Move Back To Nigeria: It’s All About Taking Chances, Building A Strong Network & Starting As Early As You Can – Private Equity Exec shares StoryPosted on Friday, June 7th, 2013 at 9:31 AM
By Titi Adanne Owoyemi
Move Back to Nigeria is a new series on BellaNaija. The aim is to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap. The idea is to share their successes and their challenges as they made the decision.
A lot of Nigerians in the diaspora have questions about making a change at home in Nigeria. Many suggest really good ideas on how to make things better; others would like to contribute to making a difference back home but are just not sure where to begin. This week, MBTN talks with a Nigerian professional who recently upped and moved back home from the UK to Nigeria to work in an investment firm. He had gone to the UK in pursuit of education and then stayed on to kick off his career in the finance sector. In this interview you will find out how he made the transition successfully, what his career in Nigeria entails and his advice to Nigerian professionals thinking of moving back home.
Can you please tell us who you are?
I’m a relatively young Nigerian professional who is passionate about and invested in the Nigerian cause. I attended secondary school in Nigeria and left to the UK for my A levels. After which I went to one of the top UK Universities for my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Engineering. During my undergrad years, I participated in a number of summer internships in investment banks because despite the fact that I was studying engineering, I was sure I did not want to be an engineer. This was principally because I found engineering very boring.
Why did you leave Nigeria when you did?
At the time, my parents were obviously the decision makers in my life and when they said it was time to leave for the UK to study, that’s exactly what I did. Studying engineering was also entirely their choice but to be fair because they had wanted me to study engineering from such a young age, somehow I had developed an aptitude in the science subjects. So, though I actually did not really like engineering, due to my abilities in the sciences honed from a young age, I could comfortably get into the most competitive schools for the course.
Interesting switch from engineering to investment banking. What prompted it?
At the risk of sounding insular, I think I was driven partly by the money. As an undergrad, I researched graduate salaries for engineers relative to those of finance and consulting companies and the disparity was significant. The choice to leave engineering was thus rather simple. I did not want to be stuck doing a job in a field I found boring for low pay
Fair enough. Tell us how your career took off.
After graduation, I decided to accept a job with Goldman Sachs doing M & A. After a few years there, the natural path for most analysts is to go do an MBA in the states or to move to a Hedge Fund or Private Equity firm. In my case, I was extremely sure I wanted to do a principal investment role with an African focus. Luckily, post my 3rd year at GS, I got a bunch of offers and then I decided to move to one of those African focused PE firms. It is a global energy focused private equity firm which was looking to establish a presence in Africa. I went through the tortuous typical Private Equity interview process which involved a lot of interviews rounds, case studies and the dreaded modelling test. Somehow I scaled through the process successfully. I did this for a further 2 years and then moved to another PE firm for another 2 years and after a short while decided it was time to make the move back to Nigeria. I had a few offers but accepted my current position because I thought it was perhaps the best platform for me as the organisation has a strong private sector philosophy on the one hand and on the other, being a government organisation, gives me the opportunity to interact with and broaden my network in the public sector
What did your job in investment banking entail?
I worked in M & A which is the same thing as corporate finance and essentially means you work as a middleman or advisor, advising companies on capital raising, acquisitions, mergers and the likes. I was specifically in the natural resources group. The hours were extremely long but as I said, the pay was very good and so I decided to keep at it at least whilst I still had the energy for it.
The big difference between private equity (PE) and investment banking is that as an investment banker you’re essentially an advisor but as a PE professional, you actually manage and invest a fund to yield above market risk adjusted returns. So whereas as an investment banker I’m looking for clients to ‘latch’ onto to work for them to get paid, as a PE professional, investments bankers are looking to ‘latch’ onto me, to work for me to get paid. The typical skill sets and job requirements for PE are basically financial modelling, valuation, in-depth research, working with the management teams of companies you’ve acquired in order to turn around operations and so on.
Sounds really interesting. What then inspired the move back to Nigeria?
Moving back is something I had always wanted to do but like most Nigerians who have studied or spent a considerable amount of time in the UK, I knew I wanted to leave but at the same time wanted to get the British passport before making the eventual move back home. I had spent 6 years studying and so the 5 years after my degree that it would take me to get my papers was enough of a sacrifice. A year or so prior to coming back, it is imperative that you do a significant amount of networking with the relevant people within the institutions you are looking to potentially come back to, ensuring that they are aware of your intentions, skills, capacity etc. Recruiting in Nigeria as you may know is a very informal process, there is often no streamlined headhunting. Basically people who have heard from people who can vouch for you as competent would make the introduction. In my experience it can take quite a bit of time to successfully effect this, so you want to start as early as possible. Whilst I had known already that post getting my passport I wanted to come back home, the issue was where to. I tried a host of oil companies as well as private equity firms and within the time frame I had, this was the one that appealed to me and so I took it.
Seems like it was a pretty straightforward process for you: Was it that easy in reality? Moving back and starting afresh so to speak
To be honest, it was pretty straightforward for me and this might have been due to the fact that since my early years in investment banking, I had known I wanted to do African focused private equity. So from that point on, I had really developed a very strong network within PE firms that are focused on Africa as well as African companies but obviously being Nigerian, my stronghold was the Nigerian market. Moving back home was just a case of stepping up conversations, becoming a bit more aggressive and looking for an endpoint. All in all, it took just under a year to achieve my objective, so I will say starting early was the key for me.
You’ve mentioned your keen interest in Africa-focused PE Firms. It may seem obvious but why this interest? Is this because you are Nigerian?
At the end of the day I saw myself as a Nigerian in the UK, so for instance while everybody else I worked around was fluent in at least 3 or 4 international languages, I couldn’t speak any other languages apart from English, pidgin English and Yoruba. Clearly, I just did not have any competitive edge relative to my peers to pursue a career within mainstream investment banking. I knew that in order for me to have an edge, I had to pursue a career within a jurisdiction that I had a competitive edge in and that I had a natural enthusiasm for learning more about over my peers. That, for me was in African focused PE. And of course, being Nigerian, it’s much easier to dominate in Nigeria than say, in the UK. In the UK, there are thousands of people exactly like you or better. In the Nigerian context for instance, you are one in a thousand so I had already made a strategic decision earlier on in my career to pursue this line and I stuck at it.
You obviously exhibited a lot of foresight in this regard, hence the seeming ease in your eventual decision. Moving on to your current job, what does it entail and how have you found it?
My work involves building my team from the bottom up and I’ve been extremely impressed with what I’ve seen so far. My superiors are incredibly driven, very well coordinated and vastly experienced and so they are able to set the tone and the pace for how they want our business processes run. My days are typically 12-hour days and start at about 8 am. They usually involve a lot of meetings with co-funders & consortium partners, also doing a lot of transaction origination work, charting execution courses for ongoing transactions and also capacity building within the organisation. The key here for me is that, it is up to me to determine the type of culture exemplified not just within my team but also within the organisation as a whole and also up to me to ensure things are built properly.
In terms of the pay, a lot depends on having options, which gives you audacity in negotiating as aggressively as possible. I’m currently earning between N30-40million annually which is a discount to what I was earning in the UK but it was easier to take, due to the fact that right now I get taxed 19% while I used to get taxed about 50% in the UK. I’m also getting benefits like a car and driver, relocation allowance, paid housing and the likes.
For me, this move makes a lot of sense because I get to be an investor and focus on getting high risk adjusted market returns on investments in a jurisdiction I find interesting and am passionate about.
Impressive package but 12-hour days? Definitely sounds grueling: On a different note however, how have you found the lifestyle changes you’re certain to have made and the existing infrastructural challenges?
I’m Nigerian, I was born and bred in Nigeria and even after I left, I always came home at least twice or thrice annually so I’m fundamentally Nigerian, nothing can surprise me here. No infrastructural issues or PHCN issues can ever faze or worry me. I’m deeply rooted in the country. So from that perspective, everything is normal. The only issue I have is that I find Abuja where I currently live extremely boring especially in comparison to Lagos which is where I grew up. There is not that much to do in Abuja and the ‘dryness’ of the town can be a bit annoying. Apart from that, I am very content to be back home.
On a final note, what would you say to anyone considering a move back to Nigeria? Any words of wisdom?
I think anyone considering a move should definitely do it as it makes a lot of sense, seeing as you give yourself the opportunity to take on responsibility, to see and do more, all bearing in mind your experience and skill set of course. Getting good opportunities can be quite random so it’s all about taking chances, building a strong network of useful contacts and starting as early as you can.
The other point to consider is that sometimes the remuneration may not be what is expected but taking a pay-cut in my experience and those of others I know, is always worth it because whilst on ground you can always make up the difference. By moving back, you’re positioning yourself closer to the opportunities and you can make that transition much easier than you would have from abroad. Whenever you get a good opportunity, consider it carefully before taking the plunge. There is obviously risk involved but it often works out in the end if well thought out.
None at all, I am loving it so far. The opportunity to be entrepreneurial, to be back home and to understand where the opportunities lie, is all a lot more exciting and rewarding than what I was doing in the UK. It would potentially have taken another maybe 10 years for me to be doing what I am currently doing in the UK if I had stayed back. Mid to long term, I’m hoping to still be working in this sector, doing what I currently do, and becoming a key player in my sector.
Thanks a lot for your time and best wishes moving forward.
Photo Credit: Black Enterprise
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