Sometimes the greatest lessons are learnt in the valley…and this period has helped me to know who truly I am and what is valuable to me.” What do you do when you have built a reputation for integrity over the years, but without warning, everything comes crashing like a pack of cards? How should you react when friends and dignitaries who had thronged your home and office when you were in command vanish into thin air when the wind goes against you? How should you respond when those who have seen you as a role model are shattered by the reversal of situation? For quite some time since the Cadbury incident happened in 2006, I had tried to speak with Mr. Bunmi Oni, the man in the centre of the storm. The reason was not to talk about the incident, which has been well-reported, but to share some of the life lessons he has been able to learn in all that. I eventually met him in his house, and over time, he was able to distill those lessons into the 15 nuggets summarised below. Success books are plenty on the bookshelves, but only very few people are willing to share why they missed it. If you read Bunmi Oni’s lessons with reflections, you will gain wisdom that should be written in gold. In our first meeting, when I asked him what would be the single most important lesson he has learnt from all the experience, he said: “Sometimes the greatest lessons are learnt in the valley,” adding, “and this period has helped me to know who truly I am and what is valuable to me.” Enjoy the reading: Lessons 1 Live ready and be prepared at all times. First, in 2005, my plan was to leave Cadbury at 55 which was 2008. Second, I travelled abroad for a week and so was not present when all of the issues and press were going on in 2006. Third, the UK internal auditors had conducted a comprehensive audit in July 2006. As with any audit, they made observations but nothing shattering. PwC PricewaterhouseCoopers) brought in to audit did not speak to me or the Finance Director at all. They admitted this in the report which I only got to see about eight months after. That was handy when I later decided to sue, especially as efforts I made at an amicable resolution failed. It was also gratifying that the company’s public statements confirmed that money was not missing. Naturally, I went through many emotions, but quickly decided I had to look ahead. Fortunately, I had long chosen a moderate lifestyle and was not a social bird. The first thing was to extend my stay abroad for several weeks and enrolled for French lessons to occupy myself. That gave me time to reflect on next steps, including better managing my investments. Retirement really is the outset of a new phase of life (something to look forward to), not the beginning of the end of life (something to be downcast about). It’s wonderful to be finally free of school fees. Remember that at 60, you are barely two-thirds of the way through your life. Keep pressing on no matter what, and as one gets older, keep mentally and physically active. Learn something new after you’re done with career. George Eliot said: “It's never too late to be what you might have been.” By the way, I would rather live by God’s statement in Genesis 6:3 that “...yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” than by what Moses said in Psalm 90: 10 that “the days of our lives shall be seventy years ....” Lessons 2: Prepare for life after work. I had a retirement plan but couldn’t describe it as sound. I left more of the savings than I should in current account instead of having it work for me. I learned the virtues of saving long ago and tried to be guided by the principle to live on no more than 80% of income, and the rest spread over other commitments - retirement savings, tithe, contingency or the unexpected. Of course, this wasn’t always possible especially when all children were in tertiary institutions and mortgage payments. Managing investments was something I did not do well until I left office. I later built a structure that works for us - smarten up the investment and get a good spread across asset classes; set a deposit that generates interest to finance day-to-day expenses. Others include planning for children’s weddings (I cannot claim I was caught unawares!), insurance, medicals, routine maintenance around the house, and of course, vacation. It’s good to set out all known expenses and decided precisely how each will be met while having your eye on the unexpected. Come to think of it, we spend a third of our lives in retirement. That’s a long time and we must plan for the period. Therefore, three basic questions to ask: where will you live? What will you live on? And, how will you keep mentally and physically fit? On the latter, it’s good to do something new like learning a new language, or to play the piano, do puzzles like Sudoku. In addition, I decided to teach postgraduate courses on a part-time basis. Lessons 3 Wisdom comes only with hindsight and reflections: What I would do differently. a. Once as Logistics Director about 1991, I took a forward position on sugar which turned out to be disadvantageous because the market took a different trajectory. That decision raised the average cost of sugar for that year. With hindsight, I was overconfident that I knew exactly the direction of the market based on analysis of 5-year trends and prevailing circumstances in the trade. The overconfidence biased my judgment. I should have paid more attention to future developments in the commodity space globally. b. When the company faced a loss on account of the new plant that failed (the plant was designed by the UK colleagues and came with many design defects; the actors chose to deny responsibility which left us with a huge bill). I accepted, as the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), to spread the resultant loss from the asset purchase (stock in anticipation of higher capacity) over three years to reduce the impact on performance of the ongoing activity. Charging it in one year would not have lessened the distrust that arose on account of the denials by the UK technical team, but would have removed a complication. Lesson 4: To grow your career, you have to do more than you are paid to do. If you really want to grow your career, it’s important to consciously seek ways to expand your responsibilities beyond what your job description says and step up to expand the boundaries of your authority. You can’t expect to be promoted just by doing the same things very well for many years. You need to demonstrate the capacity to handle more, not just say it - and sometimes you need to go “get it”, and even then, don’t use it as a bargaining chip for promotion. But there can be a risk in asking for or taking on more tasks than your current job description because your action could be tagged an inordinate ambition if you have an insecure boss, or if your own performance does not match the expectation of the higher level to which you aspire. The point is, don’t just count years you have been on the same level. Start performing at the higher level before you get promoted to it. Shortly after I was transferred to HR (Human Resources) and then, became HR Manager, I decided I was not going to handle mundane things like signing leave papers. I delegated those and focused on higher and more tasking stuff. There were, at that time, certain documents that could only be signed off by the HR Director after vetting and due analysis. I studied these issues and on an occasion, I set out all the analysis and then wrote the sign-off letter in my name but did not sign it. I put a covering note on it to the Director, explaining what I had done and how I arrived at the conclusion. I then closed the covering note by saying, “I will proceed to sign the accompanying authorisation document unless you direct me otherwise.” The Director read through it and gave the go ahead for me to sign off. From then on it became part of my remit. Admittedly, this worked because I had a boss who felt secure. Second, my boss travelled overseas once for a number of days. He was to give a speech at an event in Lagos but he had to extend his stay which meant he could not arrive in time to give the speech. That was before the days of e-mail, Internet, or even laptops. He sent me a telex about 9a.m. the day before the speech, saying I should send an apology to the organisers since he definitely would not have arrived. In a fit of boldness I phoned and said they would be so disappointed, and offered to take the speech. Reluctantly, he told me what he was to speak about. From 10a.m. that morning, I cleared my desk and worked on the speech till 4a.m. the following morning. I had told my Secretary to get to the office at 7a.m. and she was there. She typed out the speech and off I went to the 11a.m. appointment (having hardly slept), and gave the speech. The only apology I gave was that my boss could not make it back from his trip. The organisers seemed to like the speech. At least they gave a standing ovation - even if they were being polite. I gave my boss the speech on his return and I was delighted when he said there wasn’t much more he could have said, but noted a few things I could have put differently. I was ecstatic - but the company took notice. Lesson 5: To change people, you have to change yourself first. If you want people to change, you change yourself first. I was transferred from technical to Production Department as a shift manager in the factory. For the first few months my shift was consistently last in output and efficiency. I tried all I knew and concluded the men were impossible. I then approached my boss to say he had to reshuffle the teams. My boss said something I will never forget. He said, if those are the only people available in the whole world, what would you do? I thought he was insensitive to my honest plea, but I went home to reflect on what he said. I decided to love the guys and engage with them individually. Attended naming ceremonies when possible, etc. It worked. Within the next three months, we climbed progressively to the top of the chart and remained there till I left. I needed to change, instead of insisting that they change. Lesson 6: Offer advice only when it is sought. I have learned to offer advice under two conditions only: when it is sought, and when it is a matter of life and death. Your well-intentioned advice can be read as arrogance or playing “know all”. I learned this as the Personnel Manager. I somehow felt I was to provide solutions to everyone’s problems instead of helping them to find their own path out of trouble and to resolve their own internal conflicts. People I offered advice held me accountable even when they failed to do what they should have done, or had made bad choices. Now, when someone discusses a problem with me expecting advice, I always first ask if they want me to offer advice. Lesson 7: We take our most important decisions early in life. We take our most important decisions early in life (decisions about faith, family, values, etc), and spend the rest of our lives managing the consequences of those decisions - the same way the pilot plots his path and spends most of his time in the cockpit, keeping the plane on course. We must have an anchor for the journey of life. Define your moral compass, values and principles, and stay the course - but this is sometimes tough. I always know and believe that family is important, but there was a stage in my career when work took a bigger toll than I wanted. Circumstances later released me, so I could try to redeem some of the lost time. Lesson 8: Withhold judgment for as long as necessary. Withhold judgment for as long as is necessary. Not everyone who is different is mad. We are shaped by social and cultural circumstances. I learned this in respect of someone I once almost wrote off. Fortunately, other things arose and as a last resort I posted her to another assignment where she flourished. Lesson 9: Life happens in seasons. Life happens in seasons, not in years. Have a long-term view because one season yields to another. Some seasons are long and stormy, some are short and still. Keep a positive attitude; though you may be misunderstood, you will be secure. A secure person will, when called upon to explain his behaviour, does so in a gentle, clear and loving way. If explanations are not accepted, he feels no inner compulsion to remonstrate with an accuser and press his point until it becomes boringly repetitive. Of course, you must always establish your own position or stand in an issue, based on your values, or even take a legal or other appropriate action if necessary. It’s always about the willingness to wait for the days, months and years to speak against the hours. The waiting time can be stressful because we all wish that problems disappear at the snap of a finger, but it is a process. That’s why we need to trust God as the anchor that is superior to what any human philosophy can provide. Lesson 10: You only know your real friends when you are not in control. My experience in friendship in and out of office was typical. A banker ‘friend’ would not pick my call when I thought I might need a facility. Happily, I didn’t. Some would not want to be as closely associated as before. Some tried to express pity which was not what I needed. But a few stood firm and we remain friends to this day. I also have learnt that I must be a loyal friend no matter what. An event (positive or negative) does not define a man, and anyone can stumble even in the integrity of your heart. The heart is the important thing. Lesson 11: You need to learn about money management. My principle on money is mainly that money is a means not an end. It is good to have it, provided it does not have you, and maintaining that balance requires discipline. This is where my Christian faith provides the lead. You need to get your spouse involved all the way. In this regard, I believe I have a better skill in money management than my wife even if I say so. Lesson 12: The best of us is flawed. The very best of us is flawed. Our flaws come out when it appears our personal reputation is threatened. We must be prepared to make allowance for that, especially in the people we respect. They have flaws, too. But the lesson really is that I must ensure I remain a loyal friend, even where the other person is facing challenges because an event does not define who he or she is. Lesson 13 Invest heavily in your personal development. You must invest heavily in your personal development. Training is what you receive, but development is what you do with it. Books become a favourite asset. I tried to share this with my team then, and had a habit of buying a selected title for the 35 top people every Christmas from my personal resources. Lesson 14: Leadership is hazardous, but extremely rewarding. People buy into the leader before they buy into his vision. It’s more important to connect with people than to demand obedience. It’s about heads, hearts and hands - in that order. They need to understand (head) and believe (heart) before they can effectively do (hands). People listen with their eyes not with their ears, and leadership is about hearing the unheard - to feel the unspoken concerns in the hearts of people. Only then will they trust you. When you are leading people to a new place with little more to offer than the hope of a brighter day, you can be consumed if things go wrong - and things always go wrong. So you need them to be with you. As a leader you give people meaning - where you are taking them, why they are going there and, most important, what’s in it for them if they go with you. The WIIFM (what’s-in-it-for-me) must never be left out - it doesn’t always have to be money- and it gives the leader the opportunity to underscore the principle of deferred gratification. The leader must be genuinely excited to see people grow and develop their talents. He or she must use problems that arise as a coaching opportunity and then celebrate the team and individual successes, even small ones. It is true that values have been debased but even today, money is not the only motivator. In any case, it is empirically established that monetary rewards hardly last beyond three months. Lesson 15: Don’t neglect your role as a parent; it could be bring irreversible regrets. The arrival of children changes your life permanently for all time. The demands of parenting change through stages of life as they progress from being dependent (being shaped by parents and society) to independent (self-awareness and self-assertion) until they learn that the state of maturity is interdependence. These phases overlap significantly. Teenage is perhaps the most demanding for parents when you manage the tension created by controlled freedom. Parents need to accept that kids are a different generation, and you want a relationship that ensures they can always consult you when they are unsure or are confronted with things that do not align with the values of home. Teenage is the rebellious phase and must be handled with care. Two things that helped us: 1. Teach them that you take your most important decisions early in life, and you spend the rest of your life ensuring you stay on course. Rather like the pilot who plots the path and spends much of his time in the cockpit keeping the plane on the path. Such decisions on things include faith, family, truthfulness, friendship; and values such as. V respect, humility and moderation. We have four children now, all in their 30s and have started their own families. 2. Let them be aware of their identity and always desire to learn about the stories of their forebears. Parents will be in a serious error if they don’t encourage their children to converse in their own mother tongue. 3. Discipline in the home is critical, and both parents must act in unison. Children have a way of driving a wedge between Mum and Dad if they find one is lenient. Even if a parent thinks the other could approach things differently, they both should discuss that privately. 4. Parents should help kids to stretch their imagination, and aspire to achieve without being overdriven. 5. Children learn more by what they observe, because people listen with their eyes. It is more impactful to live the values you espouse than to preach them - but you have to do both. What I have observed: 1. Parents overindulge kids; there must be boundaries. 2. You don’t buy your way through responsibility by throwing money at it. Some parents, especially in my generation, sent kids abroad without necessary supervision. A friend has two sons who spent many years abroad. They did not stay in school, but by the time my friend knew of it, the boys were far gone in their carefree lifestyle. 3. Some parents’ actions negate everything they say. When you bribe to get your child admitted, you can’t criticize such behaviour. Parents must live the values even if it means temporary setback for the children. Favourite Quotes Le Cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas. (The heart has its reason that reason itself does not know) - Blaise Pascal When people are fearful, angry or confused, they are tempted to give away freedoms to leaders promising order. - Madeleine Albright Dare to dream, but do not dream unless you are willing to live your dream. - Bunmi Oni The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. - Mark Twain If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. - African Proverb The hardships we dread are the means God uses to bring us to spiritual maturity; and the only way to get to the good is to endure what seems bad from our perspective. - Dr Charles Stanley I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate himself by conscious endeavour. -Henry David Thoreau Books Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow Robert Greene: The Art of Seduction Robert Cialdini: Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion C. K. Prahalad: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid My models of all time Nigerian leaders I see as role models for future generations to emulate: Mr. Akintola Williams and Chief Chris Ogunbanjo.