Dr Ola Brown is the founder and the CEO of Flying Doctors Nigeria, West Africa’s first homegrown air ambulance service.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
The toughest situation was venturing into business in the first place, which was a different ball game from my area of technical expertise. As a physician, when you get into medical school, you are told you are intelligent, that’s why you are there. So, I felt I was slightly above average, but this thought changed immediately [when] I started my company.
To overcome this, I had to develop and build business skills because the skills needed for the practise of medicine are completely different from the skills needed to run a business. I wish I realised that difference earlier than I did.
On the other hand, I had to learn from mentors and successful business owners while drawing inspiration from the godfather of business, Aliko Dangote. He is an inspiration to many – and to me from the time I was in university. All these [people] inspired me to keep on building and to keep on working.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
The best business achievement I am proud of was leaving my comfort zone, England, … [to] move to Nigeria, where I was clueless on how to get established. I wanted to build an organisation, I wanted to be somebody who made a lot of impact in the world and I just didn’t think that England was the right environment to do that.
Also, having been able to transfer an ill 27-year-old sickle cell patient, at no cost, who was in a near-death condition, at that time, from Lagos to Sokoto, makes me believe we can save millions more … [people] all over the world.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
My shallow knowledge about business was my greatest weakness at the initial stage of establishing my company and this affected me as a leader. However, to ensure I lived as an exemplary leader, I had to take courses on sales and marketing, building a brand, operations, organisational structure, and processes.
This skyrocketed my growth and that of the company in a few years.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
Most times, entrepreneurs are blinded by the tag “boss” and decide to act like they know it all and not focus on improving their skills. But this is not true at all. As an entrepreneur, be authentic and be open because you are leading people.
It’s not all about you being a boss but also about you acting more as a leader, listening to people, and concentrating on the culture of the organisation as well. It’s important you learn how to lead. Leading is not really about being a boss. It is more about serving and helping people to grow and improve their skills.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
I wish I knew the importance of “preparedness” and “experience” in building an institution. Before venturing into business, it is necessary to gain adequate experience, skills and a well-written business plan.
I didn’t really have a business plan and I did not have the right experience at all. I thought that since I could diagnose various diseases and manage critically unwell patients, that meant I knew it all. People tend to think that when you study medicine you are intelligent, but you’re only intelligent in diagnosing diseases and maybe a bit of surgery. That doesn’t automatically make you intelligent about business.
To all entrepreneurs: read books, watch videos, take short courses in accounting and finance, leadership and culture, and understanding the world of business. Learn about sales and marketing, building a brand, operations, organisational structure, and processes to take yourself from being just somebody who just has technical skills to somebody who knows how to build an institution.
‘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.