60: Founder Succession to the Next Generation – Nike Anani

by | Aug 24, 2021

Succession
Stories
Podcast

Helping owners achieve business success and lead their family organizations to long-term impact and legacy is a core focus. In Africa, private businesses have just a 2% succession rate to the second generation, compared to 40% in the US. With over a decade of family business expertise in Africa, Nike Anani is creating a multinational network to help reverse this trend. Listen in as Laurie Barkman talks with Nike about bridging generational gaps to enable companies to successfully transition to the next generation.

Listen in to learn more about:

  • Integrating into a family business as a next-gen
  • Challenges facing generational transition in family businesses
  • How African family businesses can enhance the rate of cross-generational succession
  • Navigating the improvement of family businesses while maintaining stakeholder relationships

Founder Succession to the Next Generation – Nike Anani joins Laurie Barkman on the Succession Stories Podcast

Show Links:

Nike Anani’s website 

African Family Firms

Podcast website: SuccessionStories.com

The Succession Stories podcast is hosted by Laurie Barkman, Business Transition and M&A Advisor/Founder of SmallDotBig, a strategic advisory firm for closely held businesses anticipating a leadership or ownership transition in the future.

For more info, or to connect with Laurie visit https://smalldotbig.com or lbarkman@smalldotbig.com

Show Transcript:

Laurie Barkman:

Nike Anani, welcome to Succession Stories. This is a really cool conversation we’re gonna have. I’m so glad that you reached out to me about the show because today Succession Stories goes global. We’re going to talk about family businesses on another continent, which is Africa and we’re going to talk about how you’re dedicating your life to the family business segment in the African community. I loved when we talked initially, and I’m so excited for you to share your story and to learn more about your mission, so welcome.

Nike Anani:

Thank you so much, Laurie, I’m really excited about this conversation as well.

Laurie Barkman:

Great. Well, why don’t we start with you telling us about you, what is your story? Where did you grow up, and where are you today?

Nike Anani:

Well, where do we start? My story is one that’s deeply embedded in our family business’s story. So my parents when they had me, they were 25 and 26, a young doctor and a young teacher here in Lagos, Nigeria, and they couldn’t afford to give me the standard of living they wanted, and that was the genesis of the family business, they set up the family business to supplement their income. 

Flashforward nine years later, my parents decided that it was best for my brothers and I, for life exposure, for our education to move to the UK, hence the very strong British accent. And so I was out in the UK for 16 years, I went to university there. I studied economics and I loved economics, particularly the module on development, because that really rang home to me, because when we would visit Nigeria – we would visit my dad, who still stayed back to keep building the businesses – I was really quite moved by the extent of poverty and so in my mind, I guess that season was sowing the seeds towards what part do I have to play in seeing that Africa grows in a sustainable way and alleviates poverty? So I then had a brief career in accountancy and corporate in Deloitte in London. I loved it. I loved the culture, loved the people, loved everything about it but the work itself. 

It was just like, “This is not life. I don’t jump out of bed wanting to advise on corporate tax international issues. This isn’t me,” but I didn’t know what that was and so I remember calling my father and saying, “You know what? Why don’t I come to Nigeria, and spend some time really learning more about the family businesses, and get exposure to your friends and different industries that they’re in to perhaps find what really would light me up? That started my journey 10 years ago. Coming to Nigeria, I was only supposed to be here for three months. I was only supposed to be here for three months, I was supposed to go traveling for six, and I was supposed to go to London Business School for an MBA. But as God would have it, all those plans, literally were turned upside down. I didn’t get into business school. It was the only business school I applied to and as soon as I got to Nigeria, I loved the entrepreneurial culture. I loved working. It started very informally with my father just shadowing. But what would typically happen was, particularly with a number of investment meetings, he would go to – because he was investing as well as running operating business – I would just end up taking over the meetings because I built up the right skills for investment management and what have you, I was studying for my CFA at the time and I was an accountant. So it was just a very organic, natural fit. That started my entrenchment into family business, and entrenched I was – in all aspects.

I was very operational in HR and finance, admin in operating the business, which was construction, real estate, and as well as I set up the family office to manage all the different investments my dad had gotten into, to just create a one stop shop, well-defined investment process, and to ensure that we’re really optimizing and mitigating risk. My first hand experience as a second gen business owner was really what inspired and prompted me to go down the path I’m on now, because I found it an extremely lonely journey. There were no advisors on the ground, advising on family business. There were lots of business advisors talking about corporate governance, strategy, innovation, agile thinking, but no one over here was having a conversation on family, the nice status family business, and so I found it really lonely, not having an outlet, not having a guide to guide me through the various transitions we were going through in the family, in the business and as an industry as well as a nation and then I found it lonely. There was no community, there was no association. There was nowhere where I could go to other people be like, “Okay, we’re going through this, are you going through that as well? If you’ve been through that, what can you teach me about your journey?” or even an opportunity to network with people and so fast forward three years ago, I decided to develop my competence to be a family business advisor to help my family navigate our transitions as well as other families, and to build that community that I longed for at that point in time. The reason really is, like I mentioned, economics is my jam. Family businesses are so…like in the United States here, as well, and Africa, they’re critical to the economy. They play a huge role in communities. They empower so many employees against the backdrop of such high levels of absolute poverty, and over in Africa, we are not doing as well, from a generational transition perspective as the US. Only 2% of businesses will outlive the founder.

Laurie Barkman:

In the US it’s about 40%.

Nike Anani:

It’s about 40, yeah. That’s why I’m doing what I do. I absolutely love it and I think it’s really critical, and I’m just a bit obsessed with family businesses.

Laurie Barkman:

Nike, you shared a lot about your background, and your mission which is really cool. There’s a lot to learn about all of that. I wanted to rewind about your time in the UK with your family when you were growing up because I’m sure it wasn’t easy. Having your mom and dad not together, you didn’t see your dad every day he was back in Nigeria building the family business which you’ve mentioned was in construction, and you were very, very young. You were just, I think you said you were maybe 10years old, so what was that like, to not see your dad for that time, and then when you went back to Nigeria, in your adult years to go back and see everything and then be together not only as a family, but just seeing this company and how much it had grown, what was that like?

Nike Anani:

That’s a really great question. I mean, to be honest with you, my mom was always the glue of the family. Even before we moved from Nigeria to the UK, my dad was always working. As with most founders, he was quite obsessed with this business he was building and he’d be traveling up and down the country looking for new jobs and what have you. So that being said, the move to the UK was quite significant for me as a child, it was quite obviously – my world was Nigeria and my extended family as well, my friends and my home – so the separation of the family unit was quite a lot to deal with, but my mum, the constance of my mum was something that I really treasure. 

She and my dad actually started the business together, but she was very much behind the scenes and so dad, whilst we’re in the UK for those many years, he just went gung ho, beasting it out and building out this business and so by the time I came back, it was unrecognizable. It had grown to 3000 members of staff, it was just this huge thing and investing in all these huge deals with institutional investors and with government, with public private partnerships and things like that so it was almost like, “Whoa, what is this?” 

Secondly, I was getting to know my father as an adult, for the first time, because I didn’t see my dad every day. It was the phone calls like, “What were your grades?” Like most Nigerian parents, “Why did you get a B not an A?” It was the flying in for graduations, it was the milestone birthdays and things like that; family vacations, we went on annual vacations with the whole family and things like that, but it’s still not the same as your day to day that. So what I really loved about that transition, when I moved back, a huge piece of why I decided to stay was, I was falling in love with getting to stay with my dad as an adult, and it was just so organic and really fun. We would be in meetings and just be laughing. We had inside jokes, and we’d travel. 

This particular trip that comes to mind, we went to India, we’re looking at agric projects in Nigeria to invest in and we’re looking for technical partners, and there was an Indian group that were quite well well versed at the time. We had to drive out to rural India from Delhi on this seven hour car trip, and the whole time we were just cackling like little children with our inside jokes. Everyone on the bus was like, “What’s going on here? You guys are like brother and sister,” but so for me, working in the business gave us an avenue for common passions, common interests, and a bond between the two of us.

Laurie Barkman:

Were your brothers part of the company too?

Nike Anani:

When I moved back, my mum moved back three months before me then I followed. My brothers were still in the UK, they were still in university and working so even till now, my brothers have never been operational. It’s always been just my father and myself. Mum still really is behind the scenes and not very much involved so yeah, it was just the two of us.

Laurie Barkman:

Okay, and you really got to know each other. That’s irreplaceable: that time and I guess in some ways it was trying to replace that last time where you didn’t see each other day to day when you were growing up, and then you were able to make that bond. That’s amazing. So you talked in your introduction about the role that you played at the company, and how lonely it felt. Tell me more about that. What do you mean by that? What was lonely about it?

Nike Anani:

I think firstly, feeling – and I would say the word feeling because no one ever explicitly made me feel this way or said anything – but feeling like I couldn’t have an identity of my own outside of my father. The shadow of his success was making it difficult for me to shine in my own right, and he had a very strong personality, strong influence over this huge business that he built from nothing, and also in society as well was very well recognized. 

Even when I would go out on my own with my friends without my father or mother, people would stop me and be like, “You must be so and so’s daughter, you look just like him. Tell him ‘Hi’,” like, “Can I not have a life outside of my own?” Also, the weight and responsibility of what I was carrying, it at times felt quite overwhelming. At times, I would be like, “Well, none of my friends that are 25 have to deal with the responsibility of hiring a CFO of a multi million business. If I get this wrong there’s so much at stake.”

Or even structuring from our investments and things like that. Dealing with lawyers, negotiating exits with a number of ROI investments, because we invested in private equity so in companies as opposed to your passive investing portfolio. The weight of it all just just felt so enormous, and not having a guide, or a mentor, or a coach to be able to show me what I should prioritize at this point in time, and then dealing with life transitions as well. I got married, dealing with navigating the changing dynamic of the relationship with my father as I became a wife, and erecting boundaries. There was just so much that came with being a family business owner that I felt other business owners, or my friends in corporate just didn’t understand so there was no outlet for me to share that, “Okay, this is what I’m going through, Is this normal? What should I do?” or even just, “This feels so lonely, this feels so heavy.” Then also whilst Nigeria is a large country – we have 200 million people – the business community is very small, we all know each other and I found that I didn’t like that. I really loved the anonymity I had in London, where I, Nike Anani, I just have a job, and I just do what I want to do. I felt a sense of – the word’s not accountability – but a sense of lack of privacy, with respect to our business activities were in the public eye and I thought there was a sense of entitlement that was projected onto me, as though I was just this rich little girl that had all this privilege, and didn’t have any problems, and her greatest problem was waking up in the morning, knowing how to spend all her many billions of whatever and that was the lonely part of it. To juxtapose, I keep saying, against a lot of poverty, where a lot of people don’t have jobs, their basic needs are not being met, and they constantly just see you as dollar signs. It’s not a nice feeling. Whilst I have a very strong sense of responsibility to community, to people, to planet and to ensure that we are uplifting those that have been left behind, to be treated in a transactional manner is not a nice feeling at all. It makes you not trust people. It makes you very guarded. It just makes you stay in that cave and not want to deal with other people.

Laurie Barkman:

Yeah, and this is probably something you couldn’t discuss with your family, ‘cause your dad would probably, I’m guessing, shut you down like, “Hey, I worked really hard to build this. You sound ungrateful,” right?

Nike Anani:

Yeah, “Poor you.”

Laurie Barkman:

“Poor you.” Let me get my world’s smallest violin… There was a lot of weight on your shoulders, and, were you also feeling that maybe – and I don’t know if you had had a conversation with him about it – but the intention that maybe this business would pass to you one day? 

Nike Anani:

Yeah, I thought there was no explicit conversation as to, “Where’s this all heading?” And I’m a planner. I am very organized. I am a process girl. I need to know – I’m a list person – like, “Well, where are we heading? And after that, where are we heading?” My father is very different. He very much always uses this analogy of ‘entrepreneurship is like playing a game of soccer,’ and to me, it’s not a game. It’s a lot. It’s heavy. It’s risky. There’s a lot at stake. So yeah, that was difficult.

Laurie Barkman:

I can understand that and so you didn’t have a peer group of executives to talk to you either because of probably the same privacy issues and maybe even some jealousy with – I’m assuming – a company of this size had a pretty full executive team. Did they see you as a pear? Or were they threatened by you?

Nike Anani:

I laugh.

Laurie Barkman:

Did I hit a chord?

Nike Anani:

You did, because there were some of them that literally, I’d known when I was five. So they’d watched me grow up. These were the folks that saw me as I would come to the office and visit my dad in the office and, “Oh, I’ll play with her with her and her little bows or whatever’s on her head,” and then flash forward 20 years, I’m now your boss. I’m now deciding on your remuneration. I’m deciding on company culture, I’m deciding on strategic direction. I stepped on a few toes, but I was very much self aware. I was very much aware of those potential dynamics so I came at it with empathy, like, “How would I feel if I were in that position?” Because I’d worked in corporate and I’d had bosses. If I had someone 20 years younger than me being my boss, how would I feel if I’d worked hard for so many years in an organization, and the idea is to climb up the career ladder, and then suddenly, a child comes in the way then it’s like, “What’s the point? I don’t have the right surname to qualify to break through this glass ceiling.” So I was very much aware of those dynamics and so I tried to as much as possible be a change champion for them as well. They, a lot of the time, saw me as a bridge between the family and the employees, because my father had worked for two years as a medical doctor so he’d never really worked in an organization. Whereas I had experience in a very structured well run organization so I had an understanding and an empathy for the employees.

So yeah, I did step on a few toes. A few people resigned. A few people were not happy at all, and made it very clear, but guess what? A lot of people were happy. It was also an opportunity to bring in fresh blood to the system, to jazz things up a bit, to change the structure or to create a structure. When I came in, there was no HR. When I came in, there was no finance – crazy for a company of that size. There was no SOP so there was a lot of standardization and creation of administration, which, for many people that were talented, but just were lost in this very founder centric business, the structure that I brought on board was really helpful for them.

Laurie Barkman:

Yeah. So then flash forward, you decided to move on from the company. What was behind that decision, and how was that conversation with your father?

Nike Anani:

Well, moving on from the company, I literally just took on additional responsibilities outside of the company. So it was like a gradual dial of my activities in the company, as opposed to like a cold turkey, “On the first of January 2020 I’m out.” The conversation was really that, “Look, this is what I’m passionate about. I’ve always been very passionate about economic development and there are many businesses that are like us. But guess what? We are actually one of the better ones in that, we’re a bit more organized. We’re a bit more exposed to the world, the world of family, business advisors of the best thinking, and we’re open to receiving those ideas and customizing it for our situation, the many people that are completely in the dark.” 

He had many examples. I remember when I first moved back, he would be like, “There was this family that had all these businesses, and then the founder died.” I’m like, “And then?” And he’s like, “Yeah, and look at them now.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah,” and he’s like, “It’s typical over here. I’m like, “Well, it’s not normal.” He knew that it was really my passion and so he supported me 100%. 

So he supported me with my training. He supported me with getting a mentor. But the condition was that I ensured that I didn’t let the ball drop in the business and so I had to delegate. I had to put up the right structures to ensure that all the work that I was doing was being attended to and that I had an oversight role. So I went from being quite operational to being more strategic and just gradually turned down the dial.  I had the support of my family, which was really nice but it took me a whole month. I’d been thinking about all these ideas, what I wanted to do as an advisor, talking to my husband; it took me a month to finally see my dad and be like, “Okay, this is what I’m thinking of and what do you think? Awkward?” And he’s like, “No, amazing. Yeah, yeah, go for it. That sounds great.”

Laurie Barkman:

That was so supportive of him.

Nike Anani:

It was a whole eight minutes. 

Laurie Barkman:

You had such anxiety over that eight minute conversation but at least prepared for it. You were committed to what you wanted to do and clear, and he supported you. That’s amazing. Why don’t you share what that became? To be more strategic, and, helping other African community family businesses.

Nike Anani:

I started off my journey working with NextGen. I understood that journey and I had to go through a personal journey of inner work to develop conviction, courage, to be able to collaborate with people and so I started off one on one coaching and what have you. Over time, it became apparent to me that to really have a great impact on the family and business system, I had to work with other stakeholders, the founders, siblings, spouses were relevant. So I started doing work connecting generations in family firms, which is like the basic building blocks of succession, basic building blocks of governance, “Can we just have a conversation first about this thing that we’re doing? What is it for? Why? Why? Like, can you not just all go in different directions?”

Because what happens is, actually, I opted to come to Nigeria for three months, quite often, there are many of my friends that I serve in the UK, or in the US and never do come back and the next gen is just off in their own different direction, have no clue what’s happening backroom and the founders are having so much angst and worry about, “What’s going to happen to this business. Am I gonna have to sell it? What’s all this for?” Hence why we’re not seeing as much multi-generational transfer as possible.

So yeah, I started off as an advisor and then I met another friend of mine who had very similar observations. She was based in Harare, Zimbabwe and we both jointly recognized that it was insufficient to make a great impact on the African family business space, in absence of building a community. Business owners needed a guide but more importantly, they needed each other and the best gift we could give our community was to create a framework and facilitate this community. So we decided to co-found African Family Firms, a nonprofit association. We did that in February 2020, you can do the math; a month later, the whole world turned upside down with COVID-19. However, AFF’s mandate was to be that community, like I mentioned, to create a network of whereby families could meet together, learn from each other, and network with each other, to provide education and training through webinars, podcasts, through summits, conferences, and the like, to do research in conjunction with learning institutions and other consultancies. 

Why are we seeing this 2%? Who are these family businesses on the continent? What can we do then as an organization to ensure that we’re supporting our communities so that they can see generational wealth and generational legacies, and lastly, advocacy. So creating that awareness of government circles of it’s not all about – in Nigeria, for instance, the National obsession is oil and gas, it’s multinationals. Everyone thinks that that’s the heart of the economy – it’s not. It’s family business and so if the heart of the economy is family business, what policies do we need to have so that they thrive? Whether it’s tax breaks, whether it’s industry support, or what have you, so that’s the work.

Laurie Barkman:

That’s incredible work. I love that you found – I don’t know if you said her name… 

Nike Anani:

Tsitsi.

Laurie Barkman:

Tsitsi. I love that you found each other because she’s in a completely different country, and I think I read that you found each other on LinkedIn. Is that right?

Nike Anani:

We did. It’s incredible. I remember we had our first conversation in August 2019, and it was just like, “Oh my God like, is this what it’s like in Zim as well?” “That’s exactly how it is in Nigeria,” and she was doing family governance work, because she had lost her dad two years prior and the family business collapsed shortly after that, and so she was quite inspired to play her part in seeing more generational businesses. I had started my coaching work with NextGen and things, but we weren’t quite ready. We knew that we had a very strong commonality and a board, but we weren’t quite ready to partner. It was later that year in December 2019, that we had a catch up and we were like we think what the family businesses need is a community and so we came together in February 2020, to establish that. The plan was we were going to meet.

Laurie Barkman:

That didn’t happen, though.

Nike Anani:

The pandemic.

Laurie Barkman:

It got in the way. There’s so much that’s interesting to me here, because there’s a real wealth of entrepreneurship happening on the continent but this challenge of, it’s not going to the next generation. 2% is such a low percentage and I can’t help but wonder if that’s related to something you said on what you were feeling and your experience being under the founder’s shadow, and that the founder, he or she probably assuming mostly he is shouldering most of it. That, “I’m building this. I’m building this,” and not having that planning, and foresight to think about, “Well, what is it going to take? Am I gonna die in this office and the business is gonna die with me?” Which is unfortunately Tsitsi’s experience with her dad. Or are they going to think about it as a generational transition and passing legacy on. So I can really appreciate why you’re doing what you’re doing. The economic development, the social impact can be massive, you really can have a big impact. You and I had chatted before we started recording that you have some personal transitions coming up. They’re really exciting, and I thought maybe we could start to wrap up with you talking about your next.

Nike Anani:

Yeah, my next stuff is my husband, myself and our two boys, we’re moving to the US. We’re moving to Texas in two months and so here we go again, a new chapter for us as a family, also in the business, because now I’m literally just a shareholder in the business and have just that oversight function. I’ve had many dreams in my heart, many ideas, but haven’t necessarily had the time to go after them social entrepreneurship and the new terrain just presents so much opportunity to pursue those, as well as, like I mentioned, a lot of next gen’s are out in the diaspora in the UK, in the US and Canada all over the world. Many of them are seeking, “How can I help my family business to see that it crosses a generational line?” So we’re establishing chapters in the States and yes, supporting, growing the community across different continents, which is an exciting time. So I’m really excited about the move.

Laurie Barkman:

I’m so excited. Maybe you and I one day we will get to meet. The US is, I’ll say, lucky to have you. I’m excited to hear about that and wish you well in your move and the expansion of your mission. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to reach out?

Nike Anani:

Yes, my website would be the best way. Nikeanani.com. That’s nikeanani.com.

Laurie Barkman:

Wonderful. I love to talk to people about their favorite quotes for inspiration and I’m sure you have many. Is there one that you would like to share?

Nike Anani:

Yes, by Stephen Covey, ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood.’ That really helps me in my journey integrating into the family business, not really understanding the way my father thought but really, understanding how and why things were. It took me some time to get that I wasn’t supposed to question him, but to ask him questions so that he would arrive at the answers himself. Initially, I started off being the critic just giving a laundry list of all the things in the business that needed changing, and it really was not effective. So yeah, I always say next gens, seek first to understand. Understand the founder, understand other stakeholders as well, family stuff, understand the industry, the business, and then to be understood. Because people just want to feel seen and heard. It’s only when they feel seen and heard that they see and hear you.

Laurie Barkman:

That is very true. That’s my experience as well. I love the Stephen Covey quote. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you so much for coming on the show Nike because you are working on Succession Stories every day and maybe someday we’ll come back with your US experience, and you can talk about your work in a broader context. It’s been really great talking to you. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Nike Anani:

Thank you so much for having me.

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