Taiwo Otiti and his twin brother had plans of settling and pursuing their careers in Canada, after completing their studies. Their father, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, had other plans in mind—that his sons would return to Nigeria. Otiti embraced the advice and left his brother behind: a decision he does not regret.
Otiti is now the country general manager of International Business Machines (IBM), in West Africa. He joined the technology and solutions provider in August 2010, four months before the firm’s centennial celebration. It was also the time when the firm was experiencing a decade of slow growth. The firm traces its roots to the 1880s, when a group of inventors who designed and patented breakthrough tabulating machines and punch clocks came together to form IBM. The firm’s success was accelerated by the construction of the legendary Watson Research Center. This marked the start of research labs throughout the globe that churned world-changing products in the technology space. For years IBM became synonymous with innovation. However, the emergence of venture capital backed entrepreneurs, such Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg, in the past two decades, overshadowed the post-World War Two success of IBM.
However, there is a dramatic shift today. Evidence is increasingly showing the dwindling growth of the venture capital-backed start-ups and the comeback of former technology giants. Scott Anthony, contributor to the Harvard Business Review, wrote, “…Apple’s inventiveness is no anomaly; it indicates a dramatic shift in the world of innovation. The revolution spurred by venture capitalists decades ago has created the conditions in which scale enables big companies to stop shackling innovation and start unleashing it.”
Because of its resources, IBM is able to embark on projects that many venture capital-backed startups cannot afford. Leveraging on past innovations, IBM strategists (or catalysts) are taking over were the blue chip start-ups have left off. IBM’s master inventor, Colin Harrison, is a pioneer strategist who recalibrated the company’s philosophy. He and fellow catalysts in the company conceptualized ‘Smarter Cities’ which is part of IBM’s ‘Smarter Planet’ initiative. The ‘Smarter Cities’ initiative saw IBM providing solutions in Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, Beijing, Dublin, Singapore and New York.
“…the company would offer infrastructure and services that will help cities save money and improve lives by managing energy, water, traffic, parking, public transit and other resources,” wrote Scott Anthony.
The Smarter Cities concept has become the hallmark of IBM. In 2011, the company invested $50 million in the three-year Smarter City Challenge, as part of its commitment to its expansion strategy in growth markets. In July, the technology and solutions provider dispatched a team of top employees from around the world to Accra, under its Corporate Citizen Corps program. The team spent a month with the Accra municipality officials consulting on making Accra a smarter city. A white paper report, based on the recommendations of the service core team for a smarter city, will be released in the first quarter of this year. Lagos and Cape Town were the only cities in Africa selected for the 2013 Smarter Cities Challenge grant.
Beyond these initiatives the firm is continuing to invest significantly in growth markets to expand capacity, develop talent and deepen its research and development.
“IBM spends just over $6 billion in R&D every year [excluding other expenditures such as marketing] and there is nobody that spends that kind of money,” says Otiti.
This investment is driven by a strong cash flow, which stood at $16.6 billion in 2011. Part of the research and development expenditure was allocated to Africa and the first IBM research lab was built in Kenya. It is expected that this lab will support the science and technology skills base in Sub-Saharan Africa. This investment is justified by the constant revenue increase from growth markets. Cumulatively, these markets have contributed 22% of IBM’s geographic revenue in 2011, up from 11% in 2000 and company is expecting a further 30% growth by 2015.
In Nigeria, Otiti has expanded IBM’s market share through the diversification of company’s brands, which include services, software, information technology system, and research except finance services.
“Today, we control 70% of the high-end servers that run all the banking hosts in Nigeria, which gives us control of 80% of the transaction volume in banks. We have basically taken out SUN. There is only one bank remaining on SUN and four are running on HP,” says the optimistic IT expert.
The firm also partnered with Bharti Airtel to provide mobile services across 18 Sub-Saharan countries. In this partnership IBM runs the IT system of which Nigeria accounts close to a third.
IBM’s success is being buttressed by the decentralized structure that embodies creative leadership.
“IBM is a matrix organization. Under me, I have the four main brands, which is hardware, system and technology group (STG), software group, global technology services (GTS), which run things like strategic outsourcing and managing services and lastly the consulting group GBS (global business services). They report to me and they also report to verticals. The strength of IBM is the cross brand placement. We can actually provide solutions across board from consultancy down to delivery,” says Otiti.
Otiti is not a newcomer to the IT industry, having plied his trade with many banks in Nigeria. When he returned to Nigeria in the mid ’80s, the banking sector was going through major transformation. Over three decades, he moved from bank to bank. He first worked in the IT department for Citi Group. During his four-year stay, he started the software development work as part of the group’s localization program. He joined Fidelity Bank for three years and later Society General for a brief period.
The highlight of his career came with his appointment at First Bank: the oldest and one of the largest banks in Nigeria. His first task was to put in place a real-time online plan to centralize the bank’s 300 branches operations.
“One of the reasons they recruited me was because I was the first to do the first online ATMs at Society General. I was thus requested to give direction on how to do their channels infrastructure, which included things such as ATMs, Point of Sales (POS) and bankcards,” says Otiti who spent almost a decade at First Bank working on various projects that forever changed the Nigerian banking sector.
The efforts of his team led to the birth of Interswitch, which has enabled organizations and individuals to access their funds across 20 banks in Nigeria and across a variety of payment channels.
In his eight-year stay at First Bank he established an ATM consortium, which licensed Master Card to use its switch, and was also part of the team that negotiated Visa’s 20% acquisition of Valucard (now Unified Payment Services Ltd) and worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria on the vision 2012 payment system. He joined Afribank in 2009 for a short period before the bank’s closure.
Otiti wants the West African region to develop into an independent region like South Africa or Egypt.
“For West Africa to be an independent region, we should be able to generate over $200 million in revenues in the next five year,” says Otiti.
TikTok Owner ByteDance Continues Expansion Efforts With Music Streaming And Possible Rebrand
Topline: In order to continue global growth, ByteDance (parent company of the wildly popular social media app TikTok) will reportedly launch a music streaming service as soon as next month and is potentially exploring ways to remake its image in advance of a rumored 2020 public offering.
- The Financial Times reported Sunday that ByteDance is in talks to secure global licensing rights from Warner Music, Universal Music and Sony Music, the world’s largest record companies.
- ByteDance’s still-unnamed music streaming service will reportedly cost less than $10 per month, undercutting monthly subscription fees charged by rivals Spotify and Apple, and will kick off with initial launch markets in Brazil, Indonesia and India; ByteDance declined to comment.
- Those countries could be a tough sell—according to a May 12 Bloomberg report, paid music subscriptions are mainly a Western phenomenon, while the most popular music apps in Asia are YouTube and Tencent’s QQ Music, both of which are free.
- Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Beijing-based ByteDance, facing growing concern from U.S. lawmakers over its user-data storage and content censorship practices, is searching for ways to distance itself from its Chinese roots.
- Potential rebranding moves include relocating its operations to Singapore and renaming TikTok, which the company denied, according to the WSJ.
- Both the FT and WSJ reported ByteDance was aiming to IPO sometime next year, which ByteDance also denied to both outlets.
Big number: $78 billion. That was ByteDance’s last reported valuation, making it one of the most valuable startups in the world.
What to watch for: When ByteDance’s music streaming service actually launches. And if it moves the needle on paid music subscriptions in Asia. China’s Tencent has 800 million music users, but less than 5% of them pay for it.
Key background: TikTok made a name for itself as the first Chinese social network to achieve success in the U.S with over 100 million Americans as registered users. It surged in popularity this year as teens flock to the app to make lighthearted pranks, comedy sketches and lip-syncing videos. It’s also the third-most-downloaded app in Apple’s App Store, but it came at a price. According to the WSJ, ByteDance poured $1 billion into advertising and flooded rivals Facebook and Instagram with ads.
Analysis: The Values That Make A CEO
As part of FORBES AFRICA’s ongoing eighth anniversary celebrations, we present a CEO Rhetorical Analysis by Harvard University Extension School student, Anahita Negarandeh, on FORBES AFRICA’s founder and publisher, Rakesh Wahi. The CEO Rhetorical Analysis researches and analyzes the rhetoric — the effective messaging or speech — of a CEO and global business leader. The values chosen to explore in the CEO’s rhetoric are a key part of this article.
This rhetorical analysis examines the messaging of Rakesh Wahi, Founder of CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA. By consulting with approximately 10 executives from Wahi’s global team, this rhetoric examines four of his leadership values such as courage and determination, collaboration, passion for education, and equality.
Courage and determination
Wahi is a well-respected global businessman based in Dubai and South Africa who has been involved with approximately 20 corporate development projects. He continues to grow his establishments in more than 25 offices around the world. As a leader in media, IT, telecoms, and education, Wahi has built companies in 22 countries, employing over 1,000 employees. Prior to moving to the UAE, Wahi served in the Indian Armed Forces for approximately nine years and was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal by the President of India in 1985 for distinguished services to the country in peacetime. During his army service, at age 23, he was part of India’s second base establishment in Antarctica where a near-death experience changed his life.
“But I realized at that age that life is not something you take for granted, therefore, whatever you want in this world, you have to set out to achieve it. At the end of the day, you are either there or not there; if you are not there, and if there are unfulfilled dreams, they will always be unfulfilled.” (Wahi)
READ MORE: 5 Minutes With Rakesh Wahi
Wahi’s executive team members, who have known him for approximately 20-30 years, believe this statement. Based on four personal interviews conducted for the purpose of this analysis with Wahi’s global leadership team, Wahi “lives this statement in his everyday life” (Martin). Many acknowledged that he is continuously determined to fulfil his dreams. Lars Jeppesen, Wahi’s Co-Founder of Tech One Global, states that “Wahi dreams and then puts all efforts to pursue the dreams… he is still building universities, creating new businesses, and pursues his dreams” (Jeppesen). Wahi is known to thrive on challenges and never gives up on achieving his goals even when faced with obstacles and challenges.
A leader’s personal life experiences and adversities play a major role in one’s values and ethics. In Wahi’s case, facing death at a young age motivated him to pursue his dreams to become realities. This is an admirable value for entrepreneurs, especially the younger generation. As a role model, Wahi teaches them to never give up despite challenges.
Collaboration & Importance of People
Wahi has learned valuable business lessons from his experience in the army, most importantly, the core lesson taught in the military about the importance of people and looking after them. His 2016 autobiography, Be a Lion, dedicated a section to The Importance of People. Books have had a great impact on Wahi, specifically the philosophy of reason from Ayn Rand while he was fighting for his life from the military life-threatening incident. As an advocate in the influence of others, he reiterates in his book, “That it is difficult to achieve anything without the involvement, commitment, loyalty, and assistance of others. When you come across a person with whom you can see a future, you must grasp the opportunity and mutually make the most of it.” (Wahi Ch. 1, location 173, par. 4)
Wahi executes his philosophy in numerous examples throughout his career, especially one with Daniel Adkins who is now CEO of Wahi’s Transnational Academic Group Middle East. When asked to describe a situation reflecting Wahi’s collaboration with and valuing people, this quality has directly been experienced, Adkins states, “I am probably the best possible example of this philosophy.” (Adkins). He describes his hiring experience entering the organization in late 2009 and rise from the most entry level position at one of Wahi’s Dubai-based universities, Murdoch University, to now CEO for the Middle East operations.
“Throughout this entire process, Wahi has provided both direct mentorship and mentorship by example and has made sure that I did the same for my entire team, which has produced fantastic organisational results including no turnover with regret for six years.” (Adkins)
READ MORE: The Most Defining Aspects Of Our Lives
As stated in Lancaster University Ghana’s Senior Management biography, Wahi’s “core focus is on long term corporate and leadership development through building strong management teams”. Adkins reiterates this statement in an interview: “Wahi absolutely lives this philosophy and demands it from his entire management team… the people are the business and there is nothing more important” (Adkins).
Wahi is known to have a special gift and skill to find loyal people and never hesitates to show appreciation to people’s loyalty. Wahi learned this quality from his role model parents, a father who was a military, corporate, and family hero and a mother who was not only Mother Teresa’s friend, but a genuine giver in life. In other words, Wahi is a “go back to your roots leader” (Al Abadilah). Wahi was brought up in a giving family and now gives back as a leader. Because of the people-oriented philosophies followed in his organizations, employee turnaround rates are phenomenally low. Everyone is treated like family and the principles presented in Ken Blanchard’s book, Gung-Ho!, are lived by management.
Wahi’s philosophy about collaboration and importance of people is truly refreshing in a CEO and business leader. In today’s individualistic world, leaders like Wahi who dedicate a major part of their leadership role to importance of people is a rare finding. Such values must be celebrated and promoted in all aspects of business worldwide.
Passion for education
As a sought-after speaker at educational institutions on leadership and entrepreneurship, Wahi received an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Science from the International University of Management by the Minister of Education of Namibia. He was also appointed as an IATF2018 Goodwill Ambassador by The Trade Finance for Africa. He personally learned and continuously teaches patience to other entrepreneurs in emerging markets. In an interview with CNBC Africa, The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi,about his book Be a Lion, Wahi shares he is “extremely passionate about education”. His vision is to set up educational centers of excellence across Africa incorporating new innovative industries such as online and hybrid aspects of education with traditional classroom environment. He has mentored many people in his leadership journey, but believes mentorship benefits both parties as he states in an interview with CNBC Africa: “Within a group, you always learn from each other. Mentorship is not a one-way journey, you learn every day from your peers, subordinates, seniors… If you are a student, you will remain a student all your life. You must be like a sponge, no matter your age.” (Wahi)
According to Adkins and Martin, executive partners at Wahi’s educational business sectors, Wahi lives his statement daily. Not only does he mentor his staff, he also learns from those on his team whether they are junior level or senior. Wahi has created a business culture amongst all sectors in a way that everyone learns from one another.
“There is no rank in the discussion. It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration and we have made company-altering decisions based on input received from junior team members when those ideas turned out to be the best… It is absolutely the culture.” (Adkins)
Jeppesen, now Co-Founder of a tech enterprise with Wahi, states in an interview, “Wahi has been my mentor since we met 17 years back… Later, when we co-founded Tech One Global, he was leading our board and mentored me personally as the CEO.” (Jeppesen).
The culture of learning and mentorship from one another has saved the business in an example of a termination deal of one of Dubai’s university partnerships with a junior member of the team’s approach. This is proof that critical decisions are made, as a group despite rank levels. An important aspect of Wahi’s work is helping the leadership team rise to the next level.
Wahi’s decision to launch FORBES WOMAN AFRICA was to provide a platform for women entrepreneurs’ stories and the overwhelming waitlist of these stories in FORBES AFRICA.
“The main reason was that as a startup magazine, FORBES AFRICA was overwhelmed with a waiting list of stories from 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa; by virtue of women having a late head start in the business world, the stories were largely dominated by men who had done great things to transform Africa.” (Wahi)
In a short period of time, the magazine has risen to be the material of choice for inspirational women stories, with fantastic content being produced. Equality is discussed in an article by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, Celebrating Five Years with The Founder and Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.
“We have discussed the trials and tribulations of women in the workplace and become a champion for equality. The word ‘equality’ is a living value for us at the ABN Group and I am so proud that we have been able to personify our values through affirmative action.” (Wahi)
READ MORE: Equality As A Living Value
According to a partner of over 35 years, Rajiv Podar, “Wahi has always respected and admired hard-working women and a firm believer of equality at workplace and home… Most of his senior colleagues are women too” (Podar). In an example from a former female executive at one of Wahi’s first ventures 20 years ago in Dubai, Maha Al Abadilah discusses the value of equality she experienced as a woman working with Wahi. “I have never experienced anything that distinguished a man and a woman, nothing but full respect and treating us with our pure qualifications and titles.” (Al Abadilah.14:19).
Wahi repeatedly demonstrates his firm belief in his statements amongst his team members. When a decision is to be made for an important matter, all team members discuss as equals. “It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration.” (Adkins). Evidently, not only the value of equality is present within his ABN Group amongst women in the workplace, but also amongst all employees. Gender and rank are clearly not considered in any team discussions and decisions.
Wahi’s leadership approach and personality embodies unique values such as a life-changing incident, the collaboration and importance of people, a passion for education, and equality. As he was personally approached for research purposes of this analysis, he promptly welcomed connections with over 10 executives and partners of his global team who were all eager to help. Research results and personal interviews with warm responses from his team members and partners portray all qualities examined in this analysis positively. Wahi lives his statements and is a true people-oriented leader.
Adkins, Daniel. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Africa, Forbes Woman. “Celebrating Five Years With The Founder & Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.” Forbes Africa, 27 Sept. 2018, www.forbesafrica.com/woman/2018/09/27/celebrating-five-years-with-the-founder-publisher-rakesh-wahi/.
Al Abadilah, Maha. “Phone Interview, Rakesh Wahi Analysis” Voice recorder. 18 Dec. 2018.
Bandyopadhyay, Somshankar. “Military Lessons in Entrepreneurship.” GulfNews, 15 Mar. 2017, https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/books/military-lessons-in-entrepreneurship-1.1994221.
Bishop, Chris. “Re: Chris Bishop CNBC Africa.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
CNBC Africa. “Rakesh Wahi Reflects on CNBC Africa’s Decade of Broadcasting.” CNBC Africa, CNBC Africa, 1 June 2017, www.cnbcafrica.com/videos/2017/06/01/rakesh-wahi-reflects-on-cnbc-africas-decade-of-broadcasting/.
CNBC Africa. “The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi.” CNBC Africa, 4 Nov. 2016, www.cnbcafrica.com/news/special-report/2016/11/04/be-a-lion/.
Jeppesen, Lars. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Lancaster University Ghana. “Rakesh Wahi Chairman.” Lancaster University Ghana, www.lancaster.edu.gh/our-faculty-details.php?id=45. Accessed 8 Dec. 2018.
Martin, Gary. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Naicker, Roberta. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Podar, Rajiv. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Vettath, Malavika. “Global Entrepreneur Rakesh Wahi: ‘I’ve Been a Very Bad Personal Investor’.” The National, The National, 25 May 2018, www.thenational.ae/business/money/global-entrepreneur-rakesh-wahi-i-ve-been-a-very-bad-personal-investor-1.733606.
Wahi, Rakesh. Be A Lion. Penguin Books, 2016. Kindle eBook file.
Wahi, Rakesh. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing
As FORBES AFRICA celebrates eight years of showcasing African entrepreneurship, we look back on our stellar collection of cover stars, ranging from billionaires to space explorers to industrialists, self-made multi-millionaire businessmen and social entrepreneurs working for Africa. They tell us what they are doing now, how their businesses have grown, and where the continent is headed.
Since its inception in 2011, and despite the changing trends in the publishing industry, FORBES AFRICA has managed to stay relevant, insightful and sought-after, unpacking compelling stories of innovation and entrepreneurship on the youngest continent, in which 60% of the population is aged under 25 years.
Many of those innovations have been solutions-driven as young entrepreneurs across the continent seek to answer questions that have burdened their communities.
Always on the pulse, FORBES AFRICA has chronicled and celebrated those innovations – prompting the rest of the globe to pay attention and be fully engaged.
A prime example of this is the annual 30 Under 30 list, which showcases entrepreneurs and trailblazers under the age of 30 from business, technology, creatives and sports. In 2019, we had 120 entrepreneurs on the list, finalized after a rigorous vetting and due diligence process to well laid down criteria.
We have always maintained the highest standards of integrity in all our reporting.
As we transition into the next milestone, FORBES AFRICA reflects on the words of civil rights activist Benjamin Elijah Mays, who once said: “The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It’s not failure but aiming too low, that is life’s greatest tragedy.”
With the transformation in the media landscape, the recent awards given to the magazine for the work done by a hard-working, determined and youthful team, serve as a reminder that we are doing something right.
Early this year, FORBES AFRICA journalist Karen Mwendera received a Sanlam award for financial journalism as the first runner-up in the ‘African Growth Story’ category. In January, FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, received the ‘World Woman Super Achiever Award’ from the Global HRD Congress.
In reflecting on the last eight years, this edition revisits a few of the strong, resilient men and women who have graced our covers.
For some, fortunes have literally changed, as witnessed in the fall of gargantuan African empires such as Steinhoff. Of course, there have been massive moments of triumph too, which have seen some new names feature on the annual African Billionaires List. There have also been moments of tragedy with former cover stars passing away.
Africa is ripe for the taking and is seen as the next economic frontier. The unique position the continent finds itself in will no doubt give FORBES AFRICA plenty to report on. Here’s to more deadlines and debates for the next eight years.
– Unathi Shologu
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