I was opportune to attend the Speaker series a few weeks back, where Country Senior Partner, PWC Ken Igbokwe shared his business and life experiences. Ken has 35 years experience in business advisory, assurance provision, taxation and consulting services. On regular basis he contributes to public debates and discourse on the transformation of the public sector in Nigeria.
The session was for 90 minutes and I was able to jot down a few inspiring lines to share with you. When asked if he got to PWC by chance, why he’s been in PWC for so long and if he had been tempted by a more lucrative offer at some point. Mr. Ken smiled as if the very questions were on point.
“It’s not the money, PWC is actually an extremely unique environment of about 700 talented young Nigerians who want to give it their all thinking about the future and everything career here. Not everybody has the opportunity to influence this people and show them we can be all we want to be.
“Once in 1988 and 1989 I had the opportunity to strike out, go do my own thing, it was very tempting. As a partner and senior partner I get job offers, but it’s not the offers per say, It’s the opportunity to go do something very dear to my heart which is to manage my own business outside PWC, that was over 25years ago, but I also saw the same opportunity in PWC and I took it.”
“Getting into PWC was not by chance, it’s actually interesting. I studied mechanical engineering at a very young age, and before I went to college I had actually worked in Shell. When I got to college I discovered technology as the very exciting thing in life and during one of our classes in operation management, we were making a lot of noise and the professor said; “this is the problem with you engineers, brilliant boys and girls, you don’t want learn anything outside technical, you don’t pay attention, and when you leave school, you go and join companies and then the highest you can go is be the head of technical, but where the action is, is not in the technical, it’s in running the business.”
“As he was saying this we all kept quiet. After the lecture I ran up to him, and said, I found what you said intriguing, because I’ve worked at shell and I have seen engineers who were all Shell scholars climb the ladder but never run the business and you can’t run the business without engineers. He explained that to run the business, it’s not just the technical skills but the leadership and management skills. In teaching them operation management, the idea was to broaden the spectrum on how to build a successful career. I inquired the part of engineering he studied and it turned out he was an accountant and again emphasizing the angle that it’s really about the technical skills.
Mr. Ken later joined PW in London, and then it was still the leading accounting firm in the world. He joined a view into understanding accounting and getting into businesses. It was very easy for him to transition from technical into the business. According to him, people don’t understand that everything in life is actually easy; they just need to make their mind and say this is what they want to do. What they will find is that it comes easy to them and they will find the right people to help them when they see how determined they are.
“I have always been ambitious” Mr Ken said. “My childhood ambitions I still haven’t achieved which is to be an astronaut and fly to the moon. I always wanted to own a business the helps people find solutions to problems, my dad always wanted me to be a doctor, I also wanted to be a doctor and be other things. I liked to fix things but then I realized that I may be too attached to patients so I knew that medicine was not for me. You have to be ambitious and focused, you have to decide and just go for it, and the worst that can happen is that at the end of your life you say; ‘that was a good struggle’. In the process of trying to get to that goal, you were spending your life in a focused manner and in the manner that you want. I think it’s really about you, your life and how you drive it.”
“Practically everything about life, where you get to and how you get there is in your head. Life is about you, how you think about the people you relate to, whether you are religious or not, how deeply religious you are is all in your head.”
“We all got indoctrinated while growing up, by our parents and society but you a get to a point as an adult and encounter that moment where it occurs to you that life is what you make of it. There are many people we think are poor, but they are content. Contentment is about you and what is in your head and what you define as what makes you happy and what you strive for. By the time I got out of school and joined PW I wanted to ‘fulfill my potential’. It’s the only thing that drives me. Your potential is about you, how you define it, focus and drive it. It’s disappointing to see people not aiming for their potential. If your ambitions and goals are sufficiently challenging, they give you a life time of fun just trying to reach that potential.”
“Nigeria has the greatest potential in the world. We have the best that anybody can be given; the issue is what have we made of all that talent? We’ve got mineral resources, sunshine, fertile lands and yet much of this is not used. We haven’t reached that potential as we are yet to address the issues of political governance and what is required to build a country. We are not fulfilling our potential. It’s quite difficult to manage especially with the 250 different tribal groups, but we can still do something about it.”
“Reason why we are still here is that on the lower level we are afraid to go out there and say we want this and don’t want that. In the leadership it’s about too many vested interest with short term thinking, we neither think strategically nor act so, even when do, we sacrifice them on short term accommodation. All of this is hard work, no nation was ever built by people who don’t work hard, and we are not giving it our all.
Mr. Ken hammered more on advice, decision, taking responsibilities. Nobody listens to advice he says, but we want to blame somebody else for their advice given whereas the final decision to act is ours. What advice does is provide additional information to make a decision, and that is yours to make and not that of the advice giver.
He stressed more on seriousness amongst young people trying to going into business. In his words; “There is no free lunch”. By saying this he wanted to communicate to young people that it’s all about them driving something with a valid proposition and not just aiming to get everything free.