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Want to become a successful entrepreneur in Africa? Here’s How!!!

I met Taju at a local business event a few weeks ago. During our short conversation, he shared a shocking experience he had during a job interview with a top local bank in Nigeria.

Taju has an MBA from a Nigerian university, and as he expected, this credential would give him a strong competitive advantage in the job market. He saved up to pay the tuition for the MBA program from his earnings at his first job; a sacrifice he believed would pay off later.

The bank job he applied for was a business executive position. Undoubtedly, his MBA credential would give him a good fighting chance.

On D-Day, just before the interview sessions started, a representative of the bank’s recruitment committee walked into the conference room where all the invited interviewees were seated and said:

“If you have an MBA from a university in the US or Europe, please follow me.”

The rest of the story justifies how much premium employers place on ‘foreign MBAs’. Taju was subjected to a very short interview and got the dreaded ‘we will get back to you later.’

Your guess is as good as mine. Taju never got the job.

The African craze for ‘foreign MBAs’

1. Why You Don't Need an MBA in Africa -2Every year, thousands of Africans apply for MBA programs overseas. The top destinations are the USA, UK and the rest of Europe.

For those who successfully gain admission into MBA programs in the USA and Europe, the tuition fees often start at $20,000, depending on the pedigree of the university and excluding travel and living expenses.

Ivy League MBAs from the likes of Harvard, Stanford and Columbia are priced north of $100,000.

As atrocious as these fees sound, hundreds of Africans (and their families) go to great lengths, and make huge sacrifices to pay these fees for a chance to grab a prestigious MBA.

Taking advantage of the growing demand for MBAs from the African continent, foreign universities have launched an onslaught of aggressive marketing campaigns, both online and offline.

But is an MBA really worth your arm and leg?

If you’re reading this and want to become a very successful entrepreneur someday, you’re about to learn why I think getting an MBA may not be in your favour, especially in Africa.

Africa is at a defining moment in its history. Our continent needs a formidable and sustained wave of entrepreneurial genius to create over 400 million jobs over the next 25 years that will assure economic prosperity and eliminate poverty.

One would expect that Africa’s MBAs would be leading the charge in this economic revolution. Unfortunately, the facts reveal otherwise.

Africa’s MBAs are missing at the top

What yardstick could we use to assess (overall) how well our MBAs are performing in the realm of entrepreneurship?

For want of a better alternative, I looked to the Forbes List of Africa’s 50 Richest People.

In my opinion, this list must be the high watermark of entrepreneurial achievement as it comprises individuals who have defied the odds of doing business in Africa and have created wealth and thousands of jobs in the process.

So, out of sheer curiousity, I wanted to know just how many MBAs are represented in Africa’s Top 50 Entrepreneurs.

Can you guess how many of them have MBAs?

Just 18 percent!

That’s almost the same percentage as people on the list who dropped out of school or didn’t even attend university at all.

This reality resonates with the following quote from one of my best books of all time, ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’

“The rich do not work for money; they generate assets that work for them. If you want to learn how to work for money, go to school. If you want to learn how to work even harder, you should get an MBA.” Robert Kiyosaki, Author “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” 

3 Reasons Why MBAs Aren’t Becoming Entrepreneurs

Looking at the curriculum of MBA programs, there is no doubt that the business and management knowledge and skills they contain are invaluable. An MBA arms you with the tools you need to succeed in the business world.

So, how come, in spite of their war chest of business knowledge, most of our MBAs in Africa aren’t founding new businesses, creating wealth and jobs?

I think I have a few opinions why this is the case…

1. Job seeker mentality 

Unfortunately, most Africans who seek MBAs want a pay raise or a higher rung on the corporate ladder.

These days, an MBA credential is often the means to a career jump into a more promising position. It has become a premium bargaining chip to negotiate your way into a juicier job.

Sadly, Africa needs more job creators, not more job seekers. Governments alone cannot provide the number of jobs needed to assure a brighter and prosperous future for our continent. We need people with the knowledge, skills and ideas to create over 400 million jobs over the next 25 years.

With the quality of education they have, MBAs are more equipped to succeed in business than the random ‘non-MBA’ businessman. Unfortunately, many our MBAs are more preoccupied with getting a ‘better’ job.

What they lack is the grit, character and business-creation mindset of entrepreneurs. I’m not quite sure these qualities can be acquired through an MBA curriculum.

2. Managers, not visionaries

The creative essence of entrepreneurship often defies logic and conventional wisdom.

That’s why successful entrepreneurs are visionaries. They usually see opportunities where others see problems. They often take bold steps forward when everyone else is too afraid to act.

To become a successful entrepreneur in Africa, you’ll need balls of steel.

It takes visionaries to see lucrative business opportunities in the midst of broken infrastructure, overwhelming bureaucracy, political uncertainty and corruption. It takes stubborn vision to see beyond the challenges of the present and stay the course.

These are the kinds of people that Africa needs. Unfortunately, many MBAs turn out to be managers, not visionaries.

Our continent needs more Aliko Dangotes and Folorunsho Alakijas. We need more Johann Ruperts,Patrice Motsepes and Mike Adenugas. We need people who think and act like these successful entrepreneurs, who can build businesses and create jobs for thousands of people. 

3. Analysis paralysis 

In Africa’s tough business environment that’s brimming with risks and uncertainties, it’s probable that most MBAs are likely to buckle under the weight of rigorous analysis.

With all the models, frameworks, tools and analyses at their disposal, MBAs are constrained to be very logical and conventional in evaluating business opportunities. While ‘untrained’ entrepreneurs are likely to make quicker decisions and act based on ‘gut feelings’, an MBA may get swamped by analysis.

The result: analysis paralysis; an inability to make a decision or act due to ‘too much’ analysis or logic.

In the Entrepreneur Life Skills series I wrote recently, the ability to make decisions in the face of limited information is one of the key defining skills of all successful entrepreneurs.

In my opinion, true entrepreneurship is a combination of the ‘science of business’ and the ‘art of creativity.’While most MBAs have mastered the former, they remain significantly handicapped with the latter.

MBA: To get, or not to get?

If you’re serious about becoming a successful entrepreneur, you’ll need skills that go beyond an MBA. You will need to master the most important life skills like the ones covered here.

While the MBA credential will arm you with invaluable business skills, it is equally important that you take the time to increase your risk appetite and trust your ‘gut feelings’ like successful entrepreneurs do.

Fortunately, MBA entrepreneurs like Sim Shagaya, Bilikiss Adebiyi Abiola, and a host of promising young Africans who are putting their MBAs to great use for the continent.

If you agree or disagree with the points in this article, I would be glad to have a healthy debate in the Comments section below.

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To your success!

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