Chioma Nnani: Ego for Hire
One of the most profound business lessons I've learned is from Jacqueline Gold – the incredibly beautiful boss of Knickerbox. Some of us know it as Ann Summers.
I remember reading this piece she'd contributed about profit maximisation within a business. There were five points and it's been a while since I read them – but the one that has stuck with me was to do with the relation between ego and office space. Having a meeting at a certain organisation a couple of weeks ago brought it all back.
There's this (rather unfortunate) thing that a lot of Nigerian business-owners do in an attempt to prove to themselves and to others how successful they are. They get office space that they cannot afford. A lot of people don't really see working from home as something that a serious person would do – it's a cultural/mindset problem. Plus no sensible person invites strangers into their home under the guise of “they're clients”. But getting a penthouse suite office, with the attendant utility and other bills, when you don't really need it, is … well, ridiculous. It's even irresponsible.
Unfortunately, this “I'm so important” façade doesn't stop with bricks and mortar; some people actually hire a battalion of staff, to basically lounge around. I mean that in a literal sense – if you've been to a government-run organisation in Nigeria, you'll understand how serious this is. People are bored out of their minds because they've got nothing to do. I think that's why some civil servants act like borderline psychopaths – creating useless procedures and duplicating processes so as to appear busy. So they focus more on looking efficient, than being efficient.
When a business-owner does this, it's even more frightening, because they just don't have the financial resources available to a government-run department. Some go, “By the grace of 'god', business will come.” Erm, OK.
Sure, you receive 25 – 50 emails a week. Is that really a good enough reason to hire a full-time PA? Especially when answering the emails yourself takes less time and inspires fewer migraines? So you've got a couple of physical meetings a week. Is it necessary to get a two-year lease on a commercial property, followed by purchase of a switchboard (are you kidding?!) and the hiring of two receptionists and a PA's secretary?
Yeah, that's another thing. The average Nigerian is obsessed with titles. The longer, more jaw-breaking, convoluted and weirder; the better. People have a way of getting really offended when titles are omitted. I've actually seen people refuse acknowledgements at events, because my full title wasn't used. I'm Dr. Mrs. Barrister Esquire Engineer's-Mrs Entrepreneuress X; and you must put all those before my name. Do you have any idea how much value each of these titles carries for me, even if 98% of them are merely honorary and I have no idea what they mean? You disrespect me by not acknowledging me properly, and I will not have you hurt my ego like that! Else I will stamp my foot, dig in my heels, refuse to move to the 'top table' and scowl for the duration of this wedding reception/birthday dinner/listening party!
We do love titles. So much so that we carry it into business. You see some designations on (what is supposed to be) official paperwork, and you think, “Huh? Why does a PA have a secretary?!”
One of the amazing things about the business empire that is Knickerbox is just how successful they are, without succumbing to the ego-driven temptation of acquiring unnecessary office spaces in every nook, cranny, town and crevice where they have a following. And Ms. Gold has actually featured on the list of the Richest Women in Britain. At some point, she was reported to be the 16th richest woman in England.
I read something from a student of Peter Drucker's, a couple of months ago. And I'll paraphrase – can you really afford to have a secretary twiddling their thumbs, while you wonder where to get the money to pay her wages? Can you really afford the business purchase or lease? Or is your ego in the driving seat?
Chioma Nnani is the award-winning author of FOREVER THERE FOR YOU. She holds a Law (LLB) from the University of Kent, Canterbury, was nominated for a BEFFTA in 2014, and has a Postgraduate Certificate in Food Law from the De Montfort University, Leicester. You can connect with her via facebook.com/ChiomaEstherNnani and @ChiomaNnani
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