The Newspaper Ad that gave MKO his Breakthrough

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MKO Abiola; The Star Child

Moshood wanted to be his own boss. Owning an accounting firm would give him the income and prestige that he felt he deserved. This dream reminded him of how he had set up his band and made it successful without being a professional musician. But now he was a professional accountant, which made him confident that his new business would succeed.
His first major challenge was to find an office. Rent was high everywhere, which discouraged him at first, but one day he got a good lead on a house in a decent location. On his way there he bought a newspaper in which he saw an advertisement that would change his life forever. He noticed at first glance that the ad revealed as little detail as possible about the employer. It was the employee that was the center of attraction.

“The best African accountant, the very best, is who we want because that is who we need. Are you the best? If the answer is yes, what are you waiting for?”
He scrutinized the text carefully. But when he saw the address of the agency, he was disappointed. Why would a company big enough to want the best African accountant deal with an agency located in such a modest area? A district that was not even as nice as where he was heading that afternoon. Moshood dismissed the ad but did not throw it away.

He finally got to his destination. Once again, he was unimpressed. The place was an apartment, not a house, and the landlord had some terms that dashed his hopes. “You have to pay for two years in advance. But if you pay for an additional year, making it a total of three years, you will get a discount”

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Moshood frowned. He only had enough money to pay for six months. The man, who had been strolling ahead of him, suddenly turned around and declared sternly. “By the way, it is important that you know that this apartment is only for residential purposes”
The visit was over. Moshood was on his way home. He was furious. He pulled out the same ad once again. This time his thoughts went in another direction. Why did the company not disclose its identity? He wondered if it might be involved in sensitive operations like the sale of arms. He was curious for answers, which was why he was on his way to the agency by 8 a.m. the following day.

“Well I am glad you know that Nigeria needs our services. But I am sad to say that we are not doing well at all in Nigeria. To be blunt, we are failing woefully.” The man glanced at Moshood, who looked worried all of a sudden. “That is where someone like you comes in. We hope that you can help turn things around. Can you?”

He wore his best suit, a gray one with a red tie, and felt out of place when he arrived and noticed that other candidates had dressed casually. A short and chubby man, with a low haircut and a tiny mustache, stood proudly in the center of a hall. The other candidates surrounded him. He was the man in charge.
Moshood watched closely, keeping his distance from him for some time, and then walked toward him. He shook his hand, greeted him and was about to hand over his credentials to him, but the man refused to take them. “No, no, no. Not until after the tests. You should have come earlier. Now I have to repeat myself”.
 His sarcastic tone triggered general laughter. Moshood managed to force a smile. The next step was the series of tests. All the candidates took them, some on the floor and others on chairs. At the end they were told to return for the results in three days. Moshood came back and was thrilled to be informed that he had scored the highest. He, and other successful candidates, were finally permitted to drop their credentials with the officer and were told to attend another meeting scheduled in two weeks-this time in a more elegant part of town.

Moshood got to the appointment early and refreshed. But by the time he left, five hours later, he was exhausted. He had been drilled extensively on accounting and financial matters in an interview conducted by an elderly and stiff Nigerian man with a British accent. This was the first time that Moshood was uncertain about his performance in an interview.
After a week he received a letter. He opened it nervously and was delighted to learn that he had been invited to another interview—the last one, he hoped—and that it was to be held in the United Kingdom. The agency had also stated in the letter that it would sponsor the trip. For the first time Moshood had a strong feeling that his life was about to take a big leap forward. He needed to inform his father immediately, so he took off to Ogun state.

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In less than three hours, he was in front of his father in his house. He told him of the interview that he was going to attend in London. His father smiled when he heard the word London. He told Moshood that he was happy to have lived long enough to see him make so much progress. He prayed for him extensively and did not allow him to return to Lagos until the following day.
A few days later Moshood traveled to London. As he arrived at the site of the interview, he knew that the competition would be fierce. All the candidates looked competent and confident. They came from almost every country in Africa. They were all subjected to another series of tests. The results came out the following day and once more Moshood had performed exceptionally well. A jovial interview came next. Moshood and the interviewer got along so well that it felt more like a chat than an interview. That was why he was disappointed when the interviewer told him, “I hope you perform equally as well in the final round in New York”
New York! Moshood almost screamed. He thought the job was already his. He did not have a visa so he could not go to New York, he explained, but the interviewer assured him that the agency would sort out his visa. The agency did get him a visa and sponsored his trip. He left for New York immediately. But even then, all he had managed to find out about the company was that it was a telecommunications corporation.
The following day after his arrival in New York, he did some tests and interviews and because he did not get any feedback for a few days, he had a chance to take a long rest. He was finally invited to the agency by a Caucasian in his early fifties—a stout man with black hair and bushy eyebrows. The man led Moshood to a big and expansive office with very little furniture but a magnificent view of Manhattan. He greeted Moshood warmly but paused when he had difficulty pronouncing his name. “Can you pronounce it? I don’t want to offend you”

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Moshood almost said that he was too nervous to be offended. “My name is Moshood Abiola”. He had said his name very slowly. The man shook his hand once again then continued. “Now that is quite a name. What does it mean, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Moshood was flattered. Moshood, my first name, is an Arabic word. It means something that was witnessed. Abiola, my family name, is a Yoruba word, the language of my tribe. It means somebody who was born into wealth”
The man raised his eyebrows. “Why do you have an Arabic name?”
Moshood said that almost all Nigerian Muslims have Arabic names. The man was quiet as a pensive look crept across his face. “What a pair of interesting names! Referring to your family name, I don’t know whether you were born into wealth, but I do know that if you help this company grow in Nigeria, you might become very wealthy indeed” He pulled out a paper from the file on the table. “Our human resources consultants have selected you. They say that you are the man we should work with in Nigeria”.  He put on a pair of glasses and looked at the paper attentively. “Another evaluation team, an external one, has agreed with their appraisal”.

Moshood wanted to scream out of joy. He spoke in a very excited tone. “All I have been told is that your company is in the telecommunications industry. Is that true? What is the company’s name and why is there so much mystery surrounding this process?”
Moshood had wanted to say secrecy but feared that the man might be offended. The man laughed. He stood up. “I admit that we are being mysterious. But we have a good reason to be. We are facing stiff competition in Africa. The last thing we want is for our rivals to know our plans. The less they know the better for us” He walked closer to Moshood. “We are the ITT group, the largest company in our field. We are about to revolutionize our operations in Africa and, if you accept our terms, conditions, and package, I assure you that you will be playing a key role in our plans in Nigeria”.

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Moshood was startled. He knew of ITT. He had heard of the company even before returning to Nigeria from his studies abroad. It was, as the man had stated, the largest telephone company in the world. “I am glad that a great company like ITT is considering the possibility of giving me a role in its plans in Nigeria. Nigeria needs as many telephone lines as possible”
The man smiled broadly. He returned to his chair before adding. “Well I am glad you know that Nigeria needs our services. But I am sad to say that we are not doing well at all in Nigeria. To be blunt, we are failing woefully.” The man glanced at Moshood, who looked worried all of a sudden. “That is where someone like you comes in. We hope that you can help turn things around. Can you?”

Moshood pondered for a while. The man’s question was completely unexpected. “The job ad was for an accountant. But from your question, it is obvious that my responsibilities will go beyond accounting. Am I right in assuming that?”
The man smiled. “You are right. It would certainly go beyond accounting. The ideal thing would have been for us to set up a bigger team, where many different officials will have distinct roles, but management is no longer optimistic about our prospects in Nigeria. It is even contemplating pulling out of that country”.  He paused when he noticed that Moshood had panicked. “Your work will go beyond accounting, which is why you will be given the rare privilege of suggesting what you think that you should earn”

Moshood could not believe his ears. He smiled but the man frowned and continued talking. “Don’t get too excited. We have more of a say on what the final figure would be. Besides, such privileges in the corporate world are tied to high and stringent performance benchmarks. After all, to whom much is given, much is expected”.
Moshood’s smile vanished. He nodded his head then inquired about details of the company’s current strategy in Nigeria. But the man excused himself without responding. He went to make a phone call on the other side of the room then returned. “Your negotiations were meant to start the day after tomorrow but I have had them shifted to tomorrow. Some of your questions will be answered there and, if an agreement is reached, you will be directed to the manager of the London office for a proper briefing”
Moshood was confused. “Why the London office?” Is the company’s headquarters not here in New York?”

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The man sighed. “The London office coordinates operations in Africa and the Middle East” He stood up and gave Moshood his card and a copy of the company’s profile. “Please come at nine a.m. tomorrow to the tenth floor of the address on this card. It is our main office”
Moshood shook his hand. He knew the meeting was over when the man put on his jacket and moved away from the chair. He returned to his hotel and even though he was tired, he could not sleep. Too many things were on his mind. What if the company expected much more from him than he was capable of doing? That was not all that bothered him. He was uncertain about the right salary that he should demand from a rich company that was doing poorly in his country. He wished the man had told him something about the company’s strategy in Nigeria. That would have guided him in making his demands and reacting to theirs.

He decided to suspend all thoughts on the salary and focused his mind on the company profile that he had been given. He was surprised to discover that ITT was not only a leader in providing telephone lines and equipment, but also a key player in the field of military communications systems. That was when it crossed his mind that the Nigerian army was the quickest way that ITT could improve its fortunes in Nigeria. Penetrating the circle of the most influential men in the Nigerian army would be his goal, and if he were to succeed, he would kill three birds with one stone: provide the Nigerian government with the best product, save ITT in Nigeria, and rise to the top of the company within a very short period. By the time he went to sleep that night, he had a good idea of what his salary ought to be.
(Excerpts from the book, The President Who Never Ruled by Jamiu Abiola; get copies in any book shop across the world or write Jamiu Abiola through Read How MKO became Controller of ITT in Nigeria in our next post on this blog)

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