Ade Sun-Basorun is the Chief Executive Officer, FoodCo Nigeria Limited, an indigenous diversified consumer goods company with headquarters in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. In this interview Sun-Basorun a seasoned executive with experience leading business transformation at FoodCo, McKinsey & Company, and General Electric (GE) in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and the US, speaks on his career trajectory, successes, and challenges thus far. Excerpts:
Management style and philosophy
For Ade Sun-Basorun, who sits atop as the Chief Executive Officer, FoodCo Nigeria Limited, the fastest-growing consumer goods company in South-West Nigeria, his management style and philosophy are encapsulated in the time-tested principles of creating value for all, providing opportunities for all as well as allowing room for improvement. These useful nuggets, he emphasized have stood him in good stead thus far.
“There are some things I hold dear. One is to set a clear strategy and direction for where the business wants to go. The second is to identify the right individuals to get on the team or off the team, as the case may be. The third is to agree with the group on what each person is to do and how team members need to contribute. Next, you put structures in place to monitor that and gauge customer responses to ensure that what you plan to do really resonates with your customers.”
Naturally, as a team player, he is completely sold on the idea of delegation of responsibility. “I absolutely believe in the delegation of responsibilities. There is really no other way to operate when you are running an operation with any scale. Today we have well over 700 employees in 14 different locations across three different states so you really have no choice but to allow people in different functions and different places have the authority to carry out their responsibilities.”
The FoodCo boss believes in treating staffers equally. “I find that to treat people as adults and equals is the first thing we all want as humans. I equally believe that it is important to give people meaningful roles and assignments that stretch them and give them the opportunity to do good work so they can be proud and excited about their achievement and of being a part of a winning team that has accomplished a goal. I think that is critical to getting teams to excel.”
The best decision thus far
Undoubtedly, he says the best decision he took was becoming a believer. “I am far from perfect but having Jesus in my life and being able to work every day on being more like Him and having the peace, love, support, direction, stability, and simplicity that He brings into my life is undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made. I think the second-best decision I have ever made was marrying my lovely wife.”
Worst career decision
The worst career decision he ever made was moving off a consulting project abruptly without really giving the leadership of that team enough notice and warning of the switch. “I really should have done a better job of figuring out how to transition smoothly because my actions hurt the leaders I worked with and caused me to burn a couple of bridges that took a long time to repair,” he says with a tinge of regret.
His greatest influence is being raised in a family setting. “As the African proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child so I owe a lot to my family and church members, all of whom showed love, support, and examples of how to relate with people. They also exemplified what excellence should look like and in their various ways showed me that I could aspire to and achieve anything I set my mind to.”
Definition of success
Success to him is being able to go to bed every night contented, happy and grateful. “Contentment with what one has, not because I am perfect, but because I am grateful to God for what I have been given. At peace with the decisions, one has made. At peace that one is working and investing time and energy in something worthwhile and excited about the potential and possibility that can come from whatever it is one is spending time and energy on – whether it is school, church or work. Lastly, just grateful for life itself.”
Advice to young people
At the risk of being sanctimonious, he says the youths need to learn something or two about the value of perseverance, hard work and seeking for knowledge.
“My advice can be summed up in three words: patience, hard work and continuous learning. Patience because things often take longer in life than we might want. Your goals at age 30 might happen at 35 or 38 and it’s fine. As the very old saying goes, nothing good comes easy. Most successful people we look up to have been toiling in the background for a long time before we saw whatever we perceive as success.”
According to him, “When we talk about continuous learning the immediate thought drifts to technical skills. So, for instance, if you want to be an accountant you work on getting an ICAN, if you want to be in the ICT you work on a variety of IT certifications or maybe learn software development skills. However, I think it is also very important to learn soft skills like how to understand and manage one’s emotions, how to manage time, understanding and maximizing one’s personality, how to lead and function well in teams amongst others. These are skills that, as we go through school, we don’t really appreciate that they are as important as technical skills. To be honest, the further up one goes in the career ladder, the softer skills become even more important than technical skills. So, continuous learning in both technical and soft skills from early on will really help young people on their journeys.”
What business needs to be succeed
Waxing philosophical, he says, there is really no one single thing that helps a business become successful or otherwise. “For starters, there are many things that need to be done right; from having a clear strategy on what you are trying to do, to having the right people, to being able to manage your operations well, to being able to get your finances in order. However, if I had to say one thing, I would say it is to find one problem and solve it well.”
For the younger folks, he says, the problem could be as simple as if the folks in their dormitory or schools don’t have access to hot food at lunch time or maybe all the businesses around are paying too much for cleaning.
“It doesn’t really matter what the problem is, the point is, has your business identified a challenge that is being faced by consumers that they are willing to pay to have resolved and can you find a way to solve that problem better than the other alternative that the customer has? It’s a simple question but it’s not always easy to answer. It’s businesses that can answer the question and answer it well that generally find good success.”
Toughest challenge facing business leaders today
Clearly, managing in a post COVID-19 world is top of mind for everyone and working through a challenging economic environment is another one, he admits. However, he says if he had to pick one thing, he would say it is recruiting, developing and motivating a globally competitive workforce is the most challenging of all the hurdles businesses need to overcome.
“For businesses to be able to compete, they need people who are the best in their respective fields and are able to bring ideas, solutions and execution on-par with not just local competitors but also increasingly with global competitors. That is quite a conundrum for several of us in business; how do we attract the right talent, how do we help them develop and develop new skills, and how do we enable them to be the best at what they do compared to their global peers? I think that is a little bit of a challenge today. However, in the coming years, I think that is increasingly going to become the currency of competing and winning.”
Despite his ever-busy schedules, Sun-Basorun finds time to unwind. Of course, his best bet is hanging out with family and friends. “My favourite way to unwind is to spend time with my family. I have young children and they are an absolute joy to be around. Prior to COVID-19 I quite enjoyed social time with friends; simple get together. However, COVID-19 has made that quite complicated. I am also an amateur golfer.”
The last book he read was back in July. “The last book I read was titled ‘Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High’ written by Kerry Patterson.”
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