‘Sir Adrian Cadbury recruited me for my job in Cadbury.’
WELCOME to HGM (Heroes, Gurus and Mentors), a new series where Nigeria’s corporate icons and influential business leaders discuss the issues of heroism, boardroom leadership and mentorship from their experience which we hope to compile into a book in the nearest future. We kick off with Dr. Christopher Kolade, a boardroom guru talking about his own boardroom guru. He spoke with me for the new book on Boardroom Leaders from which this was excerpted:
The terminology “boardroom guru” is this figment of everybody’s imagination. All it means is that this person may have been active in the boardroom for so long he now knows all the processes. In any situation in which you gather people and they have to work together to achieve something, there are skills for managing that situation, for making sure that eventually we all end up on the same page. So, a guru will be somebody who has mastered that process and knows how to get there. A non-guru is the greenhorn who is still trying to understand.
I am not sure that I have a favourite boardroom guru. But because I had personal experience of Sir Adrian Cadbury, I hold him in high esteem. Not only did I work with him directly, I also know of his other work, the book he published. He has done things for the international discipline of corporate governance. There are things I learnt from him that I regard as more important, more critical to my own understanding of boardroom situation and everything else.
For instance, very early in my relationship with him, he published a little booklet titled The Character of the Company. In that booklet, he was saying that eventually all those who relate to your company will continue to do so positively and comfortably if they think that your company is an institution of good character, if they believe that this company is trustworthy, that this company has the right ideas and that it has the interest of other people at heart. Those are what will make them more eager to associate with it. How do you create such character?
When I read that booklet for the first time, I said to myself: This is somebody who has given a deep thought to this subject. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are operating, people are always the ultimate target of anything you are doing. People like to relate to other people who are of good character.
Sir Adrian Cadbury was the one who recruited me for my job in Cadbury. I had to be interviewed by him in order to get that appointment. I know him very well. Before he retired, he was always very clear in his mind what the enterprise should be trying to achieve. As chairman and group chairman, he took part in selecting people into strategic positions. That was why it was important for him to talk to me when they were looking for me as a director for Cadbury Nigeria. He would make it clear to you that “Only God is infallible, so don’t think we are hiring you because we think you know it all; but whatever it is you have, invest it on what we are giving you to do, invest it totally, invest it faithfully, invest it confidently.” When he presided over a meeting, you could see that he was a fantastic listener. He would sit there and people would be interjecting; when he wanted to make a summary, you would detect that he had listened to everything very carefully. Not only had he listened carefully, he had balanced it out in his own mind and he would come out with a proposal, decision or whatever, that reflects the fact that just as he understands what you are trying to achieve, he also understands the differences in the views of those in the room. It is a skill that very few people that I know have to the same level.
THE CADBURY REPORT
Sir Adrian Cadbury chaired a committee that brought out a report that highlights things that are important and critical to success—where you get your money from, how you manage it, where you get your people from and so on and so forth. It was a way of really understanding the essence of corporate governance in the running of companies. The report was meant as guidance to all the companies in the industry in the UK at the time. Of course, as you know, the Cadbury Report is not just a UK report; it has become of global importance.
Lessons I learnt from him
From him, I learnt to focus on the importance of the enterprise over and above everything else. Yes, there are people in the enterprise, there are interests, there are differences and so on. But if the enterprise fails, all of those things will fail; whereas, if the enterprise succeeds, it gives you the best chance of making sure that all of those things are successful. I learnt that from him.
I also learnt from him that even if you are chairman of the board, it doesn’t stop you from taking interest in the smallest things that are going on—provided you are not doing it behind anybody’s back. How do you this? Simply, it is letting people—even the workers on the factory floor—know that what they are doing is important from your point of view. I remember that I used to say it to my own factory people: “This things you are doing here, you may see yourself as several rungs of the ladder below me, but there is no way I can do what you are doing. So, you are just as important to this company as I am. You are playing a role I cannot play, just as I am playing a role that you cannot play. We have to combine our roles to make the company successful.”
One of the worst mistakes anybody can make, consciously or unconsciously, is to allow a distance between himself and his people, it doesn’t matter how lowly those people may be in the hierarchy. If you have a driver who drives company vehicle and takes your head of supplies to a place where he is going to negotiate a deal or is taking your head of marketing to a place where he is going to represent your company, if that driver does not do his work very well, there will be setbacks for the company. For instance, if you have a driver in Lagos, who does not know how to negotiate through traffic, who does not know all the highways and byways you can use to avoid the traffic, you can be two hours late for your meeting. Therefore, you depend on him to know his stuffs. There are places I have gone to in Nigeria that I didn’t know until my driver took me there. So, each person playing a role is critical to the overall success of the enterprise. If we fail to factor that into our thinking, we can make the mistake of thinking that, the managing director is the most important person in the enterprise. No. Those workers who clean the workplace, making it congenial for you to work there, are playing a role that is equally important.