By Kanayo Okoye
Like most people, I did not know about the concept of Kaizen and didn’t pay much attention when I first heard of it. I was going through the profile of Mr Valentine Ozigbo, the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc, when I saw it for the first time.
The writeup described him as a Kaizen Champion, and like most bogus words we come across, I continued my reading without prodding further.
All that changed in July 2020 when I tuned in to an interview Mr Ozigbo granted with Kpakpando FM in Mbaukwu, Awka South LGA of Anambra State.
During the interview, the globally celebrated business mogul spent time explaining the Kaizen culture and how it was instrumental in the transformation of Transcorp Hotel. He highlighted how Kaizen helped improve service delivery from little things like changing the time workers switch their shifts to bigger stuff like budgetary reviews.
Hearing Ozigbo speak about Kaizen with so much zest, conviction, and assurance sparked an interest in the topic, and I decided to undertake a little study.
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*WHAT IS KAIZEN?*
Google Translate defines Kaizen as ‘Improvement’. A proper etymology of the word explains that Kaizen is a Japanese term that loosely translates to “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” It is a culture that seeks to improve functions and processes and aims to eliminate all forms of waste and redundancies.
After the Second World War, Japan was in the ashes and needed an urgent revival. However, any haphazard measure would not cut it as the world was healing from a bloody war, and the less-affected countries like the USA were capitalising on the melee to assert dominance in technology, commerce, and industry.
That was when the Plan-Do-Check-Act concept that guides the Kaizen process was developed as a culture to steer the country back to global prominence. With the religious practice of Kaizen, Japan has become one of the most advanced countries, despite the horrific tragedies and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
*KAIZEN AND THE STATUS QUO*
“Kaizen is a culture that supersedes every other culture. It is a culture that challenges the status quo. Whatever the status quo is, however beautiful or terrible things are, Kaizen will make you look for a way to do better,” Ozigbo asserted during his interview.
In any sane society, words like these should mean music to the ears of the people. But, unfortunately, Nigerians are used to ‘suffering and smiling’. Regardless, we have been resilient and always find a way to make the best of any situation. Now imagine the possibility when we have a leader that is dissatisfied with the status quo.
*WHAT IS ANAMBRA’S STATUS QUO?*
Despite its vast potentials, Anambra has continued to punch below its weight in all areas.
Onitsha, a commercial hub that rakes in eye-spinning revenue, has continued to deteriorate as the structures in Onitsha Main Market are either neglected or poorly maintained. All that is needed to transform Onitsha into a world-class commercial hub purposeful leadership that endeavours to improve the processes within the market. From car parks to warehouse arrangements to overcrowded market roads, Onitsha and environs can benefit from all kinds of improvements.
Onitsha is just a prototype of the sorry state of Anambra. Awka doesn’t feel like a state capital. The tourism industry in Anambra is moribund. Anambra is home to the highest number of billionaires in Nigeria, but this does not reflect in the state’s GDP.
The economies of local governments like Ogbaru, Awka North, Anambra East, Anambra West, Oyi, and Ayamelum depend on agriculture, but the production processes have failed to improve over the years. As a result, farmers are producing for consumption, and none gets processed. If we do not take proactive measure, this situation will persist, and we will continue a cycle of waste and stagnation.
Healthcare and education are part of the general decay. Anambra cannot boast of a functional, world-class health facility, and none of the numerous universities in the state is highly ranked.
The story is the same for sports development, entertainment, technology and manufacturing. These are industries that rake in billions of dollars in other parts of the world. The only thing stopping Anambra from reaching those heights is the eagerness to get better results.
*OZIGBO, THE KAIZEN CHAMPION*
In all his endeavours, one thing that stands him out is his knack for excellence. This trail of extraordinary achievements is a result of years of practising Kaizen as a way of life.
In his 17 years in the banking industry, Ozigbo grew from being an ordinary banker to an international banking executive travelling worldwide, opening banks and training over 1500 bankers. His award-laden stint at Transcorp Hotels and Transcorp Plc showed his uncommon vision and a passion for raising the bar and being a pacesetter.
Ozigbo is an international sports developer and the Chairman of Feet ‘N’ Tricks International, Africa’s most prominent promoters of freestyle football. The company is responsible for organising the Nigerian Freestyle Football Championship (NFFC) and the African Freestyle Football Championship (AFFC).
When he picked interest in the sport, it was an unknown entity. Within a few years, Ozigbo has taken the sport to a level never seen on the continent, with the 2020 edition of the AFFC attracting 21 countries (Even the CAF Nations Cup is contested by only 16 countries, as at the last edition)
Ozigbo has served as Chairman of Unusual Praise, Africa’s biggest Catholic gospel concert. His handling of the event saw the largest turnout ever, attracting commendation from church leaders around the country.
His foundation, the Valentine Chineto Ozigbo (VCO) Foundation, has continued to exhibit ingenuity in the various empowerment programmes they have come up with, including the #Walk4Health and #Walk4Peace series, Mbem Contest, Oja & Voice Melody Competition, Anambra Talent UNLOCKED, business plan competitions, concerts, and mentorship programs.
Even in politicking, Ozigbo has endeared himself to the PDP delegates with a never-before-seen method. His campaign organisation has an open-door policy, and he has a personal relationship with the party leaders and delegates.
This widespread acceptance is evident in the massive turnouts that have heralded the series of town hall meetings he has held with Ndi Anambra in Lagos, Abuja, and Enugu. He followed that up with three town hall events with stakeholders in the three senatorial zones. In addition, he recently held five more epoch-making town halls with delegates, party leaders, and stakeholders from the 326 wards in Anambra State.
*WHAT OZIGBO’S KAIZEN WOULD MEAN TO NDI ANAMBRA*
With a serial achiever like Valentine Ozigbo, Anambra has the opportunity to take giant leaps. A glance at his ‘Ka Anambra Chawapu’ manifesto will show you a leader who is thorough and thoughtful.
In his ground-breaking cluster approach, Ozigbo has outlined steps to develop parts of Anambra according to their unique demography: Nnewi and Ihiala Cluster as an industrial hub, Old Aguata Cluster for technology; Awka and environs for a working civil service and tourism; Omambala, Ogbaru and Awka North Cluster for Agricultural development, and Onitsha and surrounding areas for commerce. This kind of developmental plan is what makes America unique.
In the USA, Los Angeles is the home of entertainment. Las Vegas is for elite fun. Silicon Valley is for technology. New York has Wall Street. That is the kind of unique development Ozigbo wants to adopt in Anambra State.
Another approach to development in Ozigbo’s manifesto is the sector approach, where essential sectors will get their required attention. Education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc., will be attended to here.
I was privileged to attend several town hall meetings where Ozigbo spoke about his grand vision for Anambra. I was awed at how well Ozigbo understands the need for a total revamp of the educational system. He explained the need to make the school curriculum relevant enough to tackle 21st-century problems. He also highlighted the need to improve the quality and affordability of education.
Ozigbo’s ‘Ka Anambra Chawapu’ manifesto has several masterstrokes, which includes the community-based approach. According to Ozigbo, he will implement a reward system where his government will match any developmental project by private individuals. For example, if a private individual constructs a 10-kilometre road, the government will make another 10-kilometre road as a form of encouragement. Genius!
These and many more are the goodies in store for Ndi Anambra, if only they do the right thing, and the right thing starts at the PDP primaries.
*TO THE PDP LEADERS AND DELEGATES*
The ball is in your court. The PDP has been out of power in Anambra State for almost two decades. This primary is your opportunity to tell Ndi Anambra that you are serious about the November 6 polls.
The people are tired of the ineffective APGA-led government and are earnestly waiting for positive change. The choice is yours, choose freshness and innovation or continue with the status quo of recycled politicians and inefficiency.
June 26 is less than ten days away. I am looking forward to an Anambra where Kaizen is a way of life, and you should too.
•Kanayo Okoye, a social commentator, writes from Nri, Anaocha Local Government Area in Anambra State.