▪︎ Says putting his team first is his guiding principle
We had almost given up on the interview appointment with Mr Modupe Kadri, the outgoing, multiple award winning Chief Financial Officer (CFO), MTN Ghana on Friday, November 28, 2019 due to the hectic Lagos traffic enroute Ijesha, Surulere to his Ogba, Ikeja residence in Lagos. The 48-minute trip lasted over 2 hours. As a result, Mr Kadri who is known for his time consciousness was kept waiting.
Unfortunately, upon our arrival, we discovered that the photographer was also struck in another traffic gridlock along Lagos-Ibadan Express road. In spite of this, MAK alongside members of our crew calmly awaited the photographer’s arrival. He offered the members of our crew who were present; Rasheed Abubakar -Publisher; Bushrah Olagunju-Matemilola -Female Editor and Labeebah Dhikrullah -Marketing Representative; non-alcoholic drinks while we chatted, focusing mainly on the successes Muslim News, Nigeria’s most authoritative Islamic newspaper has recorded within a year of it’s establishment.
Mr Kadri, famously known as MAK has just been announced as the incoming CFO for MTN Nigeria to resume office in March, 2020. This was the reason behind our decision to have the exclusive interview with him. The interview began shortly after the late noon prayer; Salatul Asr with the arrival of our photographer, Abdul-Waheed Adeniyi.
Clearly, you had 5 successful years as CFO of MTN Ghana, evidenced by the numerous awards you won. What were the guiding principles you deployed in achieving these feats, especially as Ghana is a different business environment from Nigeria?
For me, the guiding principle is to always put my team first. When you work in a multi-cultural setting, it is important for you to understand how to interact and give the best to your team. Starting with the empowerment of the team, you can achieve the objectives the company has set. Also, the only thing constant about the world today is change. In other words, the environment is constantly changing.
When you look at the education system and the things that we’ve learnt over the years, within a number of years, they become obsolete. So, one thing that has helped me is learning, unlearning and relearning. In other words, you have to unlearn what you’ve previously learnt because they may no longer be relevant and then learn new things to replace the redundant knowledge. If you don’t do so, you can’t survive in today’s world.
For instance, just imagine how the internet has progressed. A few years ago, nobody could have envisaged where it is today, and that is because of the rapidly changing nature of technology. So, if people are still stuck in the past, there is no way they would be able to participate in the present.
As a result, people have to unlearn, and then learn afresh. In other words, I had to learn the nuances of, and the challenges the economy was facing in Ghana. I had to learn the way to tackle them in order to maintain our leadership as the foremost network provider in the country.
When it comes to success, it is the fact that you cannot leverage solely on what you know. You have to adapt your knowledge to the modern challenges that we face today. I think that is another thing that has worked immensely for me.
I used to task people, asking them the last time they read a book, and how often they update their knowledge base. In fact, on the average, most people don’t read. We don’t improve ourselves. That’s why it is no surprise that we don’t often get ahead. When you look at the workplace today, it is now being driven by the millennials. This group of people have a different skill set from the generations that preceded them. So, you have to know how to interact with them, how to deal with them, and how to get the best out of them. I think all these things are what have worked for me in the five years plus that I have spent in Ghana.
You emphasised on the reading culture. Can you tell us some of the books you have read, and how they influenced your operation and success in Ghana?
There are a number of books you can read out there. If you want to interact with people, for example, then, you need to have good emotional intelligence skills. Naturally, you go to Daniel Goleman who is usually described as the father of Emotional Intelligence. In his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, he talks about the five attributes that you really need to have to be emotionally smart.
Another very good book that comes to mind is What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. The book talks about the skills that most people have that have got them to their current level. But because they do not improve on those skills, thinking that the skills will take them to the next level, they get stuck. That’s why it goes back to the first thing I said; the ability to unlearn. You see, if you don’t unlearn things that you are stuck with, then, you will be a bad leader.
Also very important is the fact that you have to get through to people because you are in a multi-cultural setting. Our cultural nuances (in Nigeria) may not be the same as those in Ghana, for example. So, how do you interact? How do you relate? Some things we do in our culture might not be acceptable in other people’s culture.
Therefore, you have to be culturally smart. And of course, you have to get through to people. This leads me to another book titled: How to Win Friends and Influence People written by Dale Carnegie. So, you see, there are a number of books out there. But people need different books depending on the environment in which they find themselves.
Would you say your finance team was also very supportive and aligned with your guiding principles?
Well, one of the traits of leadership is your integrity; what you stand for, how you conduct yourself. You read about people saying walk the talk. It’s one thing to say something, and it’s another thing to do the thing. You have to practice what you preach.
That’s the first thing. I am a non-formal person. The starting point is to break down the barriers of communication. I don’t like people addressing me as ‘Sir’. You address me by my name. Anybody can walk up to me for a chat if there’s anything on their mind. You hear about organisational culture. It’s the people who make the culture. If you set the right tone at the top, people are likely to follow.
What were the challenges you faced in your role in Ghana and how were you able to overcome them?
There were a number of challenges. I came at a time when we had to deploy a new ERP software (Enterprise Resource Planning). It is a software that enabled us, as an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage the business and automate many back office functions related to technology, services and human resources.
There was a planned system cut-over to go live at about the time I joined MTN Ghana in August 2014. We had challenges in the sense that we had to go live and stabilise the new system all before the financial year ended in December.
So, we had to make sure that everything worked perfectly. There were challenges because we were adopting a new system; a new mode of working and we had to give a clean cut-over. I think that was the major challenge which, Alhamdulillah, we were able to overcome.
Would you say you fully achieved your goals while in MTN Ghana?
Yes, I had clear, personal objectives when I went to Ghana. I used to be a General Manager back in MTN Nigeria. So, being saddled with the functional leadership of a whole division (finance and service), was a new challenge because as the CFO I headed different units.
To a large extent, I feel fulfilled that I set out to show that I could operate at that level without any blemish and I achieved my aim. You want to make sure that you can make a contribution that is visible and appreciated by colleagues that you are working with. So, in terms of my own objectives, I would say yes, everything I set out to achieve at the time was achieved. And I am leaving Ghana fulfilled that I was able to make a contribution.
What were the motivating factors that made you accept to return to MTN Nigeria after leaving to Ghana 5 years ago?
Well, the way MTN works is this; I was actually on secondment in Ghana which means that I am an MTN Nigeria staff who was seconded to Ghana. MTN Nigeria is still my employer and they temporarily loaned my services out over the past five years. The whole idea is that it is part of the Talent Development Scheme in MTN used to develop people so that they can go back to their home country to serve.
So, it’s not much of a surprise in the sense that you are not expected to stay that long. As a matter of fact, it is surprising that I had stayed for up to five years. Normally, the average time is around three years.
We have within the MTN talent pool, an operation that employs you, and as part of your development, you might be seconded outside to further improve your skills. Ultimately, you’ll always go back, either home or elsewhere. In this case, I was asked to come back home. Then, I think basically and even culturally when you look at Ghana and Nigeria, there is some closeness. So, it cannot be compared to relocating from North America or Europe. That’s the first thing.
Secondly, I am still within the same industry which is telecoms. Whatever challenges you have in Ghana, in Benin, in South Africa, is likely the same challenge you are going to have in Nigeria; though it may be in slightly different shades. But by and large, it is going to be the same thing.
So, I think in as much as one has been in the system, one has to know that there will always be challenges everywhere and what’s peculiar to Nigeria may not be peculiar to Ghana. That’s why it goes back to the first point I mentioned that a good leader is able to adapt to the environment and make it the one that comforts them. As long as you are not static or fixated on a certain path, you should be able to adapt.
I agree that there are challenges that I may have left in MTN Nigeria some five years ago. It’s going to be different from what I will be meeting now. In fact, it’ll be a disappointment if it remains the same. That would mean there’s been no progress. It brings us back to my earlier point that change is what is constant. Though we have different challenges here (in Nigeria) and there (in Ghana) our responsibility as leaders is to adapt and make a contribution based on our knowledge and experience.
What advice do you have for young accountants and students aspiring to take this path of yours in the future?
Well, I do a lot of talking and mentoring to a number of people. And I think the starting point is, a good number of them don’t have clear objectives. You ask them what they want to become or where they see themselves in five, ten years, they can’t process that information; which means they are not actually thinking deeply enough. Or maybe it’s like they’ve given up, and they just accept whatever life throws at them which will never work.
My first advice to them is be clear on your goals. A quote credited to Napolean Hill says; “whatever the human mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”. It’s all about the mind-set. If you put your mind to it, and you work hard, then, you can achieve it. But if you don’t declare whatever it is that you want, you’re actually going to get nothing. So, that’s the first thing.
My second advice is that they should read; I have said it earlier, we don’t read. We thrive on archaic, redundant knowledge; knowledge that is not going to suffice in today’s world. And that’s why, in situations where you see people along this path who get promoted to higher responsibilities, they would struggle to fit in. This is because what they are used to is not going to work in this generation.
Today’s youth need more social and digital skills. They need to be more internet savvy. We are all talking about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and things like coding. They need practical and hands on application of these concepts.
For instance, you’ll have read that my colleagues in Nigeria did a trial of 5G a few days ago. So, what is 5G? 5G is an advanced wireless technology that promises mobile data speeds that far outstrip the fastest home broadband network with speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second, 5G is set to be as much as 100 times faster than 4G. Through 5G, we can now have things like self-driving apps. If 5G is deployed in Nigeria, for example, we can have self-driving auto cars; the same thing you read about in Europe.
We used to think it is something farfetched. But that is the beauty of technology; making the unimaginable a reality. So, we need this generation to embrace these concepts and leverage on them. If you’ve been following the social media trends, you would have been reading things like how Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter who visited Nigeria recently saying he wants to spend half of next year (six months) in Africa.
Now, the things he wants to check out are the demographics, the youth population, abundance of talents, etc. Nigerians are a creative lot. If we are able to harness those talents into creative channels, we are going to be achieving much more. That’s the role of people like me and companies like MTN; to provide platforms where people will be able to express themselves. For the youth who want to tread this path, it is important that they are clear about what they want and they should work to achieve it.
Boardroom politics can be quite intimidating. How do you intend to wade through that challenge? How would you advise fellow Muslim C-suite and upcoming professionals in that regard?
The question itself has some inherent assumptions which might not necessarily be true. Everybody talks about boardroom politics. Okay, what is boardroom politics? I think if I have a job to do, and we have clear goals and objectives which we have to pursue as a team –both the management and the board- then, I don’t think it’s politics if you are trying to get that done.
What’s important is that, from the technocrat perspective, you are making your inputs based on facts. Although, I understand clearly that in the workplace, some people would want to be political. At least, politics is not a bad thing, except if politics is connoting something negative. It’s just that one has to be very careful about stigmatising the word boardroom politics.
The reality is that we belong to a community of human beings, and you must possess skills to persuade your colleagues on the board with your ideas. If that’s what you call politics, to me that’s not politics. I will rather say that’s just a normal engagement.
I am on the MTN board in Ghana. Whatever it is that the management wants to get across, we discuss it in a way that board members can understand and have support for the management. I think it’s the same in all boardrooms.
▪︎▪︎▪︎THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING. WATCH OUT FOR THE CONCLUSION