HBSAN Life Impact Series with Fola Laoye, Director Health Markets Africa
HBSAN Life Impact Series is an initiative of Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria (HBSAN), and is a series of interview sessions with prominent alumni of the prestigious Harvard Business School (HBS) who have had a major part of their career or
This edition of the HBSAN Life Impact Series features an insightful interview session with Fola Laoye, Director, Health Markets Africa, Trustee Board Member and former President of HBSAN, who earned her MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS) in 1999. The session which held in her office at Health Markets Africa in Ikoyi, Lagos, was conducted by Collins Onuegbu, HBSAN Communications Secretary/executive Vice Chairman, Signal Alliance, Chika Nnadozie, HBSAN Program Manager, and a media team from Businessday led by Uzo Akumah.
Fola Laoye is the immediate past Chairman of Hygeia Nigeria Limited. She has been instrumental in charting the growth strategy of Hygeia for several years. She is currently the Director of the West Africa Investments at the Investment Fund for Health in Africa (IFHA). Fola has 25 years of local and international business experience, having trained with Ernst & Young, Lagos and Price Waterhouse Coopers in London. She serves as a Board member at Harvard Business School Healthcare Initiative; Results for Development Institute (R4D), a Washington Dc-based think-tank that focuses on policies for Global Health & Education; Hygeia Group, Nigeria; Old Mutual Life Insurance Company, Nigeria; and Pension Alliance Limited (PAL), one of the foremost Pension Fund Administrators in Nigeria.
Fola was nominated as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2011, and in 2013 she was awarded the Harvard Business School Africa Business Club Leadership Excellence Award.
Transcript of the interview session with Fola Laoye;
What is your career background?
My name is Fola Laoye. I am a Chartered accountant and I have spent the last 20 years of my career in the Nigerian health sector. I started by joining and eventually running the Hygeia group which has the Lagoon hospitals and the Hygeia HMO. We were pioneers in the health care insurance in Nigeria as well as the limited health care model that was more fashioned after the USstyled Kaizen model. I retired from Hygeia a few years ago and I have been more active in the investment space (the parts that are very much tied to health care), private equities, and some venture capitals. Most recently, I set up my own advisory firm called Health Markets Africa which focuses on advisory and investments in the health care space.
I attended HBS for my MBA in 1997 and graduated as a member of the Class of 1999. This leads up to my 20th year anniversary and 20th HBS reunion which I’m really looking forward to.
Why Did You Make The Decision To Attend HBS?
First for me was the Harvard brand. I was always intrigued by the brand from my university days in Nigeria. I had heard about the school and I made it part of my personal goal to attend. But more importantly, the timing I chose to attend was a time I was transitioning in my career. I was making a very concerted decision to switch from finance to health and so I felt I needed an MBA that could give me a tool kit, to help me fast track my new career decision.
I must say that I did think about other schools. I had gotten admission into London Business School and a couple of others, but in the end, the Harvard brand was going to afford me being truly part of a global network that was also going to be relevant in Africa. After doing my reality check, Harvard was the one school to give me that push, hence my decision to go there.
Has HBS lived up to the hype?
Absolutely! Certainly, I must say. Even while I was at HBS, I made extensive use of the alumni network in the US. The kind of calls I could take and even the people who took my calls was really unprecedented. The amount of support I received when I got back in setting up what was one of the first HMOS in Nigeria was a lot easier due to relationships and contacts from Harvard.
What advice will you give a person who wants to make a career decision and sees HBS as the place to go, knowing that the Nigeria of today isn’t the same as 20 years ago?
Over the last 20 years I have had course to relate with different schools and universities around the world and Harvard still holds a very unique proposition. Like I said, the mix of network and access that it gives. Harvard prides itself as being the General Managers Business School, and so it gives you a round sense of what it takes to be a manager which I believe is very important in becoming a leader.
Secondly, it pays a lot of attention to entrepreneurship. HBS teaches you to create a successful business model. One that is true and will stand. It makes you think outside the box, innovate and explore. I remember myself and a few other colleagues of mine decided that we wanted to take Africa to the world (and not just leave it as the ‘dark continent’ on the map). We talked with Harvard Business School management about our plans and we got a lot of support. We eventually co-founded the Africa Business Club at the school which was most especially to bring the mind-set of African businesses into the school. We shed light on the opportunities that African businesses offered to business owners around the world. Another thing we got done was to create the African Business Conference which has happened once a year on the school ground for the last 20 years.
So after going to HBS, how did you impact the health business which you refer to as family business?
My parents started Hygeia as a second career. So holding it up as a family business, we needed to make it a corporate hospital. Not one that we owned, but one where we could bring in investors and bring in other doctors. However, it got to a point where private health care didn’t really have the market and they needed to innovate. Then health insurance came in. This was the time when I had seen what they were going through and I was making the switch to help out. I was 26 at this time, so going to Harvard was a way to gain credibility because I was going to come back to deal with medical professionals. It was a male dominated area at the time and I had a lot of senior doctors who had way more experience than myself.
Harvard did catapult me to having a seat at the table with these people. The business needed a management role in clinical performance to help grow the brand and this was vacant. When I came in, I had to work at the short floor before I eventually became a manager. However, people sat up and listened to me a little more because I had a Harvard MBA. I came back with key partners and technical know-how.
We had to market because insurance is a game of numbers and we needed to grow the business very quickly. Around that time the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was getting started, so I and my father got involved in policy and advocacy with lots of negotiations with the government. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had decided to place all the Federal civil servants on an insurance policy. That was 3 million people needing this service and we all needed to be ready to serve.
It was a very exciting time and of course, I was able to pull on the tools, knowledge and relationships I had gained from Harvard to grow the business and industry at the time. How can a HBS Alum make an impact?
As at when I joined the association, it’s safe to say that we had a lot of captains on board and a lot of whom had gone through the Executive Programs. Then there were a few of us who had come in through our MBA programs and were particularly younger career wise. So to our advantage (the younger members), we had straight away a pool of mentors who had earned their stripes in working in Nigeria. They taught us so much on how to handle many aspects of what we call the “Nigerian factor”. They also had very strong views on ethics, leadership and to some extent governance.
They had put their feet forward in running large corporations - UAC, Shell, UBA, First Bank, etc. They set up institutions outside of the organization - Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG). The Harvard alumni had also been very instrumental in writing the vision 2020 strategy for Nigeria.
These have all formed a mode of discourse between government and private sectors. Even schools (Pan Atlantic University and Lagos Business School), have been formed out of the association. So these and many more things made me want to be part of the association at that time and even now.
I went on to become the president at a time when there was a growing number of MBAS returning to Nigeria. This was excellent. We knew we had to bring the association, its role, and impact up to date with its next generation.
What about making an impact in Government?
We identified that a certain cohort of our members were in politics hence, the Abuja chapter. I think in doing so, there is a better network of members who go into this business, as there is a platform for them to meet other fellow members in politics. Networking is always very important because that’s where you can advocate and share ideas.
More formally, with an Abuja chapter, we have been able to put out more content. I recently attended a discussion in Abuja, where other members and guests attended. It was on different topics on nation building. In fact, at the gathering, we took the HBS case study of Malaysia and we tried to view the pros and cons of Malaysia and Nigeria. Where the two countries are now and where they have come from. Members who were in government were there and we had an honest and open forum for everyone to discuss around these issues.
We need to do more of this, as these issues around the country, leadership and ethics need to be spoken in in places like Abuja. For instance, we can have “The Akintola Williams Lecture” and make sure both stakeholders and members are present.
Note: the rest of this article continues in the online edition of Business Day @https://businessdayonline.ng/
Fola Laoye, Director, Health Markets Africa, Trustee Board Member and former President of HBSAN.
L-R: Collins Onuegbu, communications secretary, Hbsan/executive vice chairman, Signal Alliance, and Fola Laoye, director, Health Markets Africa, trustee board member and former president of HBSAN.