Foluso Olajide Phillips has a lot to celebrate.
He’s just turned 60, and recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his firm, Phillips Consulting. The avid bow tie collector (he has over 200!) shares highlights of his personal and professional journey, starting with how he cut his teeth in the consulting business in London.
Q&A with Foluso Phillips
FP: “I was quite young compared to my corporate peers and must confess was on quite a fast track professionally. I left Coopers (Coopers & Lybrand) to return to Nigeria because I had hit a glass ceiling in the firm. A promotion at that time would have moved me into a space of incompetence simply because business development would become a major part of my remit and quite honestly, management consulting in the UK in the mid eighties was the preserve of extremely connected stiff upper lipped English gentlemen. I just did not have the “old boy” network to bring in ‘the bacon’ to the firm. I was thereafter headhunted by a conglomerate called SCOA in Nigeria to Head up their Finance unit and took that opportunity, which was so timely.”
FP: “It was a great soft landing for me, the job was well paid, the opportunities to make an impact was great and my generation was being extremely entrepreneurial and were beginning to do bold things in the Financial services space. I settled very quickly and loved what I was doing and the exposure it gave me as the CFO of a reasonably successful foreign owned company. Settling down was made even that much easier because of the strong traditional family support system, enhanced even more by being a reasonably comfortable family.”
Africa.com: Phillips soon began to notice that interesting things were happening. Young bankers were redefining the industry in Nigeria. They were “bold and audacious enough to seek banking licenses and set up banks”. That new era would be his “Aha!” moment. It sparked Phillips’ decision to open his own consulting firm in 1992 called Phillips Consulting, now one of Nigeria’s most reputable companies.
FP: “I started with a clear conviction to create a large institution that would outlive me. I did not want to be a small 5 man band, so growth and all the principles that govern a larger consulting firm were adopted by us right from the beginning and this has influenced our approach to everything we do. Running a professional service firm in this environment has been tough because the client has become extremely sophisticated and demanding, and the global firms are also relentless.”
Africa.com: The demands still remain, but much has changed since 1992. Technology, says Phillips, has made the biggest impact.
FP: ”It’s such a leveler, in that it gives the meekest of organizations the same competitive opportunities as the much larger firms. I do sometimes have a problem coping with this change and so proudly act as Chairman, whilst being at the mercy of these young people, speaking a language, which I hear but not sure I truly understand. I have just been arm twisted to recruit my own social media assistant in whose hands I have placed my professional credibility of over 35 years!”
Africa.com: More than half of that time was spent at the helm of Phillips Consulting. A business now 20-years-old. Few business last two years, let along two decades. We asked Foluso what he’s doing right. Instead he offers to tell us what he did wrong, saying if ever wrote a book the title would be “How not to run a consulting firm”.
FP: ”There are so many things that I would probably do differently. I would have focused more on some specific services because I did find us being a bit ‘all over the place’, simply because the opportunities were so immense that you end up behaving like a child let loose in a sweet shop who wants to grab everything, yet the hands are so small!. There have been quite a few bad investment decisions with people within the firm, who I thought could make things happen with innovative ideas but only took us out of our area of expertise and so we failed. Yet ironically, its the freedom I have given our consultants to express themselves and grow in their area of chosen expertise that has propelled us.”
Africa.com: In his personal life it was advice from his his father and uncle – two people he admires most – that helped propel him. Foluso turned to his late uncle, when in his twenties, he wanted to pursue an MBA. His uncle advised him not to. He listened, and instead joined Coopers and Lybrand for what would be the start of nearly 35 years in the profession. We asked what advice he would pass on to young people today:
- “Decide on what you want to do or be and just pursue it. You will always know that you have not chosen the right thing if you find yourself moaning and complaining about it. Passion just makes you ignore the challenges and fuels you the more. I enjoyed my early years of Phillips Consulting the most, when you wake up early without the need of an alarm clock, you are just so driven.”
- “There are no rules about success and parents today are sometimes the worst people to advise you. They do not understand that the opportunities are as different from the past as they are immense and the nature of work has changed.”
There are opportunities in using your hands as much as your brain. In our African environment, the young ones will snicker if you asked them to hone skills in carpentry, or auto mechanic, or building and construction, when these are the very things that we need to create a dynamic economy and create unique job and entrepreneurial opportunities. We have loads of people who can design but no one to build. This is where the future lies.”
Africa.com: For Foluso, his immediate future includes more business travel. His schedule is demanding. But he looks forward to long flights. It’s his resting time. No work and no reading of any “serious management or business books.” It’s also how he likes to spend his Saturday’s – relaxing, listening to music. Choral, jazz and Afrocentric tunes are popular in the Phillips household. Sunday’s begin in church – that, he says, is non negotiable.