This week I have the honor of interviewing Stanley Ijeoma of Abuja, Nigeria. Mr. Ijeoma has a degree in Applied Chemistry and has studied in both his native Nigeria, as well as in Great Britain. This “environpreneur” is passionate about sustainable energy and works tirelessly with both NGOs and corporations to help Africans and the rest of the world make more responsible energy choices. For more information about this fascinating professional, please read Mr. Ijeoma’s bio at the end of this interview.
What do you see as unique cultural characteristics of the Nigerian people that are reflected in Nigeria’s business culture?
Nigeria is home to the happiest people on earth and Nigerians expect foreigners to understand their unique trait of fluidity if you must achieve success in business in the long term. Africa’s most populous country is where relationships are very important and you would naturally expect meetings to start and finish with a good dose of social interactions. You don’t have to interrupt this process because they are critical parts of the getting-to-know-you stuff. Things get down to personal relationships and knowing the right person because personal relationships count more than anything else. Nigerians consider these social networks and personal relationships as part of the greater reward. Once these friendships and relationships are built, Nigerians try to nurture it to last a life time.
Expect business meetings to start behind schedule and most likely to be interrupted by phone calls. It is best not to expect meetings to start on time -they may do, but you will do yourself some good not to count on it! It is best to arrive on time yourself but with your mind tuned to the “patient mode” and it is this patience that is critical to sustaining the business in the long term. The Nigerian business environment requires your constant attention, adaptability and flexibility. Nigerians are good bargainers, and you should expect to bargain and compromise on the mahogany table and don’t be upset when people close down the space in the middle of the negotiations because Nigerians tend to stand close to each other while speaking, especially when emphasizing an important point. Nigerians give their best when they are an organic part of a business enterprise rather than being “used” as mere vehicles to achieve profitability and success in business. While most Nigerians are culturally sensitive, one of the best kept secrets to breaking the cultural barrier here is to appear in meetings in native attires and demand for local delicacies during lunch or dinner. There are many cultural influences on the way business is done here and foreign counterparts who are not aware of this may experience cultural shock which they will overcome with patience and absolute commitment.
In your opinion, what are Nigeria’s most competitive industries in world markets?
Nigeria’s most competitive industries remain agriculture, solid minerals and tourism industries which have been existing in the shadows of the over hyped oil and gas industry, that have unfortunately been the epicenter of Nigeria’s environmental and economic problems. Recently, global attention has been drawn to the untold and unimaginable degradation of the environment via oil exploration in the oil rich Niger-Delta region which has made the place one of the most devastated ecologies worldwide.
Nigeria’s position as one of the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil is a testimony to the economic wealth housed in her territorial coastlines -which unfortunately, is yet to fully facilitate the tourism, shipping and fishing industries. Nigeria’s 167 million people rely heavily on their environment as well as the natural resource base for their livelihood as you would expect in a developing country.
The fact that Africa’s most populous country runs dangerously on a mono-product economy oiled by cheap hydrocarbon deposits, underscores this heavy dependence on natural resources. The discovery of huge deposits of hydrocarbon has continued to encourage some sort of mental laziness in our leaders over the years who abandoned our areas of competence due to cheap petro-dollars flowing from crude oil and gas exports. This malaise of mental laziness of our successive leaders has created a lacuna in the harnessing of the potentials of agriculture and exploration of the solid minerals sector as well as the delivery of social services to 167 million citizens and this is where the private sector comes in to plug the gap by turning the challenges of providing food, fuel, feed and fibre for an increasing population -at this time of climate change, into opportunities for foreign direct investments to make good returns on investment. Africa’s second largest economy is endowed with the most fertile land mass you can find anywhere in the world and just beneath Nigeria’s top soil is massive home to huge deposits of rare earth metals and other minerals that are in high demand in the global markets to support cleantech and smart electronics development. In Nigeria for instance, about fifty percent of the total farm produce gets destroyed or damaged right there on the farm before it gets to the market and this creates a yawning gap for people out there to come and invest in food processing and value addition to the farm produce thereby creating amazing opportunities down the food supply chain.
What’s the best way to find potential Nigerian business contacts?
Most lasting business relationships in Nigeria have been built from social interactions and informal meetings that subsequently blossom into full scale business relationships. The key to doing business and succeeding remains your contacts in Nigeria and personal commitments by the foreign investors-it all boils down to knowing the right person here who understands the terrain very well and can work out a strategy to navigate the obstacles that you will find in almost every developing country like Nigeria. I always advise my foreign friends, clients and colleagues who contact me to make enquiries about making investments in Nigeria; to start by spending their next vacation in Nigeria and use that period to get to know the country and her people better as well as have a firsthand experience of everyday life in Nigeria. This will give them an experience that no business school in the world would have taught them and it will be up to them to decide whether to invest here or not just like the computer engineer Joel Jackson who arrived in Africa in 2009 on a totally different mission with an NGO to build capacity of small-scale farmers on ways to increase their productivity but noticed that lack of decent, basic road network was at the heart of problems faced by many parts of rural Africa and for him, the capacity to buy a budget brand new car designed specifically for the rough and undulating African roads would appeal to the growing African middle class – $6,000 is cheaper than many Africans would pay for an imported second-hand car which usually attracts customs, excise and VAT charges. Mr. Jackson’s budget $6,000 brand new car has the potential to revolutionize the automotive industry in Africa and positively impact millions of lives and families because access to transportation means access to education and health services as well as economic empowerment –Joel Jackson immediately resigned his overseas job from Africa to concentrate on his booming “rugged and budget” car enterprise!
The Bottom of the Pyramid approach to the Nigerian market works best with joint ventures and partnerships as thriving models for building a successful business in Nigeria because a Nigerian gives his best when he knows he is working for “himself” as against working for “you”. Due diligence remains the key to separating the wheat from the chaff and the best due diligence process starts by your decision to spend your next vacation in Africa’s most populous country and using that same opportunity to have an on-the-spot experience of Nigeria and her ever resilient citizens.
About Stanley Ijeoma
Stanley Ijeoma earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Chemistry from University of Calabar as well as Bangor University, United Kingdom where he was awarded Certificate of Achievement for completing an Executive MBA course on “Renewable Energy and Sustainability”. Mr. Ijeom is one of only two Africans on the Board of World Council for Renewable Energy [WCRE]. As Africa’s foremost Enviropreneur, Stanley continues to promote products, services, policies, programmes and initiatives that are friendly to the environment while encouraging the transition to the fast emerging global low carbon economy. In 2008, Stanley helped pioneered the lighting Africa [LA] initiative by participating in the inaugural Development Marketplace (DM) competition for the design and delivery of low cost, high quality, non-fossil fuel-based lighting products targeting 250 million low income Africans by 2030 as part of broader Lighting Africa program. Two years later, he was invited by the Welsh Assembly Government to lead an elite group of 15 budding African Enviropreneurs on a month long field trip to Wales for the UNIDO sponsored “African Environmental Responsibility & Renewable Energy for Sustainable Development Initiative”. Stanley has been involved in many non-profit activities internationally and locally where he has been spear heading advocacy efforts including the World Council for Renewable Energy and Green Energy Society of Nigeria [GESON] and has featured severally as Guest Analyst of choice on THE MONEY SHOW on the African Independent Television [AIT] programme on “Green Economy”. In the course of his research that looked into the Nigerian electricity crisis and the dependence on fossil fuel electricity generators by businesses, homes/offices; he identified the “Initial Cost versus Integral cost” factor influencing the choice of fossil fuel energy options ahead of renewable energy alternatives. As a freelance Green Columnist; his articles: “Climate Change & Survival Instinct”, “We Need Low Carbon Energy Infrastructures (I&II)”, “Ecopitalism: The New Economic Model of The Global Green Economy” , “Green Tales from Wales”, “An Enviropreneur’s Encounter With President Barack Obama on The Future We Want –A Renewable Dream!”, “Energy Efficiency & Nigeria’s Power Puzzle” ; have been used and consulted globally on several websites and by diverse organizations where they have continued to influence public opinion and policy in favour of strategically positioning African economies and businesses to be able to absorb climate change induced economic shocks and social disruptions.
Having previously worked in the business development units of private sector organizations means Stanley has a deep knowledge of the Nigerian market as well as the culture that drives the dynamics of the world’s 7th biggest market via established bridges and contacts in the government, public as well as private sectors and hopes to bring these goodwill to bear in his vision to assist foreign investors make sustainable investment decisions in Nigeria. Stanley is a member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals [ISSP] and is currently CEO, Schrodinger Limited; a global business development and climate change economic impact consultancy firm based in Abuja, Africa’s fastest growing capital city.
To contact Stanley: