The journey so far: Ani Charles Bassey-Eyo, CEO, LANI Group

Ani Charles Bassey-Eyo is the founder and the CEO of the LANI Group, a Lagos-based business focused on management consulting and advisory services to medium- and large-scale organisations in the public and the private sectors. Bassey-Eyo is also the founder of Axiom Learning Solutions, a learning and development company that specialises in education and management consulting. The company offers its expertise in teacher development, education policy advisory, corporate social responsibility management, and project design and implementation.

1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

The recession in Nigeria post-2015 was one of the toughest situations I have faced as an entrepreneur. Prior to this period, the entities within the LANI Group had enjoyed decent growth rate and the macro-economic growth fundamentals showed a positive future trajectory. However, 2016, in particular, was tough with the economy tanking at a rapid rate that resulted in all economic activities being at a standstill.

It was tough to exist, at both at a personal and corporate level, but I made a decision to survive and also not to cut down the headcount of my loyal and motivated workforce. It was a combination of faith, grit and focus that enabled me to achieve the objective of surviving through the recession as many businesses went under.

By faith, I listened and focused on stories of others who overcame similar challenges and learned that I was not alone. I also embarked on a rewarding personal fitness regime that improved my resilience and ability to focus through mental alertness. In fact, it was during this period we decided to launch our trading/merchandising business unit to improve the group’s working capital.

Generally, empirical evidence shows that recessions can impact companies positively by instilling grit and focus in such enterprises.

2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?

The social impact in communities we at the LANI Group have been able to demonstrate through the activities of the LANI Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of the group that was founded in 2012.

Through this process, I have learned that structured social impact activities should not only be pursued by large corporations but should also be at the heart of every sustainable business model. In fact, this was my vision as far back as 2006, before I embarked on my entrepreneurial adventure and before the Sustainable Development Goals were established.

We have been able to support vulnerable people groups such as widows, orphans, persons living with disabilities and, more recently, returnee migrants. What is even more worthy of note as a business achievement is that we do not see any of these human clusters just as beneficiaries of our benevolence. Our working with them has enabled us to gain valuable insights into their needs and, consequently, we have developed business models that provide goods, services, or a combination of both, that serve these groups.

Our education business, Axiom Learning Solutions, for instance, is the largest private sector provider of continuous professional development for teachers and its largest programme is a fee-paying course focused on special education needs and disabilities.

Similarly, our agro business, Sehai Foods, Nigeria’s second-largest honey packer, recently worked with the DFID MADE II Project to train and incorporate retuned migrants from Libya and Europe into our outgrower programme in Edo State, Nigeria.

3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

Perfectionism. It is a personal attribute that, as an entrepreneur, will influence the direction of the group, but I have been careful to draw the line between perfectionism and practicality. I run a democratic system of leadership and this allows other stakeholders to influence decisions where my level of perfectionism could be a stumbling block.

Also, the level of corporate governance instituted within the group safeguards against the abuse of power across the businesses. Surprisingly, though, I have perfected the issue of talent management, which has fostered robust training programmes and is creating world-class employees within the group.

So, perfection is really about applying the right dose of balance.

4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

I strongly disagree that everyone is an entrepreneur. This seems to be the mantra these days, and it almost suggests that anyone in the 9am to 5pm domain is only living half a dream.

I believe everyone must contribute to society by solving inherent problems in our communities and domains of expertise. However, an entrepreneur is the one who goes further by taking the risks – both financial and nonfinancial – to fund the problem-solving initiative.

I treat my children and each invested business entity the same when it comes to capital injection or standing by the business. Business and, indeed, entrepreneurship are not just about something to fund a lifestyle, but [are about] birthing a dream and nurturing it. Not everyone has the ability to birth and nurture.

We need a model that celebrates everyone – whether entrepreneur or a 9am to 5pm worker. Lastly, we must encourage more collaboration within companies so regular workers can key into entrepreneurship within their existing roles.

5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?

Frankly, I wish I was taught that it was all right to fail and start all over again. Every entrepreneur will fail at something, but media only focuses on the success and forgets the failures.

I have managed this failure well considering I tend towards perfectionism. A friend once quoted this Bible verse, “The righteous will fall seven times and rise seven times”, and this helped me during a tough time. We all fail in one form or another daily, weekly, monthly and should focus on getting up and continuing the journey.

6. Name a business opportunity you would still like to pursue.

Credit continues to be a huge challenge on the continent. I often tell my audience during speaking engagements or in close conversations that credit is the dividing factor between Africa and the West. Credit, or rather the access to credit, will transform Africa.

Another big issue we have in Africa is access to quality education and skills development. For a continent with a high youth population, the time is ripe for a robust private sector pan-African education finance model to be established that will allow individuals to access credit, to fund the acquisition of much-needed skills, that can be repaid over time.

Such a model must achieve scale to be profitable and solve the problem I have outlined. It needs a different approach to pricing the risk of default and instituting models that will safeguard onboarding of nondelinquent borrowers.

I look forward to collaboration in this regard.

‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.