Saturday, October 9, 2010

My risky Leopard business

Leopards are the large, strong, wild animal of the cat family that has the yellowish brown fur with black spots. They are known to be hunters, but like other wild animals of the cat family peculiar for their solo hunting style. Leopards live in Africa and southern Asia which means we have a few of them around but yet we fear them. Not surprisingly, contrary to normal situations and even my own wildest dreams, my closest encounter and best memories of a Leopard are neither my frequent visits to the zoo as a child nor the memories of watching the National geographic channel on TV but having a one-on-one with the leopard, I live to tell. You may want to think I’m talking about some friend of mine nicknamed Leopard like we Yoruba from the western part of Nigeria hail outstanding people as “ekun” (which means tiger anyways); no I am not and this is not one of my jokes either. I am talking about that same real dangerous leopard.

I met this particular Leopard in one of the wild jungles in South Africa, on one of my educational adventures. We were introduced to each other by Mr. Peter Bamkole – a business development consultant and the facilitator of the meeting. The leopard had been in his custody and they have lived happily together for a while looking at the familiarity they displayed between them, it helped me to believe that it may not be out to have me for lunch after all, even though the way it looked at me the moment it stepped out of its cave seemed to be the opposite and I kept wondering what the leopard had in its home that could be so fascinating that this Mr. Banky was bent on taking me through the nightmare. That was the way everyone referred to him, I was meeting him for the first time too, though seen him around a couple of times before. Let’s call him Banky and his wild cat friend Leo while I remain my humble self Keni.

The first thing I noticed about Leo was its confidence and sovereign spirit and seeing my facial expression betray my thoughts, it told me it became independent of its mother at one (1) year of age, unlike the cheetah that spends 20 months and the lion that spends 3 years tied to their mother’s apron sheets. So it wasn’t about age but maturing on time, building an independent mindset and learning about life on its own. To me that smelt of a bit of arrogance but being in its territory, it was wiser not make such opinion obvious. Leo showed off its intimacy with its territory as we took a walk round the jungle, all the valleys, mountains, caves, the danger zones, the weak and strong trees, it knew exactly how long our walk round would take and even told me my boundaries to avoid trespass. Not only did Leo know everything about its territory, it also had a good knowledge of the resources available at its disposal both the obvious and hidden ones; shelters away from home, ambush points, water, holes… name it. It explained that it spends most of its day time searching, discovering and learning more about the jungle and its habitats as that is the key to survival in the jungle.

After a long walk, Leo became hungry at which point I must confess my heartbeat became faster, but Banky surprisingly remained calm and unconcerned with my plight and I thought that was mean. However, like the biblical ram appeared to take the place of Isaac in sacrifice, it was a miracle when we spotted an unfortunate antelope and I had expected Leo to go for it immediately at least to guarantee my safety for some more time but it didn’t! Rather it moved back to hide itself in the bush, stalking as it moved closer tactically such that the antelope could not see it coming. Despite distractions from us and other antelopes, it refused to loose sight of that one antelope, its tail quivering in excitement and anticipation, yet ready to wait some more. As the antelope moved around, Leo also changed strategies to position itself at the right angle to seize its moment, but by my judgment, I felt the moment to attack the prey came several times, but Leo refused to act and It seemed pathetic “hunting” with the level of arrogance I had seen all day but wisely again, I kept my opinion to myself. I could hear my heart beat as I nervously hoped this will not be his excuse to turn to me.

I thought the actual moment would never come but it did and I almost missed it, Leo now watching from a tree top, pounced heavily with all its well reserved energy and went straight for the jugular with its sharp teeth, suffocating the prey to death without a chance to struggle, fight back or even make a noise. It was pure skill and magic helped by tenacity! Even the lazy fat hyenas watching from a distant clapped their hands. After this, it carefully opened up the dead antelope and removed the intestines leaving them on the spot, he moved the now very light carcass away to its own safe abode where all the now gathering vultures and hyenas would not be able to reach it.

I thought I had understood the reason for Leo’s seemingly sluggish approach, which turned out to show its smartness going by the manner in which it achieved its goal but then, Banky asked me to take another look at Leo as it got busy devouring its lunch and make out a game plan from its example for entrepreneurship! I found out the first thing I need to do is to set clear and measurable goals and not lazy fantasies just as the Leopard will set its sight on that one target - one antelope even if there were hundreds of them at the moment. I owe myself the decision to stay focused on my goals with all tenacity, irrespective of the distractions even if certain people give up on me the way a certain Keni gave up on Leo.

Lack of information and knowledge of your territory and daily commitment to learning about the area of operation which he called market analysis is unforgivable in business development and even a Leopard will never take this for granted! You DO NOT enter a business without research. I need to study the gap to locate the opportunities and find the hidden and obvious resources available for the achievement of my business goal. Looking at the manner in which the Leopard killed the antelope, I learnt the need for precision and to avoid drawing attention to myself by maintaining less noise during execution process. The Leopard even went further to empty the abdominal content of the dead animal and this is for two major reasons. First was to make the real food lighter to move to safety and this simply means “avoid excess luggage”, focus on your necessities alone to make your plan easier. Second is that it went away with the carcass while it left the intestine on the spot as a decoy for its competitors and opportunists who were busy sniffing around for free meal, of course they will miss the location of the actual food. I am taught to wake up to the reality that there is competition and I’m not the only one thinking, so I must protect my business and maintain trade secrets.

Did I tell you that the Leopard is also an expert in Risk Analysis? Oh yes! Just almost half way into the meal, the lion – king of the jungle appeared from nowhere to take possession of the meat. I was so excited waiting to see how the leopard would “defend its territory” against the lion; I had not been a fan of its arrogance all the while anyways, especially when my assumed entrepreneurial knowledge had just been dwarfed by its expertise. Talking about studying the terrain and preparing for changes, Leo knew it stood no chance against the lion and I could not believe my eyes as I saw it surrender the food without even a fight and walked away humbly. I could only imagine what was on its mind “he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”. Is one meal worth dying for? Definitely not, but it didn’t even fight at all. Is that same meal even worth the injuries it would have sustained from fighting a lion? When there are more meals to take and the lion doesn’t come everyday? NO. The leopard had the foresight to create an escape route when trouble comes. Leo was not as arrogant as I thought after all.

I was not taught to give up in the face of challenges but to always weigh my chances realistically and analyze my priorities to understand what is most important. We should always have a backup plan, a plan-B so that the stock market, government policies, economic recession, unnecessary legal tussle, funding, ego, pride…etc do not hold our business to ransom. Every successful person has met his own lion at some point, they will always come but we must be prepared. As I pondered on the smartness of Leo, I remembered Mr. Shogbamu my lecturer and friend back in Lagos State University and our last discussion on the SWOT Analysis for business planning (Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threats). I was honestly struggling with myself if to actually believe that a leopard has just practiced SWOT Analysis so intelligently when an angel appeared before me and said “yes son, that was SWOT Analysis” Banky saw and heard her too and replied “thank you very much, please tell him”.

Banky-the super man like Dr. Do-little that knew how to communicate with the wild leopard was my Entrepreneurship and Business Planning facilitator, the jungle was the Shell classroom and South Africa was the Pan-African University’s School of Media and Communication and the angel was a member of my class who expressed her excitement at seeing the SWOT Analysis in action by an animal just before I did. Who was Leo? That was the South African leopard in the documentary titled “The leopard and good careful planning”. I once wrote one of my random thoughts in my song book “No one fails with hard work, confidence, precision, humility, focus and prayers, with these, even our most unrealistic dreams come to life”. I have since then not been the same, I feel the urge in me everyday to take all I am and all I have been to the next level, and the leopard showed me how… but Banky remains the superman, and he left me with these words “if you do not have a plan, you do not have a future”.