By CHARLES KUMOLU
His comportment, accent and mastery of details gave him away as someone, who must have had all his life buttered. But the narrative about his life as a child, who was born and raised in Kirikiri, one of the slums in Lagos, and his present status as the founder of a leading Project Management / App Development Company in the UK, Almond Careers, presents a different impression. This is the story of Henry Mbadiwe, an entrepreneur and investor. His company comprises over four businesses in Technology, Hospitality, Retail and Education both in the UK and beyond.
I grew up in a family where my father had two wives. I have an elder sister and my mother has four children. And we grew up in Kirikiri, it was not that we grew up in Victoria Island as some people will think. It is a known slum. After I lost my father, my mother was the only one who took care of us, so we had to cut down on a lot of things. We had to change from private school to public school. My mother struggled because she wanted us to have a good education. Even though she was not educated, she believed in the power of education and sent me to study in the Overseas. I studied in the UK not because I am from a rich home, but because she believed in education and wanted us to have the best.
It is quite difficult for Nigerians to get corporate jobs in the UK even with UK degrees. How did yours happen to the extent that you run a successful financial company in the UK?
I studied Public Administration at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. After that, I went to the UK to study Computer Science. When I finished my studies in the UK I couldn’t get a job the same way it was in Nigeria. When I go for an interview I will not get a job because I had no experience. I decided to get myself trained. I got an opportunity to work with some companies in the UK but I was unpaid, but I was going there every day trying to build up my skills. I worked for a television station but was not paid. One day I got a phone call from a recruiter who asked if I could do a task. She said I could do it but my CV was not well structured and she helped me out by preparing me to get my first job in the UK. And that was amazing. That was me that had no money, my wife was pregnant, I was not having enough money to buy food, I was three months behind my rent, my wife who was three months pregnant could not have good clothes to cover her pregnancy because I had no money and she could not go to work because she could not pay for her transport.
That was how bad it was for us but I knew there was more in me and I needed to bring that out. When I got my first job, it was amazing. In fact, it was my wife who said we should look in that direction and I agreed. I knew also that I was better than my first job but I was afraid. But the urge to go higher was there pushing me, my wife was always there to say I should not worry that God that helped me to get the first one will help me to get the second job. In three years of ever working in my life, I got an offer of eighty thousand pounds annually. And this is a salary that someone needs to work in the UK for at least 15 to 20 years. In my first two years, I had an offer of 75 thousand pounds annually which is what you get having worked 10 years. And God kept improving me, he kept moving me from one job to the other, my skillset kept growing also. I found myself making over a quarter of a million pounds in sales in a year. And that blew my mind and I never understood it.
And through Almond Careers, I believe we will be able to build individuals in Nigeria in that way. I am just an ordinary guy who started in Kirikiri but have been able to come this far because of education. And I have been lucky to work with amazing people like Jessi, who I worked with at the BBC. It is not just about Henry Mbadiwe alone. I have a creative team with people like Tarima, Jessica Scot, Chuky, Eddy, Uche, Majid, Kanayo. They have helped me build my vision.
Were there other things that propelled you this far because it sounds amazing that a guy, who started from Kirikiri could become this renowned in the corporate world?
If you know things you don’t like, it helps you to appreciate things you like. I believe that our lives should exist to serve God. By serving God I don’t mean going to sweep the church, I mean identifying with the poor. One of my greatest values is to serve God. I also believe in giving second chances, I believe in hard work. What I mean by hard work is being consistent and dedicated to what you do in order to get results. I believe that one should keep working until the person grows.
There are things that I don’t believe in that help me to appreciate things I believe in. For example, I don’t believe in building businesses that cater for the rich only without having the poor in mind. When I say poor, I don’t mean people who are hungry, I mean the average Nigerians. We run different races, my race is different from another person’s race.
How did you get the story of Almond Careers started?
I have been a Project Manager for many companies. Almond Careers is a training company based in the UK. Over the years we have been able to grow. Prior to starting Almond Careers, I had worked in so many companies in the UK delivering projects. I had been a Project Manager for many companies on technology, healthcare, telecommunication, and data, among others. Almond careers started in 2012 but the training started in 2008.
What have you been able to achieve with Almond careers?
Almond Careers has been able to help graduates and those that are working who are not happy with where they are to secure better jobs. We have been able to place some of them in HSBC, Daily Mail, Vodafone and Barclays Bank among others. What we actually do is to help individuals who think they can do better if given the opportunity. We bring them and train them and give them work experience.
Then we work with our sister company that builds software applications for companies which will get contracts from BBC , Tesco and Mecko among others.
Almond Careers is not about citing a borehole and giving people water, it is about helping individuals to sustain themselves.
What is the attraction in Nigeria?
During the time I worked as project manager in different companies in the UK, I found out that we usually sub-contract jobs to companies in India, Poland and other countries in Europe and Asia but never to Africa. I told myself that Almond Careers should change that because there are individuals in Nigeria who are really experienced, who are really intelligent but can not get those opportunities. There are companies here that are doing very well but companies in the UK cannot subcontract jobs to them. I thought that Almond Careers can replicate what we do in the UK here by standardising their ability to deliver projects. Projects are not delivered anyhow, they are delivered through Agile Framework, Calm Framework and other frameworks that the UK, America, Canada, Australia and other countries recognise. Because Nigeria doesn’t have such methodologies they go to India to get workers because they want cheap labour. Labour is cheaper in Nigeria but they cannot verify that Nigeria has the standardize methodology to deliver projects. Almond Careers is here to help Nigerians have standardised methodologies with which they will use to deliver projects so that foreign companies can come to Nigeria and get workers to work in their countries.
On international companies
We trained all the people who came for the Lagos training programme. We gave them all the knowledge of business management. We looked at the theory part of it. After the training of the 50 participants, we put them into teams and linked them with our teams in the UK. They will work collaboratively on a project from start to finish. Although we have thought them whatever they need to learn, it is not enough. We made sure that we g0t one of our real projects and combine them with our team members in the UK so that they will have experience of working in an international company, working across borders, and working with people that live in a different country using the methodologies that we thought them.
Having concluded the training, we will get work experience from a British company and make them network with people. Now that the individual has been able to deliver a project from start to finish, the person will have the references to proof it on his CV and recommendations from the companies. We will now have to help them to look for jobs in Nigeria; and all across the world. International companies hire people from India and bring them to work in other countries. I want them to start taking people from Nigeria. When a Nigerian who lives in Nigeria has delivered a project for a British company, the same company will give a recommendation to the person to get another job in the UK and other parts of the world. This training has changed participants and made them more equipped.’
Different from other companies
We are different from other training companies because we offer our students 3-6 months practical work experience. At Almond Careers, we believe that the classroom training is not enough. We take it a notch further by making sure that our students have hands-on experience by working on a real project, with real clients and timelines. The two-day training aimed at introducing to the participants world class, acceptable and practicable methodologies in project delivery. Students were taught the Prince Process of Business Case delivery, Agile and other internationally recongnised processes of working on and delivering projects.
The participants were divided into teams at the end of the two-day training. They worked collaboratively on a project with our team in the UK to deliver on their Business Case. In other words, they will have experience working with an international company, working across borders. At the end of the project, the individuals referred to the project as work done and got recommendations from Almond Careers to use in any part of the world.
This is very pertinent at this time when the nation is trying to position herself for foreign investors to begin to look at the verse opportunities in the country. I want Nigerians to begin to work on International projects like their counterparts in India, South Africa, and others. We have all it takes. The standards remain constant; we only have to improve our processes.