Scal­abity – Big­gest Chal­lenge for African SME’s – Dr. Ota­bil

Zambian Business Times - - FRONT PAGE -

• The ma­jor crit­i­cal fac­tor that busi­nesses in Africa have to master is scal­a­bil­ity • For a busi­ness to scale up it must have a clear ex­pan­sion agenda. • Reg­u­la­tory frame­works favour foreign as op­posed to lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers

One of the ma­jor crit­i­cal fac­tors that busi­nesses in Africa have to master is the con­cept of scal­a­bil­ity, Dr. Mensa Ota­bil said on 15 June at a break­fast of cham­pi­ons ses­sion at the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel in Lusaka, Zam­bia. Scal­a­bil­ity is the abil­ity to grow big­ger and wider and only a few busi­nesses in Africa have scale.

Dr. Ota­bil re­vealed that the largest busi­ness seg­ment in Africa were the Small to Medium sized En­ter­prises – SME’s who only em­ploy a hand­ful of peo­ple. Only a few busi­nesses, em­ploy one hun­dred (100) peo­ple and that is harsh re­al­ity Africa is faced with, he said. The rea­son why this is so is that ‘we are un­able to cre­ate scale-to ex­pand larger and wider.’

Dr Ota­bil out­lined three key point­ers that would fa­cil­i­tate scal­a­bil­ity of busi­ness and these are listed be­low as:

Hav­ing busi­ness idea very sig­nif­i­cant and pow­er­ful. Not ev­ery busi­ness idea can scale up, the rea­son be­ing that the pool they func­tion in may be lim­ited. Most peo­ple will en­cour­age busi­ness own­ers to work with church mem­bers or fam­ily - but clearly that con­cept is my­opic. Busi­ness own­ers need more rad­i­cal ideas enough to drive sig­nif­i­cant and pow­er­ful busi­nesses.

Hav­ing the abil­ity to con­quer and con­trol ter­ri­tory/ter­ri­to­ries. Dr. Ota­bil stated that busi­ness was about con­quer­ing and con­trol­ling ter­ri­to­ries and hence busi­ness own­ers need the mind­set aligned to this.

“If your tal­ent pool is shal­low you will fish in shal­low wa­ters and you will not get the right peo­ple to lead what you are try­ing to achieve.” “We could not be granted clear­ance to of­fer Doc­tor­ate in Phar­macy at the Univer­sity all be­cause the old­est state Univer­sity did not of­fer the PHD Pro­gram in Phar­macy. We used the me­dia to fight for years un­til we were al­lowed to of­fer the pro­gram” Dr Ota­bil said.

Hav­ing very in­flu­en­tial ideas.

For the above listed (3) things to hap­pen, the mind­set of the busi­ness leader has to un­dergo change, he said.

Dr. Ota­bil ad­vised that the best time to start a busi­ness is at in­cep­tion of ideas, be­fore any­one taps into the space or mar­ket. That way a busi­ness leader comes in first and de­fines the mar­ket thereby yield­ing in­stant recog­ni­tion. When one starts a busi­ness late, the idea would have al­ready be­come pop­u­lar and out­run its time of use­ful­ness. This is what you get for get­ting into a busi­ness when the wave is crest­ing and as such one grap­ples with scal­ing up.

One of the best ad­vice Dr. Ota­bil rec­om­mended to busi­ness own­ers was not to limit op­por­tu­nity to shal­low tal­ent pools in the search to get the best peo­ple as it then lim­its our scal­a­bil­ity. Once tal­ent is iden­ti­fied, it has to be ap­pro­pri­ately re­mu­ner­ated, even if it means pay­ing them a salary or re­ward that is higher than a busi­ness owner. With­out re­al­iz­ing it, you might be pay­ing them more but they are cre­at­ing for you, busi­ness wealth and op­por­tu­ni­ties. Some­times the tal­ent that a busi­ness re­quires has to be pre­ferred over you. Cheap tal­ent ul­ti­mately builds a cheap busi­ness. Ev­ery busi­ness has its "light­ning rods"- peo­ple who will at­tract and in­flu­ence a cer­tain qual­ity of peo­ple into your com­pany.

To scale up, a busi­ness leader has to learn to fight off op­po­si­tion. These in­clude un­com­fort­able in­ter­nal fights with em­ploy­ees; ex­ter­nal fights with the reg­u­la­tors and com­peti­tors.

The reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment that con­trols busi­nesses in our part of the world is de­signed for us to never own big busi­nesses. Most African gov­ern­ments are un­com­fort­able with big busi­nesses in their coun­tries and would rather the pow­er­ful peo­ple be for­eign­ers in­stead of locals of the coun­try. If the for­eigner at­tains great wealth, they are not a threat to the pol­i­tics of African na­tions how­ever locals amass­ing wealth is seen as a threat as they could eas­ily gain po­lit­i­cal mileage that could shift elec­tion re­sults. It is in the gov­ern­ment's best in­ter­est that African busi­nesses re­main small and only em­ploy a hand­ful of peo­ple to never scale up. The con­cept of com­pe­ti­tion is a crit­i­cal as­pect of busi­ness lead­er­ship. It sur­vives to busi­ness peril. In or­der to scale up, a busi­ness leader needs to learn to fight. It is very im­por­tant to make amend­ments to the rate of change and adapt­abil­ity is crit­i­cal for the growth of a busi­ness. As such what worked (5) years ago might not work now.

Busi­nesses must learn to de­fend what they have achieved and ac­quired. Top pri­or­ity in any busi­ness lead­ers mind is prof­itabil­ity which may some­times re­quire that some staff are let go off in dif­fi­cult times.

A vivid ex­pan­sion agenda is crit­i­cal for scal­a­bil­ity. Dr. Ota­bil cited Je­sus’ clear ex­pan­sion agenda, where he told his dis­ci­ples go out into the world. As such Dr. Ota­bil ad­vised that if a busi­ness leader wishes to take over the world, adapt­abil­ity is key. The mind­set of a leader in busi­ness must be one that is ex­pan­sion­ary. If you look at the Je­sus "en­ter­prise" and how it func­tioned: it stayed in Jerusalem for a long time, 10 years af­ter Je­sus died. The dis­ci­ples were per­form­ing mir­a­cles but mov­ing nowhere. They had built a great busi­ness but no skill so God had to force them out through per­se­cu­tion. It took one man to bring skill to Chris­tian­ity: Paul. Paul was adapt­able, he could preach the word with­out quot­ing the scrip­ture. When he spoke to peo­ple who had no ref­er­ence to the Old Tes­ta­ment he had to use their po­etry to com­mu­ni­cate Christ to them. But even­tu­ally Paul cre­ated a new dy­namism for this "en­ter­prise" so that it could go to places Je­sus wanted it to go.

So then how will a busi­ness leader ex­pand to other coun­tries? Who should be em­ployed to make this a re­al­ity? Dr. Ota­bil ad­vises that the right peo­ple have to be cho­sen for such an ex­pan­sion­ary pro­gram lest busi­ness lead­ers get stuck and will never grow. Ev­ery busi­ness that has ex­panded has learnt to adapt.

In scal­ing up there will be op­po­si­tion in the form of re­sis­tance and strongholds. Strongholds are de­fined as prod­ucts or ideas that have al­ready been es­tab­lished be­fore a busi­ness came onto the scene. How­ever, Dr. Ota­bil ad­vised that strongholds must be pulled down. Dr. Mensa Ota­bil is a Pas­tor, Lec­turer, Au­thor, Con­sul­tant and a mo­ti­va­tional speaker. He is the Chan­cel­lor of Ghana’s premier pri­vate Univer­sity: The Cen­tral Univer­sity Col­lege (CUC) hir­ing over 500 staff.

Dr. Mensa Ota­bil Chan­cel­lor of Ghana’s premier pri­vate Univer­sity: The Cen­tral Univer­sity Col­lege (CUC).

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