It’s not often that one meets a consultant who, within their first 4 years of independent consulting, formed part of a leadership team who established an aluminium manufacturing business in Sub Saharan Africa that went on to be sold 3 years later, for $450 million. Talmix consultant Ayokunle is helping organisations from Canada to the Ivory Coast improve and grow and shares his career story so far, with me.
“Becoming an independent consultant actually happened by chance. I attended an alumni event for the Imperial College years ago and met some fellow alumni who, at the time, were starting to move their careers towards investment funding. I, unknowing of the impact this would have on my later career, built a great rapport with them. It was the relationships I’d built on that day, that opened up my biggest opportunity in the independent consulting world, to date, for me”. He says. AK, as he likes to be known, tells me about his very first venture as an independent consultant which started in 2010. The project was looking for a team of people to lead the investment and establishment of an aluminium can manufacturing business called GZ Industries in Nigeria. AK tells me that at the time, due to the status of the markets and industry itself, there was a lot of scepticism around the deployment of this project. The entrance of private equity into Africa was still quite new and naturally held a number of risks in tow. “I had nothing to lose. I was ready for something new. So I found my courage, and put myself forward to join this initiative. I wanted to demonstrate that I could do this. I wanted to show my own ability and skill. If the risk did not pay off, I wouldn’t lose anything. But if it did, it would completely change my career path. And my life”.
Throughout the project, it was AK’s job to assess the commercial viability of the project which meant leveraging existing relationships and developing new ones with beverage producers, logistics providers and hospitality service providers. Following the approval of the project, AK also took on the role of developing and managing commercial partnerships with these vendors and negotiated commercial agreements that complimented their business strategy. In 2 years, the company was fully operational and in 2013, after a lot of hard work by AK and his team, it was sold for $450 million, netting investors up to 6.5 times their initial investment. “It was the defining moment of my career. Because of that project, and the decision to take a risk and be part of a venture which had no guarantees, the innate entrepreneur in me was externally born. Although I wasn’t the principle investor, being part of that journey allowed me to think like an investor, understand business principles and growth models, efficiently run functions within an organisation that results in growth, and so much more. That opportunity certainly taught me the art of being resilient. I’m not averse now to taking risks”.
With an Engineering background in Materials Science, AK has a firm footing in the corporate world, having worked for Shell Group for a number of years prior to embarking on an independent consulting career. And because of his experience within the oil and gas industry, has also gone on to work on several projects within that field which included projects involving the European Space agency GECA as well as the Nigeria National Petroleum Company. Furthermore, his extensive skill within the private equity sector has seen AK assist on many high-profile investment projects throughout Africa, including the Equity Bank Kenya, Standard Bank Investment Bank Lagos as well as the Helios-Portugal Telecom Join Venture in Angola, Kenya, Mozambique and more.
Based both in the United Kingdom as well as Nigeria, AK offers a versatility that not many experienced independent consultants do; a deep market and cultural knowledge of each region, along with the business acumen to support strategic growth. I ask AK about his background and whether he’s always been a driver for change. “I’d say that I’ve developed traits that were already there, but that I didn’t know I had. Growing up in my culture, children were taught to be quiet, reserved and respectful of their elders. I always knew that I was an entrepreneur, but I may not have had the opportunity to explore that as a child, which is why I love implementing that natural curiosity into my daily life today. In Africa, the art of building business relies heavily on the strength of relationship that you build. I also believe that because of this cultural edge, my success within this region has largely been based on the fact that I approach many projects by building relationships with key stakeholders first.”
AK’s wisdom is fluid throughout our conversation – a demonstration of a person who understands himself, knows where he is going and is willing to learn daily. And it’s no doubt that it’s for exactly that reason that AK’s clients entrust their organisations’ strategies into his hands.