Ms. Hazel Barrard-Amuah, Regional Head, Center of Expertise - Learning/Training and Management Development, Nestle Central & West Africa
June 4, 2011
I feel very honoured and glad to be part of this very important day of the lives of my young friends, fresh graduates from this great university. My great young friends, my sisters and brothers, I can imagine how you feel inside; you must feel proud, happy, fulfilled and free. I can almost hear the sound of your heartbeats out of excitement just by sitting in your midst and when I look into your eager eyes, I can see a blend of apprehension of what is really waiting for you out there as well as an eagerness to go out there and make a significant difference in your lives, that of your families, your friends and your communities. You have indeed taken me down memory lane and it just reminds me of how I felt about twelve years ago, when I earned my first degree.
Congratulations, my young friends. You indeed deserve to be happy, proud and satisfied (hopefully) with the Ashesi degree you have just earned.
Distinguished parents of these fresh graduates and professors of the great Ashesi University, congratulations for the hard work and support in diverse ways to make this dream a reality for my young friends. I am sure you feel equally proud of this class of 2011 and I must say I cannot wait to be in your shoes, to have my 2 little ones, graduate one day from this great institution.
Over the past year, I have had the privilege to work, mentor, lecture and interact with some of you great young men and women and today, if I am called upon to say a few words to propel you into great exciting careers out there, I can only remind you of some of the most important lessons you have learnt from Ashesi and from you as parents.
I hope with my humble discourse, I can share with you some realities of the corporate world which is based on my own real life experience as well as that of some great people I work with and emulate. My frame of reference for this particular speech will be within the context of corporate Ghana which will be for most of you, your first corporate experience.
In our world today, globalization seems to be the latest buzz word and I deem it necessary to remind you that it is more a reality today than it was a few years ago. Our world has indeed become a global village and it is necessary that as a world class graduate from Ashesi, you carry the spirit of excellence which has been instilled in you during your under-grad experience to every aspect of your future working lives. The technical proficiency and the highest grades you may have made in your degree are no longer enough to succeed in corporate. You need to demonstrate that you can ADD VALUE to a team and DELIVER RESULTS. And you need to do it again and again, even in the most challenging circumstances of our world today.
The shocking reality is that the degree and the technical skills you have earned are only the first step. They are not the guarantee of success neither are they the guarantee of a job.
In the global world today of which corporate Ghana forms a part, the customer, be it the internal or external customer is getting more dominant – over other functions within the organizations, over companies and over countries. The concept of the “Nationality” of an individual or a product is getting more blurred & less important as markets are becoming global and economies are virtually becoming interlinked. Our world is not (yet) flat - but “semi” globalized where there are more “transcending boundaries” in the sense that there is more “fungibility” and as a consequence, there is a higher occurrence of the interchangeability and freedom of movement of managerial resources which include but are not limited to money, technology, equipment and people.
My dear friends, when I mention people, I am making a reference to you and how you fit into and succeed out there. In every global organization today, people are deemed to be the most important resource. Without people, the best technology, equipment, systems and processes are of no use. In this era of globalization, you will be required to have a global mind-set to succeed and become significant wherever you may find yourselves. It therefore means that you need to be sensitive to the cultural differences that you will be confronted with. It will become imperative for you to learn to integrate into whatever organization and society you find yourselves in. Becoming a team player irrespective of the kinds of people you have to work with will be your key success factor. Mind you, my reference to cultural differences includes but is not limited to origin, nationality or ethnic difference. The cultural orientation of an individual includes a lot of influences such as religion, family, society, gender, education, core discipline to mention but few.
This global world is a fast paced one and a lot of changes happen before we are fully aware of them. This simply means that you need to be conscious of the fact that nothing in corporate Ghana is static and one of the key competences you need to develop and live on a day to day basis is to get comfortable with change. My dear friends, I am totally confident that your training at Ashesi has already equipped you with the keys to this global mindset which is a pre-requisite to a successful career in corporate Ghana. It is simply about being open-minded, being non-judgmental, being comfortable with diversity, developing an interest and being interested in history, geography, finance, economics & global phenomena, putting your risk-taking capability into practice, practicing abstract thinking and learning to manage people who may be your peers, superiors or potential subordinates. You need to remember also that global integration is not a rocket science and you already have the ability to do that with no issues. Remember that in corporate Ghana today, just like in most parts of the world, global businesses bring together people from different cultures into the organization to achieve and exceed the organization’s goals and expectations. Diversity in every sense of the word makes global organizations better positioned for leadership in the industries they find themselves in to stay ahead of competition. This implies that as key resources of organizations, you will need to collaborate with others of different backgrounds to succeed. Remember, cultural boundaries are not necessarily just nation boundaries. In Ghana we have several ethnic groups and tribes which in themselves constitute a huge diversity. Your cultural integration is critical for success. I know in my discourse, it probably sounds very easy to integrate with other team members who do not have the same background as you do. It is not necessarily so. Effective cultural integration requires a huge effort and commitment on your part. Remember that, the Daimler –Chrysler merger faced significant challenges which nearly resulted in failure due to the inability to effectively manage cultural differences. To overcome this challenge, I encourage you to be aware of its existence, try to understand your cultural orientation first and make efforts to appreciate the difference with other colleagues. Learn to be comfortable with diversity in workplace and avoid snap judgments. Work towards building relationships based on professional respect and be the selfless colleague who puts the “team’s interest first before your own interests” by developing a strong result-oriented team spirit.
Know the organizations you work for intimately, understand the DNA of your organizations by fully understanding and living their core values. Study and appreciate the corporate attitude to growth and position yourself appropriately. Learn who and how decisions are made in the organizations and contribute your quota effectively. Take time to study the culture of the organizations, the policies, systems and processes as well as whatever limitations may exist so that you will be properly positioned to succeed and make Ashesi proud. To be able to transfer what you have learned over the past few years to work, remember to look for the many unspoken messages in the organization. Work towards gaining acceptance through your professional competence so that you can exert the right level of influence in the right way to get the right things done for corporate success.
Take time to assess and know yourself and always work towards jobs and careers that match your natural strengths and those you are passionate about. It is only when you are comfortable with your job that you can excel and do justice to your role. Build the discipline of meeting your commitments. Be that outstanding employee who volunteers to work on cross-functional projects with cross functional teams to broaden your horizon. Never stop learning, the truth is, there is more reading to do after school than when you were preparing for your various quizzes and exams. It is imperative that you continuously upgrade your knowledge in your core discipline as well as in other important areas such as leadership, people management, strategy development, business management and so on and so forth. Invest time and money in good reading material and make the best out of meetings and discussions with coaches and peers who will help you to acquire more of these skills which will facilitate your integration and progress in your careers.
My dear friends, remember to work to earn your progress in the organization. Hard work and diligence will take you far but do not forget your own passions in life. Have a balanced life style and do not become wage slaves due to over ambitiousness and an overwhelming desire to get to the top in unrealistic time frames. Enjoy your family and community life; make time for your hobbies. Build and maintain a healthy lifestyle by watching what you consume and spend some time to exercise. There is nothing more worrisome than being unhealthy and incapable of working to achieve your full potential.
Learn more about yourself and your work mates. Understand your stakeholders. Delight your customers and have a balance between your emotional and rational self.
It is now time to fully live the rigorous training you have received on business and professional ethics here at Ashesi. This provides you with an advantage over potential colleagues who may not have had a similar experience. The Ashesi values of scholarship, leadership and citizenship are the right foundation to become significant in corporate Ghana. Believe you me; they are a great foundation on which to build your credibility at work and in the society. You will find yourself in ethical dilemmas almost on a daily basis. This is an integral part of corporate life. Stand firm and do not compromise your values and standards. This dilemma will become more acute as you progress on the organizational ladder. Remember, all it takes is one bad move to wreck your entire career and your hard earned professional reputation. We read all kinds of stories in electronic and print media about professionals who have compromised their values, ethics and standards and the consequences which have arisen thereof. Remember that as you grow in your organization, you will achieve a lot. Strive to make a difference in your organization; this will make you have access to power and money. Remember, that these successes also come with traps. Try to always build good and healthy relationships so you will never feel lonely at the top when your career reaches its peak. Remember that work life balance is important for good health and productivity. Manage your stress levels and never forget that risk and reward are inseparable.
My friends, the concept of the "one company career" has greatly diminished in the last 20 years in developed countries and this trend has spread globally and pertains in Ghana. You need to be ready for continuous change and you need to think of your career as something that is distinct from your current employer. Your career is YOUR responsibility and YOU should take charge of it - don't wait for someone in HR or one of the big bosses to reward your loyalty with promotion - nowadays most global firms would regard that as hopelessly outdated paternalistic management, so it is unlikely to happen.
I would like to end simply by saying, to be successful in corporate Ghana, to grow in your careers and gain the promotions you desire, the key ingredients remain, a global mindset, cultural integration, understanding your organization, living your ethics and enjoying your life. Do what you enjoy; the money will follow, a career is a marathon and it is crucial that you sustain your motivation and energy. Nurture your human relationships and stay in touch with yourself. Keep a sense of balance and if I may, let me remind you that without God, nothing is possible.
Ashesi has taught you to make the most of every situation. I urge you to go out there and become significant in corporate Ghana.
I wish you nothing but the very best.
Thank you for your attention.