[Interview] Erick Ngala, Managing Partner, Priority Activator Consulting
Erick Ngala wears many hats. He is the Managing Partner at Priority Activator Consulting, a company that offers bespoke business advisory services to help African SMEs and corporate with an aim to maximize their business performance. A certified professional trainer, performance management specialist, strategy and business management advisor, leadership and team development expert, Erick’s experience spans 11 years. He talked to Africa Business Communities about the growing appetite for advisory services among African SMEs and corporate, and how his company is helping businesses improve organization performance and growth.
Tell us about yourself and your role at Priority Activator Consulting?
PAC aims to offer bespoke business advisory services to help African SMEs and corporate with an aim to maximize their business performance. We are a consortium of partners and specialists with over 60 years of combined technical and advisory experiences
I am lucky to be the Managing Partner within a team of clearly well talented and skilled professionals. We offer integrated and innovative business advisory services in Strategy and Corporate Planning, Full spectrum HR Advisory Services, Change and Culture Management, Business Capability Assessment and Organizational Development. Our newest arm of Business is Financial Advisory and this came after our newest partner joined the team late last year.
How big has been your reach?
So far we have impacted 3 countries within the East African community and in 2017, we are opening up the markets in the other remaining countries. We have seen an organic growth in our market acquisitions.
How has the market responded to your services? Why do you think that is so?
Our business partners who others call clients have all given us golden cards meaning we have had positive impacts in their processes, people and or systems with an eventual change in their business performance.
Our advisory model is one of partnering with the business leaders and owners with a long-term perspective. We aim to understand our client needs since we know different businesses even if they are in the same industry have different needs. We model our service delivery in line with the unique needs of our various business partners. This has really created a niche market for us.
Offering integrated technical and advisory services to these SMEs and corporate, what would you say has been the gap in the market?
Our market generally has good skills that could easily give practical and workable advisory services. Our partners are happy with us because they like our greater involvement in understanding their businesses. I feel what this sample is telling us is that they need those of us in the advisory business to first bother to know what they are going through before offering or recommending a solution.
As a professional trainer with a wealth of experience, how would you rate leadership skills in Africa? Why?
Every part of the world has their leadership successes and challenges. In Africa, we have our moments of glory and seasons of leadership challenges.
Allow me not to delve into national politics but instead speak of corporate leadership which I understand and a familiar territory. Culturally, the African population is largely tuned from a younger age to respect elders and not to speak out and specifically around adults.
That was considered respectful. Most of us grew with the mentality of not speaking up, questioning or just easily mingle with the seniors. We literally love the power distance between the leaders and the people being led. Asia and Africa have the biggest power distance.
Countries like Japan, USA and Australia have been found to have low power distance. Interestingly, the US population for example have low uncertainty avoidance but very much short term thinkers. Don’t you now connect how some organizations managed by people from those countries operate?
One other thing, In Africa, we hardly prepare to handover leadership to the next person. In essence, succession management has not really been practiced with the thinking of business continuity not only due to natural attritions but also for smooth operations in one’s absence either by being away on short time breaks. I feel at times we love to be called when on leave to show that companies will collapse without our input.
A successful leader in my opinion is one who has prepared his organization for his absence and that the company’s operations does not revolve around him. His absence should only cause others to miss his motivation but not halt operations. I assume that leaders should have put in place seamless transitions (people), processes and systems.
And what are the interesting trends you would say have emerged as you interact with your clients?
Most of our business partners have the desire for using data to make business solutions. I am seeing a trend where the demand for data scientists is going to increase in this part of the world. South Africa is way ahead of other African countries in data analytics.
Again, we now have affordable and functional technological systems and most of the business leaders are seeking to systemize and integrate their business processes. We have also seen most businesses focusing on governance thanks to regulations and integrated government systems. We can also see disruptions in the way business will be done from two fronts, politico legal environments and technological changes.
The Financial sector in Kenya for example will go through some major transformations with a likely quick rise to formal peer lending companies and a lot of merges or buy out of smaller banks. There is a possibility of some other African countries following the Kenyan model of interest capping once the Kenya learns its lessons.
Still on leadership. There is an argument that most of the best run companies in Africa are headed by foreigners. Is Africa capable of producing heads of successful companies?
Interesting question. Have you not seen Africans leading international organizations operating in Africa? We do have quite a good number. The reality is, if you keenly check on the background of these Africans leading those entities, they at one point schooled in some European and American institutions even if it was e-learning. That leaves a bitter pill to swallow and a question that we need to ask ourselves. Do we have practical education systems? Systems that build the future leaders today through a learning process that is more practical than theoretical.
In a world where there has been an influx of companies and entities offering advisory, training and management services, what sets up apart from the rest?
We are lucky to have diverse practical skill sets among us. We have all at one point in our careers worked together in the positions of Strategy and Planning, Human Capital, Research and Financial Analysis. The exposures we each got has enabled us offer forward looking but realistic advisory services. We all love data and technology and we encourage our business partners (clients) to first put in place structures and governance that suits their business and we find this to be a game changer.
What is the hardest bit about your job?
All jobs are hard if you place them in the same beam. We love the challenges and especially when you work with an extremely ambitious leadership who would hear nothing else but out of the world ideas even if they seem not practically possible. We just love the stretches these causes to our mental fitness and resilience as we always strive to negotiate and convince them on how to prioritize their needs without necessarily hurting the ego.
Going forward what plans do you have for Priority Activator Consulting?
We have so far covered East Africa pretty well on leadership training, HR Advisory and Strategy. It is our desire to move into Central Africa and West Africa this year. We will be glad to acquire a substantial market in the Southern African countries too in the coming years.
We are also relooking the product offerings and we will continue to roll out market driven products that fit the current needs but also offers practical solutions to the business challenges. With this in mind, our Financial Advisory arm will soon roll out beautiful products for the financial and investment markets where we have spotted a gap that needs players like us to fill.