BY GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR
YOU’VE probably heard of (or maybe even bought into) the common misconception that obtaining a liberal arts degree will limit your ability to make it to the top in a boardroom. In fact, egocentric idealists are sure to tell you stories on how art underdeveloped the world, not how Europe underdeveloped Africa. Professor Emmanuel Ndubuisi Emenyonu’s biography of Felix Omoikhoje Aizobeoje Ohiwerei lampoons such idea.
In his 298-page book, Winning by His Grace, Emenyonu articulates skills picked up at school, knowledge of the environment and recognition of what others are doing as essential for success in contemporary capitalism, definitely not choice of study. He celebrates the boardroom guru, entrepreneur and pastor for his successes in companies that he has worked and managed. Yet, Ohiwerei read Geography at the University of Ibadan.
Emenyonu, president of United States and Africa Development Organisation, a Connecticut-based organisation, whose main objective is to promote business between the US and sub-Saharan Africa, is a professor of forensic, information and international accounting at the Southern Connecticut State University in the US.
The Imo State-born professor’s previous attempt to document the life and times of the late educationist, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, was not successful.
He got close to Ohiwerei in 2005; and in the course of interacting with the boardroom veteran, he found in him qualities that were encouraging in terms of humility, keeping appointments, returning phone calls even to very minute level.
In 2008, Emenyonu reached the conclusion that it would be good to write a book on him so that young people within and outside the country would know that there are not only men of integrity in Nigeria, but it is quite possible to be a business leader at the very highest level and do it with honesty and humility.
"That was, quite frankly, my number one motivation for doing the book on him (Ohiwerei)," he says. "My encounter with him agreed with the general notion you perceive when you speak to people about him."
WITH a foreward written by Dr Christopher Kolade, the very exciting work underscores the value of hardwork and provides a new template for assessing success.
The book is a ‘practical manual’ on management, and it covers everything you’ll need to know to be a good manager of men.
Using Ohiwerei as the eye of the camera, the author tells you exactly the kind of mentality you’ll need to succeed, and the price you need to pay in order to make a success of your career.
Taking a cursory look at the country, the author points out that of the major CEOs who have emerged in the last three decades in Nigeria, very few have been as thorough and mystifying as Felix Omoikhoje Aizobeoje (FOA).
To list only a few of Ohiwerei’s qualities: he’s blessed with good height, affable and good humoured. These traits have endeared him to many. But they have not made him the winner he is. Rather, the book takes its deeper resonance from humility.
Prof. Ayodele Falase, a renowned cardiologist and former vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan, says, “I can say it anywhere, if we want Nigeria to be fixed, that is the sort of man who can fix Nigeria and that is the sort of man people like us will work with.”
Dr Paschal Dozie, founder and former chairman of Diamond Bank, says, “Felix Ohiwerei is a rarity. People like him are very rare in this country as of today. His character is impeccable. He is a man of rare qualities. He is a man of integrity.”
Emenyonu, drawing inference from these positive expressions, writes that Ohiwerei has performed in a manner that is consistent with ideas that he holds dearly and virtues he defends whole-heartedly.
In his classic, See You At The Top, Zig Ziglar writes: “When you sow an action, you reap a habit; when you sow a habit, you reap a character; and when you sow a character, you reap a destiny.”
Ohiwerei, who is admired for his humility, tireless fight against corruption, makes CEOs understand the need to sow a character. The boardroom guru believes that the starting point for success and happiness, as Ziglar reveals, is ‘a healthy self-image’ — To be above board in their daily pursuit.
DIVIDED into five parts: Formative Years, Career and Starting Family, Retirement Years, Homefront, Faith, Principles, Accolades and Conclusions, each part opens the eyes of the reader to every detail about FOA. In many ways, it is a coming of age tale.
Each part of Emenyonu’s biography engages students with the compelling story of the man who went from being the son of a village catechist to one of the biggest players in today’s boardroom. An Anglican by birth, married a Catholic, he has become one of the vanguards of Pentecostalism in the country. And each chapter has an emotional detail and testament.
FOA, like the famed King Midas, has turned every outfit that he has managed or led in the boardroom into gold, inspiring tremendous growth in every one of them.
In a straight forward manner, the author exposes what is often missing in many a-biography — detailed account of the subject’s life, especially major events that shaped them.
In the five-part, 20 chapter-book, the author starts with a Why question! Why a biography on Felix Ohiwerei?
A quote of William Makepeace Thackeray prefaces the answer: "Nature has written a letter of credit upon some men's faces that is honoured whenever presented. You cannot help trusting such men. Their very presence gives confidence."
Incorporating serious scholarship, the book examines Ohiwerei in the larger context of the integrity movement. He tries to avoid a chapter being cursory, hopping or skipping details about the subject.
Also, in answering the why question, the author says FOA evokes deep-seated respect and adulation from Nigerians across the divide.
The book deconstructs Ohiwerei’s earliest dreams and ambitions in relationships with his parents, his siblings and classmates — primary, secondary and higher institution. The author speaks with everyone necessary to authenticate the Ohiwerei legend, including his elder brother and his wife, his uncle, his mentors — Pastor E A Adeboye, Dr Christopher Abebe, Chief Akintola Williams and Dr. Michael Omolayole — his lecturer at the university, Professor Akin Mabogunje, and a couple of classmates in secondary school.
IN the first part of the book, themed, Formative Years, the author introduces the character, his birth place and background, primary and secondary education and post secondary experience. He also lists Ohiwerei's litany of achievements as board chairman and chief executive officer in Nigeria Breweries Plc, Unilever, Bankers Warehouse, Asset and Resource Management (ARM), New Nigerian Bank, Fidson Healthcare Plc., and others.
Vey remarkable is the turnover of Nigeria Breweries Plc. The year before FOA was appointed the Managing Director and Vice Chairman, turnover was N207,476 million, by the time he stepped down as chairman, the turnover had soared to N111,748 billion, an increase of 54,284. 9 per cent. The profit after tax grew from N27,567,000 to N18,943,000,000. These owe much to his integrity, unblemished reputation, skills, humility, credibility and competence.
In the 298-page book, the author captures him as a naturally ‘bright’ character without guile. Emotionally connected to what he is involved in, whether at small or large scale, Emenyonu looks at how he has transformed and concludes with the statement of the doyen of accountancy in Nigeria, Akintola Williams: “A man in whom there is no guile— honest to a fault and with whom no breath of scandal has ever been associated, FOA is a gentleman of outstanding quality and highest integrity, an administrator of irreproachable character.”
In the opinion of Mr. Thom de Man, the president of Heineken, Africa and Middle East, “Felix Ohiwerei’s career will most likely be used as business case role model at Nigerian universities and beyond.”
He continues, “In Felix, we see a man who rose to the highest level by rising through the ranks, knowing the facts and all times maintaining the highest level of integrity.”
The most startling thing that the author discovers about Ohiwerei is that he is largely understated. He writes, "I have observed the way he spoke to bar maids; the way he interacted with them, very respectful. The most startling thing I realised is that whatever you hear about him is understated. The other thing is that there was nothing he told me, which on further investigation, turned out false."
The motivational speaker, Ziglar, notes, “once you accept yourself, it will no longer be a matter of life or death for others to accept you. At that point, you will not be accepted, but you will be welcomed wherever you go.”
Reflecting on the subject matter in part two, which looks at his career and starting of family life, the book ‘travels’ with Ohiwerei to some of his ‘ports of call’ or ‘tour of duty’ — Benin, Ore, Ondo, Akure, Lagos, Accra, London and many other cities across the globe. His encounter with his former bosses, Mr. George Pudney and Mr. Paddy Kelso, best exemplify the time honoured truth that no one on the face of this earth can make you feel inferior without your permission.
After he was rebuked for poor merchandising, Ohiwerei settled down to work at the end, he and Pudney shook hands and ‘no complaint’ statement was registered for him in his performance appraisal sheet.
But more than the work, the author follows Ohiwerei to where he found Janet, his wife.
THE third part, which looks at the retirement years, reveals the disciplined qualities of the man. How he overcomes the challenge of post-retirement years without having to ‘soil’ his hands.
The biography possesses inner warmth, with very apparent motive of coaching the reader to a life of success. And this suggests why the fourth and fifth chapters have been devoted to such purpose.
Written in lucid, academic language that is devoid of any form of flowery or praise, the book makes ideal supplements for building a good brand in business environment where ethics and values are essential for success.
As a ‘motivational’ book, it is a balanced profile that considers both Ohiwerei’s accomplishments and failures, very infinitesimal, as an individual and a corporate player.
More than the story of Ohiwerei, it is the story of a self-made man triumphing over adversity, tragedies of great magnitude. It is an honest account detailing the life of ‘Mr. Transparency’ in the boardroom.
It is a mix of motivation and biography rolled into one. Suffice it to say, the book is a call for more ethical way of doing business. It inspires you to follow the honest, disciplined and hardworking path for a satisfying life.