AfricaLive in conversation with Dr Steve Olusegun Ogidan, CEO and Founder of Successory Nigeria Limited. Read an extended feature on how Successory Nigeria Ltd is opening up opportunity in African markets here.
AfricaLive: Please give us a bit of a background on Successory Nigeria Ltd. How would you describe your business philosophy and what strategic goals would you like the company to achieve under your leadership?
Dr Steve Olusegun Ogidan: Successory Nigeria Limited is a consulting firm. We are in Nigeria, but we work across Africa. Our strategy is to enable our clients to succeed, hence the name of the company. We aspire to make every one of our partners into a success story.
Our core competencies include organizational development, risk management, microfinance and enterprise development strategy as well as building capacity for growth.
We discovered that often time’s enterprises across Africa believe that funding is their primary challenge. However, our experience has shown that beyond funding, building capacity is a significant issue. We have enterprises that have limited ability and a clear understanding of how to manage growth.
The enterprises we have worked with across Africa often succeed as first-generation enterprises, but moving from the first generation to the 2nd generation can be a challenge. They cannot move beyond a certain stage of growth and particular capacity.To move from one step to the other, they need additional capacity. Managing growth is, therefore, a significant issue.
Our company was incorporated in 2001 and got registered soon after. However, our activities started effectively in 2005, when I left my previous job.
We have a presence not only in Nigeria but also in Morocco, Liberia, Kenya, and South Africa. We have worked extensively in growing and emerging markets, like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Liberia, Kenya, Egypt and Ghana.
We work with several partners to plan, deliver and oversee microfinance development strategies. In Nigeria, we designed and delivered a number of microfinance capacity building programmes for the Central Bank of Nigeria. We also developed the curriculum for the Microfinance Certification Programme, MCP.
We discovered that out of about 1200 microfinance banks in Nigeria, the majority are one unit banks that struggle to build capacity. Hence we started working on a certification program under the leadership and sponsorship of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN). People who wish to go into managerial positions need this certification.
We have been supporting SMEs that work with NIRSAL MicroFinance Bank and the Bank of Industry in Nigeria as a professional business development service provider offering advice, mentorship and helping them succeed. In Sierra Leone, we set up the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency for the republic. In Togo, we facilitated the setting up of TARSAL-MIFA under the agreement with NIRSAL.
In Kenya, I am the current Course Director at the School of African Microfinance, and I am working to develop microfinance capacity across Africa.
We always start with gap assessment by examining challenges in the market and then we design a curriculum to fit into that gap and then we deliver it.
Our biggest project currently is Programme Management for the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, NIRSAL. We are managing the filled offices of this project and focusing on the value development program. We have over 550 staff employed for this project in 37 locations across Nigeria. We monitor the project, we build the capacity of farmers and organize them into geo-cooperatives to enable them to upscale their businesses and have access to different levels of financing. Under the leadership of the pioneer and current Managing Director/CEO of NIRSAL, Aliyu Abdulhameed, we have been able to rapidly cover the 37 states in Nigeria with effective project monitoring, reporting and remediation tools that are second to none in Africa. We also supported NIRSAL to set up one of the biggest Microfinance Banks in Nigeria; The NIRSAL MFB.
Our strategy moving forward is to improve our internal capacity to be able to operate in different locations. We also would like to build more partnerships like the one with Global Knowledge Consulting Kenya and Sierra Leone and several other entities.
One of our most significant achievements is that we have turned our competitors into collaborators. We look at institutions, for example, the Association of African Development of Finance Institutions in Africa based in Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire, and we design programs in line with their specific needs. Then they use their members to test the curriculum we made for them, to roll out across Africa. We designed the Professional Certificate Programme for Development Finance in Africa.
Another example I would like to bring up is the project we are doing now with the Development Bank of Southern Africa DBSA. It is a certification program for the development of financial institutions in the region. The program is divided into three different levels which cater to the specific needs of our partners.
In the last three years, we have trained over two hundred and forty development bank practitioners in Zambia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria in that program, and it has proved to be very successful.
Another significant project we handled was the technical support of FGN-IFAD Rural Finance Institutions Building Programme in Nigeria. I was the Team Leader for an unprecedented three terms for the Federal Government of Nigeria IFAD-RUFIN Country Mission. These activities and others like the AfDB Microfinance Country Evaluation for Liberia gave us great insights into opportunities in rural financing and agricultural development in Africa.
Through our portfolio of different programs, we want to tackle unemployment, enable access to finance by being a frontier for microfinance and as a result, promote financial inclusion. We also want to reverse irregular migration by creating opportunities in Africa for youths. We have partnered with Making Cents International in Making a Case for Youth-Inclusive Financial Services. The partnership is a flagship program that will deliver results across Africa.
AfricaLive: Over 80% of start-ups in Africa fail within the first three years of operation. In your opinion, where do we begin to build the ecosystem required for successful African entrepreneurship? Please elaborate on your journey as a business leader. What were the challenges and obstacles you had to overcome along the way?
Dr Steve Olusegun Ogidan: I will answer the question by looking at it from two perspectives. One would be my perspective as an entrepreneur, and the other would be our clients’ perspective as a business development expert.
When Successory Nigeria took off, I discovered that the capacity of the company was limited to my ability. I could not run all the programs by myself at the same time.
What I first did was to separate the company from myself and asked clients to hire Successory for projects instead of reaching out to me as an individual consultant. We discovered that we need three essential tools: First, a great team; second, a large market and third, an incredibly useful product.
We found that the Nigerian market was too small for us. We redefined our world view and decided to be a leader in Africa. Today, Successory Nigeria Ltd is one of the loudest voices in microfinance development strategy in Africa. We wanted to run several programs at any given moment. Hence, I hired several employees who could deliver them, so I did not need to be personally involved in the delivery of each program. It was then that I was able to focus on business development and strategy. We operate in West and East and Southern Africa with our strategic partners.
I believe that enterprises that are looking to scale up must grow beyond the capacity of their CEOs.
I am a firm believer in life- long learning and have been building my capacity by attending business courses, like the one I completed with the Harvard Business School. In my view, it is a great way to expand our knowledge further and broaden the horizons.
I also believe that to move to the next level of growth, you need to empower your staff. And you may do so through education and by offering training courses as well as continuous support and mentorship. It is vital to invest in your staff’s training and building their capacity so that your employees can drive a positive change within the company.
The next strategy is to turn our competitors to collaborators. We have developed strategic partnerships with bigger consulting firms across the world.
We worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Adam Smith, and ACDI-VOCA International.
We got certified by the IFC and the ITC-ILO as well as Women World Banking. All these certifications have improved our market access, clients’ outreach and growing impact.
We ventured into northern Nigeria and set up Islamic banking strategies with the microfinance banks we are providing technical assistance to, a move that went a long way in getting our name out there. Our foray into that part of the country made incoming firms realise that it would be beneficial to partner with us in micro-financing, microinsurance and micro-housing products.
An in-depth look at our clients revealed that most of them were family businesses. The challenge with family businesses is that there is a thin line between nurturing the business and growing it. Families tend to want to hang on to their companies and can be resistant to growth strategies that will see more people directly involved in them. This reluctance to let go is why I teach students that it’s better to have 25 per cent stake in a five million dollar company than to have a 100 per cent stake in a firm worth ten-thousand dollars. Being a bit-part owner in a company worth way more gives you time to focus on strategy. Being the be-all-end-all of a small company drains you and makes you far less money.
We have convinced lots of owners to loosen their grip on their business. Loosening their grip does not mean handing over the enterprise, but allowing in more expertise and funding. We still have many companies in Africa that are resistant to this idea, and it is why we have such a challenge growing our businesses.
AfricaLive: You have such a wealth of experience in your field, having worked for reputable institutions. What would you say was the defining moment that made you feel most accomplished as a business leader?
Dr Steve Olusegun Ogidan: The defining moment for me was when I realised that doing the same things the same way was going to get me the same results. I knew I needed to change tack, and that’s why I sought additional certifications. I went to the International Labor Organisation (ILO) in Turin and did courses like Making Microfinance Work, Access to Finance for Youths, Women World Banking and Management Development for Micro-enterprises. My efforts paid off because the ILO started giving me consistent work soon after. I got at least four assignments every year from the international bodies that saw me traverse Africa. My forays into Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Kenya were all made possible by the ILO assignments. My investment in learning and forming partnerships with the ILO, WWB, AADFI has gotten me great referrals. Government officials have in the past left the country for Europe to acquire expertise, only to be referred back to us by the ILO. This was how we got the assignment to review and revise the Cooperative Strategy for Nigeria.
We have positioned ourselves as a visible problem solver for both private and public institutions. We have noticed over the years that whenever we try to provide solutions to public institutions, we get rejected because of a lack of funds. Our way around this was to do problem analysis for these institutions free of charge, then bring in an entity to fund the reparative operation. Once the challenges are over, they get excited, and goodwill starts to flow.
AfricaLive: People view Africa as a risky place to invest; part of our work is to dispel that myth about Africa. In your opinion, how can we de-risk Africa, and what would be your message of confidence to readers?
Dr Steve Olusegun Ogidan: I will admit that there is a high risk, but the return is much higher. There is so much to gain because the market remains highly untapped. We have challenges in electricity and social infrastructure that can be solved by investments. I can bet that investing ten-thousand dollars in Nigeria can get you a 100 per cent return within a year. A return like that for that kind of initial investment is not possible in Europe. I remember being involved as Shoprite sought to make a foray into Nigeria. They had concerns about what they perceived as the inability of Nigerians to afford their products. They estimated that only 35 per cent of the country would be able to buy their products and thought of aborting the mission. I made them realise that 35 per cent of potential buyers in Nigeria was more than 100 per cent of potential buyers in South Africa. The rest is history because the retail giant has over a hundred branches all over the country today. When I led the transformation of the Financial Inclusion Unit of the Central Bank of Liberia, our colleagues from United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) did not see the opportunities of going down the market. Today we have a success story.
AfricaLive: What advice do you have for foreign investors who read our publication and want to make their way to Nigeria or any other country in the continent?
Dr Steve Olusegun Ogidan: They need to find local partners who will hold their hand and show them the way. One of the most lucrative industries in Nigeria today is agriculture, followed closely by technology, and mining. Investors can make high returns on their investments because the enabling environment is there as well.
Funding infrastructure is another gold mine for investors interested in Africa. You can also invest in Nigeria while living and working in other parts of the world. Our organisation can help them do studies that will open their eyes to great opportunities. A partnership like that will put potential investors at ease and give them the confidence they need to invest.
AfricaLive: What does Africa mean to you, and how do you see the future of the continent?
Dr Steve Olusegun Ogidan: I have so much passion for the continent, not just because it’s home, but also because of the opportunities I see. I have travelled a lot in my life and can confidently say that Europe is saturated in terms of opportunities. Africa, on the other hand, is full of emerging industries that are investable and profitable. I have had opportunities to settle in Europe but chose to go back home because that’s where the opportunities are.
Our populations are growing and will need food, clothing, and infrastructure. Organisations that don’t look at Africa will end up losing big time in the end. We also have a vibrant working population being a continent full of young people.