Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DUBAI BUSINESS SUMMIT

Infoplus/IBG Nigeria and All Eyes on Africa (Maryland USA)
invite you to Dubai Business Summit.
Venue: JW Marriott Hotel, Dubai, UAE
Date: June 15-20, 2009

Dubai would remain relevant in global business for many years to come. The aim of the Dubai Business Summit is to assist with market entry into Dubai. So, establish your presence there by getting a foothold. Participants are from the US, UAE and Nigeria/Africa. Take advantage of the networking opportunities the summit presents.

The summit would investigate business opportunities in the sectors as below:

• Property
• Retail Trade
• Oil & Gas
• Tourism
• Health Care
• Logistics and other services

There would be a pep talk on recession proof investments in Dubai. Sites visits, tours and desert safaris are part of the package.

Register now as spaces are filling up quickly. Call Ndudi Osakwe on 080 2353 0007 or email him on ibgnigeria@gmail.com

Saturday, March 21, 2009

CNN's documentary misses new face of Lagos

It was about time to leave house two mornings ago when I heard a reporter on the Cable Network News (CNN) mention 'Lagos'. I stopped to listen. It was a story on the worst places for expatriates to work in the world, and apparently, Lagos topped the list. The report was based on Business Week's findings and other places mentioned included Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and some city in India but we had pride of place as the very worst host of all the world's countries to expatriates.

The reporter, whose name I can't recall at the moment, told the CNN desk anchor he was trying to reach an expatriate in Lagos who would talk about his experiences here. He didn't forget to throw in a jibe when he said the difficulty in reaching that expatriate confirmed his theory about the state of affairs in Lagos. According to the reporter, the issues in Lagos included severe crime, horrendous traffic and many other major problems.

He finally got through to the Lagos expatriate and it turned out to be Roland Ebelt, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Bottling Company, makers of Coca-Cola, an expatriate who had been resident in Lagos for eight years. Roland Ebelt didn't put a foot wrong once, saying the city wasn't as bad as some painted it, and he actually had had a good time, majorly, for almost a decade. When asked what his greatest challenge in Lagos was, Ebelt said it was the housing issue. Now, that made me smile. Apparently the M.D. of Coca-Cola has difficulty with finding a home. Would that be not finding a house with Olympic-sized swimming pools?

As the CNN report on Lagos went on, pictures of the city were shown, overhead shots of cluttered-up roads, clumps of bananas in busy markets and hundreds of dirty, cracked feet, "moving in despair." When skyscrapers were shown, the lenses of the camera had heaps of refuse in the foreground. One can only make wild guesses as to the underlying reasons for this approach to the issues in Lagos. To add some spice, a shot of some East African city was added. How did I know that wasn't Lagos? All African faces might look the same to the CNN editor who spliced the tape, but we know who's who when we see them. The skin hue and shape of head were East African, the landmarks in that particular shot were not recognizable to any Lagosian and the vehicles had registration numbers alien to Nigeria. Not the most intelligent piece of editing I've seen in my life.

I'm no expatriate but I should give CNN, Business Week and their employees a crash course on Lagos. The city is divided into three islands adjacent to each other and the mainland. All expatriates are based on two of the islands; Ikoyi and Victoria Island and they rarely leave those places. Those two islands contain some of the finest homes and landscapes on the continent. Expatriates in Lagos live in paradise. The foreigner, particularly the Caucasian-type, is treated like a King here; by the law enforcement agencies, the citizens and in the market place. The respect given to the expatriate borders on subservience and this phenomenon arising from some of the most street-savvy people in the world would be a worthy study for sociologists.

It would be a bad argument and an immature one, to point back to CNN's home country and say, 'and you too' and that land has many of its own "and you toos" but Lagos should be painted in its own colours, and not through the eyes of prejudice. The traffic in Lagos, if any these days, is caused by the government's on-going renovation of old roads and bridges and the construction of new ones.

The huge swathes of new roads all over Victoria Island, where the expatriates live and work, is a good example.

The congestion of Oshodi market shown in the CNN report is now no more, cleared of all impediments to traffic by the authorities. Objectivity requires that you tell a story as it is. A report deliberately skewered to tell the reporter's own bias is dangerous and makes one wonder at the truthfulness of many of the stories told.

Severe crime directed at expatriates is almost non-existent. Which criminal is going to come against the heavily-fortified and well-guarded work-places and homes of the expatriates in Ikoyi and Victoria Island? The CNN camera should have shown some of these homes and estates. The expatriate in Lagos moves off the islands only with armed police guards. Some have been known to drive against traffic (illegally) on one-way streets, something impossible to do in their homelands, but there's very little you cannot get away with here if you are an expatriate. Maybe that approach to the report would have been a better one. A friend once refused to give way to an 'expatriate's vehicle' driving down the wrong way with an armed escort, telling the 'expat', "you do things here you could never do in your home-country and malign this land when you leave."

For the first time, I truly, fully understand the purpose of the cable television programme, 'Studio 53', showing the best this continent has to offer. Time after time, I have seen wondrous, beautiful places in Africa, Lagos inclusive, on Studio 53; things that would not make 'a good report' for CNN, and I'd rather no one gave me the example of its 'Inside Africa'. If we don't tell our stories, CNN will not.

Comments from Ndudi Osakwe, IBG Nigeria: I do not know of any other country except Nigeria, that Expatriates are so pampered and they have so much fun. As noted by Mr. Oguntokun, they stay in the best of neighborhoods, have a handful of housemaids and drivers at their beck and call, their kids attend very expensive private schools. In addition to having security guards with them wherever they go, they are well respected to a fault by their Nigerian hosts.

While their contributions to the economic development of Nigeria are enormous, the truth should be told that the best of times await any expatriate that consider posting to Nigeria. Just accept the offer without questions! After all, many that have come have refused other postings or relocation to other countries.

* Oguntokun is a playwright and theatre director in Lagos and contributed this article to the Nigerian Guardian Newspapers (www.ngrguardiannews.com)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

TIME TO CONSIDER GIVING OUT FRANCHISE TO NIGERIA

I felt agitated after reading the Moody’s report on the state of the US economy.

The report states that there will be a lot more bankruptcies. Moody's places 283 companies on its bottom-rung list, up from 157 a year ago. Companies exposed to consumer spending have it toughest. The industries most represented on the list are media, automotive, retail and manufacturing. Companies in the most acute danger are those with reduced cash flow and a high debt load.

A lot of big, well-known companies are in danger. On the list: Advanced Micro Devices; AirTran; AMR (parent of American Airlines); Chrysler; Duane Reade; Eastman-Kodak; Ford; General Motors; JetBlue; Krispy Kreme; Palm; R.H. Donnelly; Reader's Digest Association; Rite-Aid; UAL (parent of United Airlines); Unisys; and US Airways.

Many of the other firms on the list are second- or third-tier suppliers to automakers, airlines, and other troubled firms. Being on the list doesn't mean a firm is destined for bankruptcy. But it does mean the company faces severe constraints in terms of raising new capital, making new investments, and hiring. Instead of expanding, it may be far more inclined to sell assets, streamline or close divisions and lay people off to cut costs and raise cash.

America's malls are going to end up looking a lot different. The retail sector is obviously getting hammered, with chains like Circuit City and Linens 'n Things already out of business. Many other retail chains are in trouble. Also on the bottom-rung list: Barney's; BCBG Maz Azria; Blockbuster; Brookstone; Claire's Stores; Eddie Bauer; Finlay Fine Jewelry; Harry & David; Loehmann's; Michael's Stores; Oriental Trading Co.; and Sbarro.

Again, this doesn't mean the company is doomed. But many of these firms will restructure, close outlets, shrink, and find ways to transform themselves.

Restructure! Yes! Somehow, I missed a seminar on franchising coordinated by Anayo Agu of the US Commercial Service, Lagos, Nigeria recently, what other time would have been appropriate? Not with this dismal and moody report from Moody!

Franchising is a business strategy that allows entrepreneurs with a successful business (franchisers) to expand more rapidly than they might otherwise by allowing other independent entrepreneurs (franchisees) to participate.

Opportunities in Nigeria and West Africa go well beyond the traditional industries associated with franchising (retail and restaurants), and include sectors such as oil and gas, telecommunications, transportation, education and healthcare etc. The possibilities are almost limitless with returns on investment well over 30% in some cases.

Paradoxically, Western franchisers were reluctant to exploit the opportunities inherent in emerging African economies. Now is the time to have a rethink, ignore those tell-tale signs and take a plunge.

There are four factors why Franchisers should take a second look at Nigeria.

a. With consumers shutting their wallets as a result of job security fears, corporate revenues plunging and the credit crunch, franchising is a sure way to transform your business,
b. More Nigerians; educated and worked in the US and Europe are returning home for good. Engaging them would provide franchisers with top notch managers of time and business,
c. Franchising provides your business with an international brand outlook, recognized and patronized by loyal customers. The geographical labour mobility created by the meltdown provides an opportunity to follow your customers and clients to where they now operate or travel to. The trickle down effects could be awesome.
d. Expect buoyancy from near neighbor patronage. Existing franchises such as Shoprite, Game, Nandos, Wranglers and home made ones such as Mr. Biggs, Sweet Sensation are reaping profits. Same apply to franchises in other sectors as well. Whoever thought that fitness equipment would sell in Nigeria? The buyers are local Nigerians, especially the women, empowered by the fortunes in jobs in oil and gas, telecoms, financial services etc, expatriates, foreign residents and politicians.

A World Bank study have shown that the corruption index, rule of law and other enabling factors are worse in countries such as Malaysia, Russia, India and China (all emerging economies that North American franchisers are so eager to get into).

The US Ex-Im Bank export program has made the issue of franchising easier for the franchiser (US company) and the franchisee (Nigerian company). The Country Limitation Schedule recently released by the US Ex-Im Bank and effective from February 26, 2009, provides Nigerian businesses and the public sector with unfettered access to credit facilities of up to seven years if they meet loan requirements. Infoplus/IBG Nigeria and Trade Credit Group render this service to discerning Nigerian companies through a local US Bank serving as the exporters’ underwriter.

Our Partner, Gregory S. Davis, past Director, office of Export Development, California Trade, Technology and Commerce Agency and principal consultant, IBG Global located in California, USA has carried out tremendous FDI study in the US fast food franchises and would be willing to assist prospects looking to open up discussions with major US food franchises.

For businesses that do no require franchising, opening an office or locating a plant in Nigeria could be the harbinger of better prospects in coming years. Consider the huge market, its reservoir of educated home grown human resources and repatriates, citizens’ hedonistic desire for ostentatious brands and the opportunities made available by the lack of adequate infrastructure. Now, you know why Nigeria tops Africa’s investment index.

For inquiries, contact Ndudi Osakwe on ibgnigeria@gmail.com.