By Josephine Agbonkhese•Ella George-Oduku
No fewer than 3,000 businesses have benefited from her business strategy prowess. A US-trained business strategist, Ella George-Oduku, popularly known as ‘The Bridge-builder’, is skilled at helping businesses develop and grow in extremely competitive environments—a passion unearthed by her years of experience as a Business Development Associate and later a Relationship Manager in one of Nigeria’s leading first generation banks.
George-Oduku, who is CEO/Managing Partner, HillBridge Consulting, holds a degree in Management Information System from Covenant University and a Master’s in Business Administration from Hult International Business School in the US, with emphasis on Strategy and International Negotiation.
How did you earn that name ‘The Bridge-builder?’
The Bridge-builder is a name that demonstrates or captures the essence of who I am to most people. There’s a vision every business owner is looking to achieve and when I come in, I help them plan the steps on how to practically get there. It’s like planning a route. Many times, people know what they want but how to get there is always the challenge. These things are usually overwhelming in their heads but I help them break them down into tiny bits and steps so they process them better.
What inspired HillBridge Consulting in the first place?
I come from a family of merchants; from parents to grandparents and even great grandparents. I have observed, both within the family and outside, that there were a lot of people who ran successful businesses but who were not outlived by those businesses. Once the owner passes on, the business dies automatically. Look around us in Nigeria and you’ll observe that the same thing is replicated; businesses are hardly built to last. Meanwhile, you’ll see outside, in Asian countries and the West particularly, businesses that have existed for so long.
I started to ask myself why businesses in our climes were not lasting long. Then I found out that business owners were trying to do too much on their own and by themselves. So, they end up being unable to put in place a succession plan. Thus, these businesses do not go beyond their founders. I made a decision to help bridge that gap to ensure small and medium scale business owners build businesses that are sustainable.
“Doing so much on their own” in what sense?
Specifically, when you own a small business, in the beginning, you are the marketer, the sales representative, producer, purchaser, etc. Then as the business grows, you start to employ other people and teach them what you know; you know the very popular apprenticeship system. But within those businesses, people don’t really get to create documented processes on how they do things, in such a way that without them, everything could be sustained. So, the vision is in their head and they know what they’re trying to work towards, but it is not well communicated to their staff or other people who come into their vision.
Where specifically does HillBridge come in?
Strategy planning. We guide them towards identifying their idea of growth, ways to achieve goals using limited available resources, ways to take advantage of opportunities and also help them put in place documented business processes so that founders can have a break. This is because many a times, we notice people who run businesses are hardly able to take a break; it’s almost like the business is going to crumble if they do. So, the nutshell of what we do is that we create documented systems.
Most business owners think it is useless acquiring the services of a business strategist…
More business owners now understand the need for a business strategist. Initially, many felt they didn’t need one as they thought they understood their business terrain more than any other person. But with technology, the business landscape is changing very fast and it’s becoming difficult to catch up unless one is more open to brainstorming with an expert strategist.
So far, we’ve worked with over 3,000 small and medium scale business owners and I can tell you they now appreciate the need for a business strategist. We hold trainings on management skills, how to build strong systems, how to sell, marketing, etc. We also have a seminar coming up in November entitled “My 2020 Strategy”. That is meant to help micro and small business owners who can’t afford to hire a consultant have one day to sit, plan and map out their strategy for the year.
This is because having a strategy helps you hit the road running and prepares you for what is ahead. That way, if anything goes wrong, you know what to do to fix it because you’ve defined your destination and how to get there.
Through seminars and webinars, we’ve been able to reach out to businesses within and outside Nigeria, including Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, UK, Ivory Coast, and the US.
From your experience, what’s the biggest mistake business owners make?
A lot of it has to do with not hiring the right people. Also, that mindset of “I can handle it” is another mistake. So, while they are struggling and juggling all those different tasks, you find that those ones who understand the value of hiring the right talents move ahead much faster because they have a bunch of different minds coming together to figure out how to make things work. That way, they respond to opportunities faster. So, the biggest mistake is getting so engrossed with day to day activities that they lose sight of the strategic opportunities for growth.
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What motivates you?
The feedback I get from people I work with; you know, one of the biggest challenges business owners face is not just developing strategies but executing them. And of course, another motivation is my vision of a Nigerian and an African business which can proudly say it still exists 200 years from now.
Does working with a business strategist help overcome the many hurdles that doing business in an environment such as ours pose?
Of course it won’t remove those challenges since a lot of them are external. But one of the most important things it does is that it changes your way of thinking so that you always think strategically and approach problems wisely—and of course, the biggest change in business comes from our method of approach.