At a meeting with the management team of a company in Nairobi, I was asked: “Our company started operations in Nigeria two years ago. So far, we have not succeeded. Based on your discussions with Pan-African companies, why do you think this is the case?” I had some seconds to reflect. It could not be a lack of demand – the company’s activities are driven by the real-estate industry, which is booming in Nigeria. I ventured a guess: maybe the person at the helm is not the right one. They agreed that this might well be the case; it takes local management to succeed in Africa.
Let me give you some background. This company is the Kenyan subsidiary of a European corporation. The regional headquarters for Africa are in South Africa, and the Managing Director (MD) for Kenya sits on the Africa board – hence his question. The person in charge of the Nigerian operations happens to be a white South African.
I have talked to various African companies about their international operations in the continent. A common theme has been that for a company to succeed in another country, it’s very important that the management team be perceived as local. One Nigerian company failed in Ghana because they appointed an aggressive Nigerian MD. The fate changed when he was replaced by a Ghanaian. One Kenyan bank failed in Uganda because the management team was divided between Kenyans and Ugandans. And there are more examples of such situations.
The managers I was meeting with agreed this may be a key factor of their failure in Nigeria, since a South African is not perceived as someone local in Nigeria – and even less so a white South African!
I’m back in Barcelona now. While my stay in Africa has finished, my learning journey is just beginning. I hope we’ll keep learning together!