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My 3 Biggest Business Lessons of 2023

Our lead business education expert X-ray his top three business lessons for 2023 as he prepares to share more in-depth, insightful and practical content for 2024.
Ugo Peters, Founder & CEO, HXAfrica
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Happy New Year!

My grandma used to say in Igbo,” Agbacha oso a guo mile”, which means, “At the end of a race, you count the number of miles you covered”.

It is a mistake to think “Mistakes” are setbacks rather than stepping stones. As I have often said, mistakes are not completely avoidable, except if you are doing nothing, and even doing nothing is a mistake, so embrace mistakes as learning opportunities when they occur.

Earlier in my career, I did a 4-year stint as a project staff while I worked with Cappa & Dalberto Plc on an Exxon-Mobil GREF project in Lagos, safety was a priority!  Whenever “Near-misses” (i.e. incidents that had the potential to be accidents) or accidents occurred we had a reporting system to log these events, it was criminal not to! , Once every quarter or so the Safety Department had what we called a “Stand-down”, we stopped all operations and construction work, converged and the Project Champion (usually the Project Manager or his designate) led us into a session where we discussed the frequently occurring near misses and the high profile accidents across all GREF projects across the region and globally, we discussed along the lines of, “What happened”, “what’s the root cause” and “what lesson can we learn”.

I found this process very effective in loss prevention, so when we launched our business I adopted and adapted this system, at the end of each year, we stand down operations and review the mistakes of the past year, draw up lessons, and form strategies for the next year, we transform mistakes into learning opportunities, I recommend this to all business owners.

We did this last year 2023,  Here are the top 3 Mistakes that were made and what we learned from them;

  1. Excusing Business Rules for Friends and Close Contacts

This was the most common 2023, it occurred three times, and all three had dire consequences, The first one happened in Q1, A veteran in the industry who is an older

friend brought a deal of bulk land purchase to me with complete title documentations, we went to see the site and it was in a super location, he asked that we partner to acquire it. The documents were genuine, I and the lawyer verified them also,  but we had a further verification process that I didn’t do, because I assumed the veteran old friend would have covered that, it was basic.  That was a mistake as he didn’t.  We made a down payment and did huge cast signage for the project, and while doing that someone came to the site and presented a “Deed of Assignment” showing that the land had been previously sold to him by another family member years ago, who was now abroad, at the time of the purchase, he was given the actual title documents by this dubious family member, the person who sold to us presently was the rightful owner and this dubious family member was staying at his house at the time while he was away and had access to these documents, what we had in our hands was a clone. Now the dilemma, we had on our side the rightful owner with a cloned document unbeknownst to him, and the other man had the original documents but acquired it from someone who is not the owner.  Long matter. What we verified was the authenticity of the land itself as belonging to the rightful owner, not the document.

This would have been avoided if I had done the second check, but I succumbed to “bias”, our only saving grace now is a clause in the sales contract which we are leveraging to seek a refund.

The two other cases were milder and didn’t play out like this, mostly about lost opportunities, but the root cause was “Me” and my bias for older veterans generally or those I perceive to be knowledgeable in our field. Bottomline, they too can make mistakes. So do not tolerate any bias that would go around a rule no matter the person except you have made up your mind to bear the consequences no matter what. Towards the end of the year 2023, the lesson I got from this helped us save our new subsidiary from losing money when a close contact came calling for us to beat a rule as he was genuinely pressed. We put the request through our rules and I detached myself from it, the rule screened the deal out! Guess what, the person still talks to me, and we still maintain the relationship we’ve always had, That is usually the fear business people have that results in such compromises.

2. Information Classification 

This caused a shake-up within a newly formed team in one of the subsidiaries and led us to disband a full team and do a new recruitment. An opening came up with access to sensitive company information, one of the lower cadre staff had the qualification to fill that post and also seemed mature enough to handle it, but I learned the hard way last year that discipline in one area of life doesn’t translate to discipline in another area

We tried the lower cadre staff out in that position with a probation period, and within the three months she diffused information that caused strife within the team. If not for the strength of the management team of that subsidiary who successfully curtailed the damage and timely took action it would have been disastrous. They even proposed that we charge her as it was against the ethics of her profession, but I stopped them, citing that dropping her was enough.

The lesson here is don’t promote or get people into sensitive positions like Human Resources or Accountant without rigorous checks not on qualifications but on character.

3. Innovation and Marketing – Two peas in a pod 

I read about this in one of Peter Drucker’s books, but I didn’t grasp the full essence of this until last year. Our company is a research and development-based organization, we churn out brilliant ideas but our failure last year to massively market one of the products we developed made us lose the opportunity of landing a huge client, I only discovered that this person had this problem some months after, and I was pained as that product was a direct solution.

I will elaborate on this topic “Innovation and Marketing” next week. As a bonus to someone who is reading this, you see that business idea you have been sitting on go and start it! Stopping sitting on your hands, let me give you an insight; A business idea we against all odds launched in April 2023 ended up doing about 21 Million naira in transaction volume by the end of the year.

This year be resilient, Kwechiri.

See you next week.

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