The Story of Henry Egbiki

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Ernst and Young (EY) are one of the world big 4 accounting companies. Henry Egbiki, is the regional (African) partner as at the day of this post. This is one of those rare stories of an employee rising to the top. This is a story that exposes us to know the hands and legs behind a company’s brand.

1. Could you kindly tell our readers your name and education background, please?

My name is Henry Egbiki. I am a graduate of Accountancy and holds an MBA in International Business and Trade. I am a Chartered Accountant and a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. I qualified in 1987 and have accumulated about 32years experience as a Chartered Accountant. I have attended several leadership executive developments courses globally including Harvard Business School in Boston, USA and Kellogg Business School in Northwestern University, Evanston, Chicago, USA. I am the Regional Managing Partner of Ernst & Young (EY) responsible for the Firm’s business across anglophone West Africa. EY is one of the global Big 4 accounting & advisory professional services Firm worldwide. We have offices in over 145 countries and 700 cities worldwide.

2. So, at what stage in your life did you realise your dream, that is, where you are going and what you want to become?

(smiles) That is a difficult one. Well, growing up, I remember my father’s dream was for me to be a teacher. Then. a teacher was well regarded. But somehow, I think my destiny was not in that line. My desire then was to be a journalist, I was inspired to take on Government and public leaders and fight for the downtrodden. There was this burning urge to engage and speak truth to power. My Dad thought that was too dangerous. Then I wanted to be a lawyer, but my Dad felt it was too risky. He did not like the idea of going to court to handle cases. Then I said I would read business administration, but I had a friend back in the days who had always wanted to be an accountant. I had the best result in our secondary school then and came out with a division one distinction, he was following me as the second-best. As I didn’t get admission to the University that year, my principal insisted that both of us should teach in the school as an inspiration to the students. So, we started teaching, but my friend kept saying he wanted to be an accountant and later got the school admission form and picked another form for me. He had completed his form and kept disturbing me to do the same. Just to get him off my back I took his completed form and copied it into my form and gave him to submit. Meanwhile, I had applied for scholarship abroad to study Business administration and based on the quality of my WAEC result, I was very confident that I would be offered the Foreign aid scholarship. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a scholarship and I ended up reading accounting. Today, on reflection, I feel destiny brought me into accounting and I have enjoyed the profession and got to the highest level in the profession. To be admitted a Partner in the big 4 accounting firm is one of the dreams of accomplished Chartered Accountants and I achieved that within 10years of my career. I joined EY in 1987 as a trainee and was admitted a partner in 1997 at the age of 38 years. In 2005 at the age of 45 years, I was appointed the Nigeria Country leader and Chief executive and in 2007 I became the Regional Managing Partner and Chief Executive for West Africa. In 2015, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria gave me a Merit Award for my contribution to the development of the Accounting profession in Nigeria. I am the second person to have received this award in EY since 1963 when the Firm started business in Nigeria.

3. What are the major challenges you have encountered in the journey towards achieving your goals so far?

Many challenges actually. Life is full of challenges. But let me not bore you with all the challenges. The biggest challenge was when I took this role as a managing partner in 2005. I wasn’t prepared for the role, to be honest. The managing partner then was a young man and had many years to serve before retirement. But something happened, I walked into the office one morning as one of the partners and I left in the evening as the managing partner in a very dramatic way.

(What?)

(Smiles). Yes, but I am sure you are thinking that should be very exciting. Some persons could have been excited, but the challenge for me was that it was a time of big issues. There were a lot of housekeeping issues, the need to reposition the Firm on the path of growth, business development and client acquisitions etc.

4. How did you overcome those challenges?

The first thing we did was to take the matter to God. There is nothing you can do without God. Fortunately for me, all my partners are God-fearing people and because of our trust and faith, we handed it over to God. Secondly, we made a commitment as a team to build confidence and trust with the team and lead with integrity. We brought the team together, show them the direction and our goal and ensure that they bought into it. We realized that we needed to invest in our people, build capacity. Our assets are our people. (greatest investment). And then we built on strategy. I remember my partners and I, had a retreat to formulate strategy and we had a two-day session, on the third day, we brought in an external, very successful professor of business and a former adviser to a former president of a country, without sharing with him what we did, we shared with him the context of what we wanted to achieve. We had concluded our strategy document but just wanted to validate that our action plans were aligned and that we were in the right direction. In the end, 95% of what his advised strategy is, was what we had agreed on. So that gave us the confidence that we have the mental capacity to lead the affairs of EY to success. The other part was quality. Relationships open the door but cannot keep you in the room or open the door to another room, to achieve that, you need to show quality. So, quality can keep you in the room and open the other rooms, I mean, your clients become your referrals. We invested in the training of our people. We knew that if you lack knowledge, you will lack confidence. If you do not have content, you cannot engage business leaders on business issues, they will disengage very quickly. We invested heavily in training and client feedback. I had to lead business development meetings with clients. As a leader, you have to lead from the front. And by the grace of God, we got the result. Today, EY is the growth leader amongst the big 4 in Nigeria. We have grown the business from 70 people from when I took over the leadership to over 670 people and from 4 partners to 29 partners.

5. There is this popular advice to ‘do what you love, follow your passion’. However, some persons have argued that some people do not know their passion, neither does it assure food on the table. What is your take on this?

Hmmm, I think sometimes people interpret it literally. What I have seen as I travel around the world and with our people here is that the difference between the average worker here and over there is loving what you do and being passionate about your job. If you do not love what you do, you will live a mechanical and miserable life. Because that is what makes you dedicated. The younger ones always complain that things are difficult, but it is about your mindset. If your mindset sees difficulties, that is what it will be. If it sees opportunities, then that is what it will be. So, whatever, you do, love what you do and access the economic value it brings. The bread and butter of it must be considered as well. You must appraise and review the economic value. Beyond the bread and butter, is about what is your purpose in life. It is a combination. Prosperity is all-round – emotionally, materially, spiritually etc. You want to do what makes you happy and also puts bread and butter on the table. I can tell you what sustained me in EY, and my wife is here, you can ask her, many days I came home saying ‘I will leave the firm’. But she would always make me see the other way. I stayed longer because I enjoyed what I was doing despite the challenges. Although, that time, the accounting firms and accountants were massively hired. I didn’t see myself as one to seat at a desk from 8 am – 5 pm. I like a job that has mobility. Where I can travel and have a variety of experience. It inspired me to stay longer and I love what I do. I knew if I stayed longer, I will get there and I knew I had what it takes. I invested in myself. I was ready to take on new challenges. The young people now, are so tied to their cv, they want benefits but not interested in the work and definitely, many do not have the passion.

6. Honestly, there is a question that keeps young career men/women up at night. That question is – can you trust the system? Can you trust to climb the ladder in this economy and environment we find ourselves? Are we wasting our time? What advice can you give?

The mistake many young and even old people make is that they do not see the opportunities. They always see challenges. The environment has a lot to offer. Each time I return home from my travels, the aircraft is full of foreigners. I see foreigners coming in because they realise there are a lot of investment opportunities here. Of cause due to the media hypes and negative international media, some foreigners who have not been to Nigeria think negative of us. But those foreigners who know better are actually investing and making massive returns. Can you trust the system? Of course, leadership issues are there. But they will not always be there. In fact, anyone who waits until the leadership issues are solved will end up investing at a premium in the future. But now despite all, we can invest at a discount. Those challenges are actually opportunities for investment. Remember MTN and ECONET? ECONET saw challenges and MTN saw opportunities. Now, see how ECONET has gone through several brand change up to AIRTEL. The potential is there, the leadership will change. So, I advise that young men/women should focus on opportunities.

8. What advice can you give to any employment worker, who is looking at climbing the ladder of promotion and success?

In summary, you need to continuously invest in yourself, apart from what the firm/company has for you. You must continue to create that competitive edge that you can be sported as the right person when the opportunity comes. Most employees are content with where they are and avoid responsibility. When the opportunity comes, they are passed out. You don’t wait for promotion before you act, you start acting so promotion can meet you. Every leader wants the right person he can delegate to so that he can create the capacity to do bigger things. Success is when preparedness meet opportunity. You have to learn, unlearn, and re-learn continuously on that journey. Integrity is key. You must earn the trust of your leader and live the right values. Remember, “every leader is a reader even though not all readers are leaders”. Some employees may have kept to all that, but promotion/opportunity is not coming forward. What about them? You are not tied to one place. You must be in a position where you are mobile. In a normal curve, those efforts will be recognized. If you are not in that kind of place, like some one-man firm, you need to get out because it is not a normal working environment and you know you cannot expect to get what you want.

9. What advice are you leaving our young youths and professionals with?

There are opportunities and hope for this country. We should work through the challenges and see the opportunities. Youths need to come together and see that the future belongs to them. They should have the right mindset of a glass half full instead of a glass half empty. They must have a clear vision, clear goals and clear strategies to achieve them. Remember, you can only be as big as your vision. Only those who know where they are going actually get there” Be diligent and hardworking and ultimately, you will achieve success. Do not be in a hurry, it is not how far but it is how well. There is no short cut to enduring success.

(Interview, an excerpt from the Vinum Magazine, 2nd edition, SSPJ)

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Written by Emmanuel Okonkwo
Ifeanyi Emmanuel Citadel Okonkwo is a professional content/creative writer; a critic and a lawyer. He is a published writer internationally and locally. He holds Bachelor Degrees in Law and Philosophy; Diploma Degree Music, Content Writing & Marketing; and a Masters Degree in Law. He has written for some of the world best marketing agencies, influencers, blogs and magazines. He is crazy, rational, fun and balanced.