Wow. We're on quite the ride!
In the last two weeks, we’ve spent four days in Lagos, Nigeria and six days in Accra and have initiated contact with ten of our twelve companies. (The remaining two are in Cote d’Ivoire, and we’re arranging our visit there later in the month to conform with the clients’ vacation schedules.) Our client companies are excited and ready to roll towards “transformation”. The journey will be long and complex, but everyone has to start somewhere. Our goals for the past two weeks were to get to know the key issues facing the companies and start developing the vision of where they want to go.
With 20 million people (compared with a total of 24 million people in all of Ghana), Lagos is vast, congested, and swarming with a myriad of commerce. Luckily we had an excellent driver who was skillfully able to navigate the roads, including backing up in the driveway of our hotel at 8 am, when all of the hotel guests were leaving for meetings with their drivers and all wanted to back up down the driveway at the same moment. This was not a job for the amateur.
Also, in Lagos, the business life is very competitive, and even street vendors have to differentiate themselves to get noticed. This was the first time we’ve seen a hawker on stilts!
Nigerians are resigned to the fact that they have to “BYOP”—Bring Your Own Power. The national electrical grid is completely unreliable, so each company has at least on generator and needs to have backups as well. (We know of one telco services provider who has seven levels of backup!) Generator power is huge hassle that presents a big, unpredictable expense for every business. The factory of one client company was without power Monday through Wednesday. They have to pay workers regardless, so they incurred three days of labor cost with no production output. They paid all the production workers double time to come in on the two-day national holiday since they were late on delivering orders and had reputation and cash flow at stake.
We've learned a lot lessons and we're just six weeks in.
Leading “Design Thinking” workshops with several clients can open up new ways of approaching problems and challenges. With materials developed by Jim Patell (of the previous post) of the Stanford d.School and GSB, we took groups from two of our clients through a crash course of Design Thinking, first working on a fun design exercise and then moving on to challenges that confront their companies.
These folks created the ideal wallet for each other (by listening to customer needs, iterating on ideas, and making a rapid prototype.)
This group was able to propose solutions to key issues facing the sales department.
This manager summarized the findings his group had about HR issues and their proposed solutions.
And, what was even more gratifying, a team in Lagos had already implemented the brainstorming concepts back at their company. Here was the CEO at the Stanford SEED session in July:
And here she is in her conference room in Lagos, showing us the outcome of the exercise that she had done with her staff! The goal was to learn how to improve the production flow. They had this brainstorming with the entire company, including the factory floor workers and came up with some "out of the box ideas."
Other lessons included learning about the margin structures of various paint grades and application techniques. This paint company has lofty goals for expansion and is currently in the process of building a new factory. But, apparently the road to the new location is abysmal; so, to really beef up production there will take some capital investment. Jan toured the current facilities, where paint was finally being made again (since they had just spent $2,000 to repair the generator.) One thing Jan learned was the importance of putting a lab coat over her black dress BEFORE going in the paint plant where white pigment was being combined with water in the vat.
At an ecommerce company, they ‘re implementing a move of their call center in a 48-hour window during the national holiday. Since this company is on a “rocket ship” pace of growth, they don’t want any downtime for orders during this move. So, they’re planning carefully and are confident they will be able to pull this off.
And they're deploying their fleet of motorcycles to deliver products to people's homes and offices. In Nigeria an ambitious ecommerce company has to take on the roles of both Amazon and UPS/FedEx.
Another company is pioneering the farming and distribution of healthful vegetables to quality conscious customers in Accra. Providing the right incentives to farmers so that they grow what customers want, when they want it, is a major challenge.
Turning to electrical contracting, the team is analyzing the bottlenecks in the supply chain for their products and services. Getting paid on time seems to be a universal problem throughout West Africa. Without a Dunn and Bradstreet type of service, there is no sharing of information about “deadbeat payers.” Each company has to deal with this challenge independently.
Wearing our “dry cleaning hats”, we observed professional client service and exceptional quality control. Ed also read in the local paper that the Nigerian Federal Government is now requiring all workers in the capital to wear “suit and tie”, instead of traditional dress. This could be a bonanza for our client who is about to open a branch in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.
In food products , Jan used her “store check” experience (learned when she was working in consumer products right out of Business School) to visit the small shops in Nigeria to find out more about how they buy and sell their oil.
She also checked out the supermarkets to learn about how the larger stores display oils.
Ed coaches a client building a world-class, business-to-business, software platform. They’re dealing with the universal problems of missed deadlines, tardy features and customer pressure to customize the platform and applications for specific scenarios or integration requirements. The challenges of delivering enterprise software transcend national borders.
The past two weeks have whizzed by. It’s now Saturday night and we’re watching the sun set from our deck, sipping South African Sauvignon Blanc. Tonight’s entertainment will be a concert of Ghanaian Highlife music, joined by another group from New Zealand (!), at the nearby Alliance Francais. What a rich international mélange!