The 2017 CEO Forum, which took place on the 17th of March provided great insights into the need for transformative leadership to establish sustainable business in the challenging Nigerian economy. Led by the Lagos Business School FirstBank Sustainability Centre, the forum served as an opportunity for CEOs and Executive industry leaders in Nigeria to dialogue, network and exchange ideas regarding ways to develop and strengthen sustainable businesses in the country. Several key themes emerged, including the need to build sustainable businesses, reliance on innovation and creativity as a differentiator and finally the transformational leadership as an economic down-turn survival necessity.
The welcome address was led by Professor Chris Ogbechie, the Director of the Centre at LBS, who talked about the evolution of the corporate angle of sustainability and cost-cutting as only a short-term resolution for recession. Businesses should move towards establishing strategies that yield long-term results in areas such as supply chain management, energy, products and services, youth empowerment and poverty alleviation. These strategies are catalysts for innovative ideas. They lead to the advancement of businesses and societies as a whole, since they transform the competitive landscape and encourage change that can have a profound long term impact. “Sustainability is as such a necessity” stated Prof. Ogbechie, and CEOs and C-Suite executives have to drive its cause in their organisations.
After Prof. Ogbechie, Dr Adesola Kazeem Adeduntan the MD/CEO of FirstBank Nigeria took the dialogue a step further during his opening remarks. He challenged the leadership in the room to be bold and take the necessary steps and opportunities to create sustainable businesses. CEOs are to explore sustainable solutions to surmount the challenges in building growth in their organisations. There is a demand for innovation, creativity and a re-evaluation of the traditional business models, if businesses are to survive and thrive.
The keynote address that followed was led by Tonye Cole, co-founder and Executive Director of Sahara Group. Mr Cole provided an illustrative view of the question of sustainable businesses drawing on war analogies to bring the message home. For Mr Cole, sustainability is about the survival of the fittest where the options are to innovate or die. Nigeria is at war, he stated, and transformative leadership is needed to navigate the challenging adverse terrains. These leaders possess seven key traits he sees as fundamental. The first is an ability to foresee the future by reading the “sign-posts” of today. An astute leader he argues could have foreseen the signs of an upcoming recession giving the slow-down that began in late 2014. Second is the need to always remain relevant in your business line. This ensures that the business is always needed even as political, regulative, or client leadership changes occur. Flexibility and swiftness which allow businesses to change direction quickly in response to changing global business environments are also essential and serve as the third and fourth traits.
The fifth trait Mr Cole discussed was a need to build lasting relationships – this is a key pillar for sustainable businesses. Even when leadership in governments and businesses go through cycles and changes all that remains constant is the ‘relationship’. Only death can effectively end a relationship Mr Cole argued and hence, it’s essential for businesses to invest in and build lasting relationships. Boldness and courage was the sixth trait. Businesses need to be willing to take the unchartered pathways for growth even if competitors back away. Finally, collaboration even with competitors was trait number seven.
All of these themes are also relevant in the real estate context. Real estate costs represent up to 30-40% of the business hence innovative practices and strategies that are adopted by the business also impact the real estate. In the banking industry for instance, the adoption of e-business and electronic banking has changed the large spacious “banking-hall” requirement to smaller more efficient e-business centres or ATM kiosks. The supporting real estate requirement has evolved not just from cost-cutting by disposal of large excess spaces, but to innovative portfolio management with dashboards that support quick and effective decision-making. Businesses as such, now have a greater flexibility to make changes to their real estate requirements quickly, as the business needs or climates change – effectively tying their business strategies closer to their real estate strategies. Real estate as the back-bone of businesses thus has a fundamental role to play in the pursuit of establishing sustainable businesses with transformational leadership.