate Governance and brings this to bear on all the boards on which he serves.
My relationship with ‘Niyi is both professional and personal; and in all the years I have known him, we have always sat on different sides of the fence with our starkly opposing views of socialism and capitalism. I oftentimes referred to him as the ultimate capitalist, just because I believed he had such strong views about business profitability. His profile clearly does not help matters – how do you work in financial services and not have such strong capitalist beliefs.
However, in recent times, I started to have more balanced conversations with him – I saw a business leader that was adapting to the ever dynamic world of business, and taking into account the need to have non-capitalist considerations if a business must remain sustainably profitable.
With this context, I invited ‘Niyi and Uzoma Dozie to SCwN last week, to share their views on, what I had coined, The 21st Century Capitalist’s Dilemma: Social Impact or Profitable Value Creation. It was a pleasantly refreshing conversation, as the two business leaders shed light on their perspectives and the new social order that has forced more people to start to think more laterally about these matters. This edition of the article will focus on ‘Niyi’s perspectives and I will share Uzoma’s views in the next edition.
According to ‘Niyi, in light of the role of capitalism in the new world – “At VFD Group, we are socially conscious, but if you are socially conscious and you don’t make profit, then your business is not sustainable.”
As obvious as this statement may seem in terms of logic – balancing the divergent interests of stakeholders and making key business decisions has got to be a herculean task. A simple illustration is when the pandemic broke out in the country and businesses were confronted with the difficult decision of shutting down operations to ensure that the spread of the virus was curbed. On the one hand you are thinking about your customers who need your services and on the other had you are considering the safety of your employees and then your regulators are issuing directives that you must comply with. With this, one can easily see that, while playing the balancing act is ideal, it’s not an easy process and at the end of the day, the most optimal decision in view of all key stakeholder will have to be taken.
For ‘Niyi, similar to Uzoma, in terms of stakeholder interest prioritisation – the customers and employees are the priorities followed by the regulators. This only stands to reason, if you don’t have the right employees to deliver your services or goods, then you don’t have a business. Likewise, if your customers are not interested in or demanding for your products or services, then you don’t have a business.
According to a 2019 White Paper by the World Economic Forum – the essential ingredients for building trust and retaining a license to operate, for claiming corporate citizenship, are purpose, strategy, culture, values and governance. I asked Niyi to share if this was same for the VFD Group. He shared – “Our values at the VFD Group are, integrity, innovation, teamwork and newly empathy. The whole idea of pushing empathy as a value, is that it actually drives our business.”
The newly added core value of Empathy piqued my interest, I wanted to understand why the organsiation thought it was critical and how it’s been taught.
‘Niyi believes that, once you are able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand where they are coming from, there is less friction. For instance, a customer could call to make an enquiry about a business that’s part of the VFD Group that you don’t belong to, the expectation is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, to understand that they see the group as one organisation; and so whoever they speak to should be able to address their concerns.
In addition, ‘Niyi shared that the management at VFD ensures to clarify that putting people first and foremost doesn’t mean you are soft; but understanding what the other person is feeling helps you.
It was refreshing to learn first-hand, the active steps organsiations like VFD are taking to be more socially conscious. For me I would say its baby-steps yet, and the consciousness backed by action, no matter how little, is an indication of progress. As shared with Niyi, the litmus test of this consciousness is if I saw a VFD staff on the road and asked if it was a great place to work.
My conversation with ‘Niyi and Uzoma was enlightening and I can’t wait to share some of my take-outs from Uzoma’s views in my next article.
Till then, please visit www.socialconscience.africa or www.africabusinessradio.com to listen to the full conversation.
I remain, yours conscientiously,