Hayford Alile was an Apostle of God and an apostle of the Nigerian Stock Exchange where he played a pioneering role in setting it up.
Came back from vacation to read that the old man is gone home. Gone finally. Gone the way of all men. We had interviewed him not too long ago for the book 50 NIGERIAN BOARDROOM LEADERS: Lessons in Corporate Governance and Strategy. Me and my young, co-author Jibril Musa.
It’s one massive book that fills me with so much joy and pride. A book I conceptualized in memory of my late friend Dimgba Igwe who would have loved this book. The idea was to demystify and illuminate the boardroom: a sacred room where the best of the best come together as equals, under the chairmanship of an appointed leader who is primus inter pares, where they come to think, dream, talk, strategize, ask questions and perform oversight functions, all to ensure that companies deliver value and make profit to the delight of the shareholders and stakeholders.
The trouble with Nigerian businesses is that they die with the owners. The Nigerian graveyard is littered with business titans who died with the business they founded. They died without leaving behind a board to oversee, to structure, to shape their businesses and ensure corporate governance holds sway. They died without leaving behind a book that unlocks the secrets of their business wizardry. This is the gap I spotted in the Nigerian business ecosystem and decided to fill by writing books: books of interviews with business leaders who want to but have no time to tell their stories, who keep procrastinating, saying “I will write, I will write,” until one day death strikes and they die with their dreams and legacies.
Talking about books, I have just completed one massive book in the “Giants of Africa series” titled Eye- witness Biography of The Guru, Mike Adenuga. It is not yet for public release. Maybe sometime next year when the Guru must have read it. The second book slated for release next year is the Boardroom Leadership book featuring such business giants and boardroom gurus like Dr. Michael Omolayole (Lever Brothers), Dr. Christopher Kolade (Cadbury), Prof. Joe Irukwu (Father of Insurance), Arthur Mbanefo (UAC, CitiBank), Chief Olusegun Osunkeye (Nestle), Biodun Shobanjo (Troyka), Adedotun Sulaiman (Accenture), Felix Ohiwerei (Nigerian Breweries), Mrs. Ibukun Awosika (First Bank), Mrs. Mosun Bello-Olusoga (Access Bank), Mrs. Osaretin Demuren (GTBank), Steve Omojafor (Zenith Bank, Chris Ogbechie (Diamond) Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah (African Capital Alliance), Gbenga Oyebode (Access Bank), Asue Ighodalo (Sterling Bank, Dangote Flour), Emmanuel Ikazoboh (Ecobank, Dangote Cement), Obi of Onitsha Nnaemeka Achebe (Diamond Bank, Unilever), Dr. Chris Eze (Fidelity), Ernest Ebi (Fidelity) Udo Udoma (Union Bank) Ephraim Faloughi (Sovereign Trust), Sam Ohuabunwa (Pfizer), Ajibola Ogunshola (Punch), Dele Fajemirokun (AIICO). I could go on and on. Of course, Apostle Hayford Alile, the man who inspired today’s column.
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Alile was a fulfilled man who served God and man faithfully. He was an Apostle of God and an apostle of the Nigerian Stock Exchange where he played a pioneering role in setting it up. Along this line, we asked him: Is there any correlation between the composition of a company’s board and the health of its stock at the exchange? “Yes, indeed,” he replied. “For a number of years investors never took seriously the quality of a director or a board but in the last few years they are beginning to take it seriously. They are beginning to ask, who are the directors? Are they there in the interest of the company, shareholders and the nation? In other words, a company should go to the stock exchange with a board of directors with reputable character. That raises another question: How important is integrity to membership of a board? Very. very important. The motto of the stock exchange is integrity and it applies to every area of business.”
Beyond his foundational work at the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Alile had been chairman on the boards of Unilever, UTC Nigeria Plc, Oceanic Bank, and Afrivest (West Africa) Ltd. He had also served as a director on the boards of Industrial and General Insurance (IGI), Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company and the Central Bank among others. We asked him, among other things, what it takes to lead the board and he gave us this portrait:
The choice of a chairman of a board is very important. He is usually outstanding by his behaviour, not necessarily by his speeches, because behaviour speaks louder than speeches. Those who are going to choose the chairman of a board consider what they know about the individual. Who is this man? What makes him what he is? They try to look at organisations or setups that he has chaired in the past. These things are very important when considering an individual for the post of a chairman.
The chairman should not be someone who talks too much. His duty is to listen to members of the board and see how they can perform in their collective directive of the company. The best way for the chairman to succeed at his duty is to do more of listening. He can lead with the questions, but he should do more of listening so that he can summarize as much as possible the discussions.
The chairman is to set example for members of the board and the management, and to know the direction to move the company with minimal mistakes and excuses.
He should be a good example. One of the examples is not going behind to get a contract from the company he chairs, or getting his company to execute the contract, or promising it to some other interests and subsequently manipulates the discussion to make sure those vested interests (his candidates) win the contract. In this regard, the chairman has to be very careful. The easiest way for a board to fail is to allow self-interest to dominate discussions and decisions.
The chairman never knows it all but there are opportunities for him to go and sit in classes where other chairmen also learn, either self-financed or sponsored by the company, in order to prepare him for the position. Also, the chairman should be somebody who is prepared to learn, somebody who is prepared to read books written by experienced corporate executives or corporate directors. He should be somebody who can read books relevant to the company that he is chairing or leading. His role includes listening to what management says and in the process agrees with them or corrects them. He should listen to the executives when they are analyzing the strategy they use in running the company, or where there are errors and they call for a review in some necessary areas.
You can’t know everything. What you don’t know, ask people or find out from others who have succeeded in that line. This is my advice to chairmen.
Generally, board meetings come up quarterly. There is hardly enough time to properly treat the affairs of an organisation. As chairman, your integrity becomes a casualty if anything happens to the company whose board meeting you chair four times a year. That situation is made riskier because you will have to rely on facts and figures as documented by management. Therefore, it is important for me to ensure that when a meeting is held and decisions are taken, one or two persons are delegated to chase after those decisions. I keep calling them to know how far they have gone in effecting those decisions. Secondly, the chief executive must always be online with me. This is very important. In case of obstacles in terms of regulatory, operations or management-related issues, all he needed to do is to tell me where he is having the difficulty and the board would expedite action to try to find out who or what those obstacles are and subsequently find a way to have them removed.
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