Move Back to Nigeria is a series on BellaNaija which aims 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, considering the leap, as well as those who have tried it and realized it is not for them. MoveBacktoNigeria.com’s mission is to showcase stories of Nigerians abroad who have moved back home and are taking giant strides, often against all odds and to serve as inspiration to others. This, however, does not preclude us from sharing stories of the people who have moved back and are facing various challenges.
On the hot seat this week is Noble Asinugo, Entrepreneur and International Businessman. In this interview find out how he rose from humble beginnings to building businesses in the UK and Nigeria. Through his experiences, he advises on key pitfalls to avoid as a business owner in Nigeria, and his views on how to unlock further business growth in Nigeria. We hope you enjoy reading this interview.
Can you please introduce yourself and tell us who you are?
My name is Noble Asinugo, and I am the founder and CEO of Hewitt Stone, UK as well as the Founder and CEO of Avantis Hire, Nigeria Ltd.
Thanks. Please walk us through your background. Did you grow up in Nigeria?
Yes I grew up in Nigeria. I was born in Imo State. I completed my primary and secondary education in Nigeria before my family and I relocated to London.
What were the circumstances behind your relocation to London?
My mum moved to London before the rest of the family. She was a mid-wife, and there was strong demand for mid-wives in the UK at the time. Soon after, my siblings and I joined my mother because my parents felt the educational standards were much higher in the UK.
When you arrived in the UK, what came next for you?
I arrived straight after secondary school; so I went into College, attending Newham College in London for a year. I rounded up my A-Levels at Romford College in Barking. Following this, I enrolled at the University of Surrey to study Economics.
Did you always want to Study Economics?
Funny enough I hadn’t always planned to study Economics. One thing I knew about myself right from an early stage of my life is that I love selling, and was quite entrepreneurial. For example, when I was as little as 10 years old, back in Nigeria, my grandmother owned a shop. After school I would go to my grandmothers shop to take over the sales role. The agreement was that if I could sell the items on display at a higher price than she expected then I would earn a commission on the difference, which she obviously liked. I liked it too, because I got to earn quite significant sums for my age at the time. So while I have always been a ‘salesman’, I wanted to understand the more technical aspects of supply and demand, and that’s why I decided to study Economics.
After your Economics Degree, did you then go off into a career in sales?
I was doing sales all through University. At Surrey, I was into vehicle sales. I would pick up salvaged cars, refurbish them and then put them on the market at a mark-up. It was a very profitable venture and helped pay a good chunk of my University expenses and fees. My customers were primarily friends but I also sold to others who would respond to my advertisement on various car sales websites. After University, I knew I would go into a sales job to up my earnings even further. For me, it was a case of figuring out the most appropriate sales opportunity to get into.
Right. So, what was this opportunity and how did you figure it out?
I did a bit of research online to see what was out there. Particularly, I had to know which sales’ jobs paid the most, and was the best fit for my skills and personality. I remember doing a Google search on ‘the highest paid graduate sales jobs’ and for some reason, headhunting popped up a few times. I looked into it further and the more I learned, the more I got convinced that it was what I wanted to get into. It was going to be tough and rewarding and that’s what I needed to sharpen up my skills, particularly at the early stages of my career.
I applied to a number of headhunting firms, got about 5 interviews, and all 5 firms offered me the job. So it was just a matter of choosing from all the various offers on the table. I ended up joining a London based Executive Search firm straight out of University.
Some people get confused on the difference between Executive Search and good old Recruitment Consulting. Can you please clarify?
The difference is primarily based on the level of seniority of the candidates the firm focuses on. Your regular Recruitment Agency would focus on junior to mid-level hires; whereas with Executive Search, the focus would be on Senior Executives (as the name suggests). I remember when I started on the job, one of my first assignments was to call the CEO of a large UK software company to see if the CEO was willing to move jobs into another company where we had an opening. As you can imagine this was quite daunting as I was new to the job.
I said to my manager:
Me: Are you sure I should call him?
Manager: Does he pee standing?
Manager: Good so give him a call
And since then I’ve never had a problem calling anyone to make a sales pitch. You have to be bold.
Haha what a way to get you to make that call! So what were the other aspects of your day to day job as a head hunter?
The role involved doing a lot of research to identify the key senior figures (CEO’s, Directors etc) at firms in the sectors we were covering, so basically mapping out the market. We used google as the primary source, but also cold called the companies directly to obtain this information. Also from interviewing prospective candidates, you could also get information about the organisational structure of the firms they worked for. Once we had all the maps ready, we then called the candidates to understand their situation at work and found out what sort of opportunities would tempt them to leave their jobs, and identified whether or not such opportunities existed within our inventory of roles.
After a while at the company, I got poached into another Executive Search firm called High Finance Group to help build their Life Insurance Risk Management desk, in partnership with other more senior members of the team. The role was exciting and gave me the opportunity to learn how to build a recruitment business from scratch. I remember within my first month of joining, I closed a deal that was worth £35,000 in revenue to the company. My commission out of that was significant, so it was a great place to be. After a couple of years working for High Finance Group, I left to set up my own Search firm, called Hewitt Stone, UK.
Interesting. Tell us about Hewitt Stone UK.
Hewitt Stone is a specialist search and selection company, focused on mid to senior level hires, within the Financial Services market in London, targeting specific professional areas. Setting up the business involved a lot of research to understand the market we were going into, the competition, as well as the opportunities. Once I did that, I secured an office space right in ‘the city’ within London’s financial services hub, where all the large corporates/clients are based. We started operations in May 2012, and things have been progressing steadily since then. We are now a preferred supplier for a few global financial services firms.
Congratulations on that. You built a business in the UK which is obviously doing well. Why then did you decide to move to Nigeria to set up a business out there too?
Nigeria has never been far from my mind. With all the time I have spent in the UK, I had always seen Nigeria as home. I always knew I would move back to start a business out there. My business activities in Nigeria started back in 2011 on an informal basis, primarily doing research on the market. At the time not being on ground meant I couldn’t fully set things up.
Once you hit the ground in Nigeria, what business did you set up?
My time right now is split between Nigeria and the UK. Business-wise, I came to Nigeria to set up ‘Avantis Hire’ Ltd, which is a specialist hire services company. Avantis Hire provides a tailored vehicle and equipment sales and rental service to customers, with plans to launch our transport services very soon.
From your experience doing business in Nigeria and the UK, how would you say Nigeria is different from the UK, business-wise?
Nigeria is a whole different beast. In the UK things are a bit more structured, there are principles and guidelines that govern how businesses are run in the UK, and in most cases they are strictly adhered to, but in Nigeria things aren’t always structured. There is a requirement for you to be fully aware of what you are getting yourself into in Nigeria. For example, I once gave a business associate 250k Naira to help register some vehicles he helped purchase for our company. I gave him the money out of trust, but when I subsequently followed up on the status of the registrations, it became clear that he hadn’t done the job. The 250k… it had vanished into thin air. He simply laughed and jokingly shook my hands a couple of times when I asked him about the money. I laughed back with him, but that did not stop me from terminating my agreement with him. I think having an open mind in terms of the way people can be is very important. But it’s also important to be strict in your attitude towards business. You have to set your standards and stick to them. Doing business in Nigeria, you have to get used to some people being unreliable. It comes with the territory.
Business aside, from a general lifestyle perspective, how do you find things in Nigeria?
Nigeria for me is a give and take society. It gives you on one hand and takes away from the other hand. I love spending time in Nigeria; being chauffeured around, enjoying the good weather, the good food, the friends and family network, great returns on investment and much more. But I do find that when I return to the UK from Nigeria, it does take a couple of days to readjust the tone of my voice. Things are generally louder in Nigeria. Furthermore, issues such as road congestion, security, noise pollution, inconsistent electricity, bad roads and other infrastructural problems can be stressful.
When it comes to infrastructure, we are lacking an awful lot. But I believe this creates opportunity because there are lots of things that are yet to be done. And anyone who is smart and finds a way to solve some of these problems would stand a chance to gain a lot more compared to what developed countries like the UK has to offer. For example in the UK, the transport system is pretty much fully developed, so the opportunity to make any significant impact from an entrepreneurial standpoint is minimal. At best you can get a job working within the system. Whereas in Nigeria, our transport infrastructure is at its infancy stage, and gives a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs to step in to make a difference. And I can say the same for the Power Sector, Agriculture, Healthcare and pretty much most sectors of the Nigerian economy. In my view the main issue working against entrepreneurship in Nigeria is access to funds. And when you find institutions willing to lend, the rates of return they expect are borderline ridiculous compared to say banks in the UK. I guess such high loan rates are expected in emerging economies like Nigeria, where we do not have a formal credit scoring system. It makes it difficult for the banks to effectively asses the risk of lending to individual entities.
Interesting, so do you think the Nigerian diaspora has a role to play in providing capital to projects in Nigeria?
I believe the Nigerian Diaspora has an important role to play when it comes to raising Capital for business opportunities in Nigeria. What we need is an organised system of doing this, and this capital will be very useful to the Nigerian economy, whilst delivering significant return on investment for the Investor. I think MBTN has a key role to play in facilitating this.
Thanks for the vote of confidence! Finally, from your experience in Nigeria what advice would you give Nigerians in the diaspora thinking of moving back home?
I’d say forget most of the things you know from the western world (laughs). On a more serious note, I think you should approach Nigeria from a ‘solutions’ perspective. There are lots of problems, so you have to approach Nigeria by looking to provide solutions for problems that exist. Conduct thorough research to understand the problem you intend to solve to a great degree, as well as the limitations you may face in delivering your solution. From a business perspective, make sure you situate yourself on the ground in Nigeria if you are serious about running a business here. It’s very difficult to do this from an overseas base, and I am speaking from experience. Also be patient, and slowly integrate back into the country. Spend some time in Nigeria to get used to the cultural differences, before you pack up and move back.
Many thanks for your time and best wishes moving forward.
The primary objective of MoveBackToNigeria.com is to connect Nigerian professionals with various opportunities in Nigeria, ranging from recruitment drives to information & support regarding relocation processes, financial & tax advice and much more. Move Back To Nigeria also features social interest topics such as what’s on, where to live, how-to survival tips and so on. Consistently engaging with and featuring Nigerian professionals in weekly interviews, Move Back To Nigeria regularly publishes social interest articles relevant to the general public. Everyone is welcome to their online discussions & fora and you are invited to air your views & suggestions on the topical and trending matters section. For more information and further inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.