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Hakeem Belo-Osagie interviewed by Harvard Business School

Hakeem Belo-Osagie, (PPE, 1973), has been featured in Harvard Business School’s Creating Emerging Markets project. The project explores the evolution of business leadership in Africa, Asia, and Latin America throughout recent decades.

 

Belo-Osagie was recognized for his contributions to the Nigerian economy as the chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA). The company, one of the first private financial institutions in Nigeria, grew to become a successful multi-national corporation, with global investors and branches in numerous African countries. In his interview, Belo-Osagie explores the challenges he faced reorganizing and expanding the company after he bought its stock from the Nigerian government. He discusses how and why he made the decision to dramatically reduce staff, his strategies for interacting with union leaders and government officials, and how he integrated new technology to improve infrastructure and minimize operating costs, enabling UBA to provide services to a greater percent of the Nigerian population.

Although Belo-Osagie played a leading role in enacting these changes, he stresses that entrepreneurship “is not a one-man show.” In order to establish a successful business, he explains, “you need the cooperation of people [with] very different [talents and perspectives] from you.” Similarly, he advises that, especially in developing countries, entrepreneurs should not focus too specifically on any one particular industry or area but instead pursue a broad education. “The more you can see of all facets of a company,” he says, “the better experienced you will be when you come to running your own business.”

Belo-Osagie also discusses his commitment to corporate social responsibility. In the interview, he stresses the reciprocal relationship between business and the local community, especially in developing countries, where the government and state enterprises often do not provide essential goods and services. “I think that it’s important for businesses to focus on some specific areas they believe in,” he explains, “and then give capital as well as their business skills to address community needs and attack specific problems in the community.” For UBA, this focused approach has translated into three major initiatives targeting AIDS, women’s health, and care for orphaned children.

The interviews can be viewed on the Harvard Business School website: http://www.hbs.edu/businesshistory/emerging-markets/pages/profile-detail.aspx?profile=hbeloosagie