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Debbie Larry-Izamoje: Lessons From The Greatest Businessman I Know

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I’ve found it extremely difficult in recent times to write and it’s not because I’ve been suffering from writer’s block. I guess it’s because a lot has happened and I couldn’t quite decide on which topic you guys could really learn from. So after weeks of struggling to write for BellaNaija, I’ve decided to use the month of October to celebrate and write about the greatest businessman I know.

I never really talk about business without saying that my first knowledge of business was from my father. And so if you know me well, you should have known from the title that this was going to be about him. As I prepare to tell you about these many lessons, I can’t help but share a little story that just popped up in my head.

I was about 10 years of age when I had suddenly picked an interest in beading. After church, all I cared about was selling my beaded necklaces to as many women as possible; and guess who was there cheering me on? My father! I can almost hear his voice again as he said softly “Go, show them what you have made, I will wait”. And every time I managed to make a sale after about 25 minutes under the scorching sun, he would educate me on what to spend on the Sunday buns, that was usually sold just by the church gate, and what percentage to save.

I look back now and realize that these were the rules of business being instilled in me at such a young age.

  • Create your product
  • Show your product to the world
  • Earn from your hard work
  • Spend a little of it
  • Save the rest.

Funny how the little things make more sense as you grow right?

It’s business; it’s not personal
Although this is very tricky, it is your duty as a person in top management to know where to draw the line. Not all battles require your presence/response. But understand that when it is time to fight for your business and its stakeholders, you must do so enthusiastically.
It’s your job as the leader to listen to understand, instead of listening to reply. Over time and with daily interaction, stakeholders become like family; but never be so caught up in building a friendship that the core of the business suffers. You’re not in business to be everyone’s best friend and you must understand that there will be times where decisions need to be taken that will probably offend your stake holders.

Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. My father will always state that if you’re too busy fighting everyone on and off the bus, you lose sight of the road and miss your next turning. People must, however, be held accountable for the roles they play in your organization and no form of disloyalty should actually be tolerated.

I always watched my father handle tough situations without letting them perturb him. I guess it’s because he learnt early on that it’s never about you! And the business must go on. Never become bitter because of a business situation. Deal with it and move forward. It’s not personal!

Take Contracts seriously; document everything
Don’t play with the law. As I write this I have such a wide smile on my face because I’m reminded of dad’s love for documentation. From a young age I learnt to report back to him via email. It’s no wonder why working with him now is so easy, as these values were instilled in me very early on in life. After every serious verbal communication with my father, you’re definitely getting an email or probably asked to send one!

As an entrepreneur, I finally understand that documentation saves you from a lot of trouble especially in the Nigerian business economy. Your emails, text messages, letters, serve as a form of protection during unpredicted situations in business. It also creates a more efficient working environment.

Make time for those that matter
I still remember that my father tutored me during one of my biggest debates in primary school and even though I flunked the entire speech, the memory of him playing such a huge role lives with me till date. Will your kids have such memories of you?

Don’t get too caught up in business that you forget about what really matters. Take time out for family and friends or those that really love you. It can be very difficult sometimes, trust me I know. But time moves much faster when we aren’t watching. People die, things change quickly and guess what? People out grow you when you’re always unavailable.

The last thing you want is to look back and realise that you missed so many precious moments because you were caught up in your hustle.

Never forget your background
Oh! I could write a whole book on my father’s humility. I really don’t know how he does it and I’ve concluded that it’s a gift. But I guess it’s hard to forget that, in the same country where you’ve been able to build Africa’s first sports radio station, you once hawked plantains, used pit latrines and worked as a cab driver.

As your business starts to grow, so does your name. At first you’ll be shocked that people know so much about you and your company, but later you’ll get used to it. Whatever you do, don’t let the praises of these people get in your head, as the minute you fall, they will be there to laugh. Humility is highly important in life, leadership and business. You must be so aware of yourself that praises and compliments do not change the essence of who you are.

Have integrity
Let your word be your bond, if you say you’ll do something, carry it through. Let those around you know they can rely on you. If your employee handbook states that you’ll pay salaries on the 27th of each month, don’t start paying it a week late. And if you get so worked up that you start mixing up details, have people that can keep you accountable, people that can remind you about your commitments. Take your time before you make drastic decisions, before you speak think!

Read! Read a lot, read everything and anything. This prepares you for the changes that may occur in your industry. My father will subscribe to information from different business blogs or coaches. You must develop the culture of reading. Be a fan of email marketing and learn to tackle issues by reading case studies. You could learn from the experience of both a PhD holder and the person with no educational background.

Learn to rest
You face so much mentally, you owe it to yourself to rest. Take time off if you feel overwhelmed. You must understand that your mental health is a priority. You need to be stable to run a productive business. Rest and don’t apologize for it. Take time listen to your own voice, you matter too.

Dad, if you’re reading this, I hope you have a smile on your face. I’ll have to write a book to really list out all you’ve taught me about life and business. Thank you for teaching me so much! You will forever be the greatest businessman I know.

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Debbie Larry-Izamoje, with Certificates in Innovation and strategy from Harvard University and user innovation from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the Chief operating Officer of Nigeria's only sports radio station, Brila Fm Instagram: @dee_larry